Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Czech and Slovak League Playoffs: A look at the Final matchups

This year's Czech and Slovak Extraleague finals really pit the best of the best against one another. Thanks to stockpiling NHL players on top of already strong rosters, the 4 combatants proved the old adage "The cream rises to the top."

Here's a look at the matchups.


HC Hame Zlin (104 points, 1st overall) vs. HC Pardubice (97 points, 3rd overall)

NHLers and Notable Players:
Zlin: Petr Cajanek, Radek Bonk, Jaroslav Balastik, Petr Leska, Martin Erat, Roman Hamrlik
Pardubice: Jan Bulis, Ales Hemsky, Milan Hejduk, Jiri Dopita, Jan Lasak, Petr Prucha, Michal Mikeska

This matchup is historic since it will pit 2 Slovak starting goaltenders against each other for the first time in Czech League history. Former Nashville Predators prospect Jan Lasak (still Slovakia's #1 guy) will tend nets for Pardubice and face Igor Murin, another product of the Trencin machine. This fact isn't lost on many Czechs who decry the lack of their own great goaltending these days and consider Slovak hockey to be inferior.

This matchup will also pit the top defensive team (Zlin) versus the top offensive team (Pardubice) and will also showcare a contrast in styles - Zlin's blue-collar work ethic and attention to detail versus Pardubice's free-flowing star power.

Zlin: Last year's champions had a very tough road to the finals, facing a very strong 8th place team in Litvinov and then having to play 7 rough games against a determined Vitkovice squad. Zlin's smallish defence corps could be taken advantage of by aggressive forechecking, which is precisely how Vitkovice was able to break through. Luckily for Zlin, Pardubice's forwards are more finesse in nature and unlikely to cause the same ruckus along the boards. Zlin has more than enough talented defensive forwards (especially Cajanek and Bonk) to handle the deep forward artillery that Pardubice will fire away with.

Pardubice: Jan Lasak is generally a hot/cold type of goalie, and he's been white-hot through the entire playoffs. While Murin is the more steady of the two goalies, Lasak certainly has more talent and it will be bad news for Zlin if Lasak hasn't cooled down at all.

Pardubice, even with some off-season additions, still has one of the weakest defensive units of all playoff teams. Zlin has enough top talent to take advantage of this and if they get an early lead, Pardubice could be in trouble.

The horsemen (their logo is a stallion) will have to rely on their powerful offence, which feature the top 3 scorers in the Extraleague (Mikeska, Hejduk, and Bulis) and has carried them despite a coaching chance and questionable team character.

Prediction: I believe last year's champions, Hame Zlin, will be able to formulate a plan to shut down most of Pardubice's top guns and then take advantage on the counter-attack. Since Zlin is a bit tired out from their series against Vitkovice, Pardubice will and can take advantage of this to possibly win 1 or 2 of the first 2 games in the series.
I'll take Zlin in 7.


HKm Zvolen (107 points, 1st place) vs. Slovan Bratislava (107 points, 2nd place)

NHLers and Notable Players:
Zvolen: Richard Zednik, Vladimir Orszagh, Michal Handzus, Peter Bartos
Slovan: Miroslav Satan, Lubomir Visnovsky, Zdeno Ciger

Goaltending: Zvolen has the league's best goalie in Krazy Karol Krizan. The d00d with the mohawk haircut led the league in Save Percentage in both the playoffs and regular season. When he's not talking to his blocker, he can be counted on to make the big saves.

Slovan, on the other hand, kept changing between starter (and former Slovak #1) Pavol Rybar and Czech backup Pavol Barta (Dominik Hasek's backup many moons ago). It looks like Barta will get the starting job to start the finals and there is a considerable edge here for Zvolen.

Slovan: Slovan is deep and talented at every position and their roster has every type of player you could want to use puzzling together a playoff contender. As is always the case with Slovan, they have bought some of the best talent that other Extraleague teams have developed. Together with Miroslav Satan (Who is on fire right now), the unretired Zdeno Ciger, and super Lubomir Visnovsky, Slovan can roll out 4 units of good players. There are rarely any easy shifts against this team. They managed to deconstruct a very high-powered Trencin squad, which goes to show that this isn't your grandmother's Slovan Bratislava (think Sparta Prague and NY Rangers). If it wasn't for their revolving goaltender system, they would be an easy favourite.

Zvolen: This team has plenty of aging, yet effective, offensive-minded veterans to counter Slovan's younger guns - So much so that the NHL line of Zednik-Handzus-Orszagh is basically the 'defensive' conscience on the team. Zvolen, despite having a recent phobia to playing young players, has more of a 'home-grown' feel than $lovan.

Zvolen is also a much bigger and more physical team than Slovan, and was criticized by some Slovak pundits for being too 'North American', a so-called disease brought back by Richard Zednik and Vladimir Orszagh.

Their top scorer, Richard Sechny, finished only 8th in overall scoring and shows just how Zvolen relies on a more 'balanced' approach to its offence over the star-studded Slovan roster. Handzus and Zednik were only 12th and 13th respectively, but have been more effective in the playoffs.

Prediction: I like Zvolen's physical defence and advantage in goal. Unlike Trencin, I believe Zvolen will be able to stop Miroslav Satan from wreaking havoc and will be able to get scoring from all lines. For Slovan, I have to admit I am rather impressed with their defensive record this year. In past seasons, Slovan usually cruised on pure talent alone and always seemed to be a champion full of holes. While Slovan may not have confidence in their usual #1 goaltender, Libor Barta is still effective in his own right.

Prediction: Zvolen in 7 (As if I'd ever take $lovan!)

I think Bonk is out, having shoulder surgery or something...
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