In the not-too-distant past, they were contenders for the Czech national championship, but have been relegated to the First League since 2009. Now, starting in 2011-12, HC Orli Znojmo will play in the Austrian-based Erste Bank Hockey League.
oday we reached a final agreement and signed the contract," club manager Stanislav Hahn stated Tuesday on the team's website. "All details will be announced at Thursday's press conference."
The announcement marks a return to top-level European hockey for the Eagles. After winning back-to-back First League titles in 1998 and 1999, Znojmo was promoted to the Extraliga, where they competed for 10 years. Their most successful season was 2005-06, when they advanced to the semi-finals. In 2009, facing mounting costs, club ownership sold its Extraliga license to another South Moravian club, Kometa Brno.
After two seasons in the lower circuit, Orli players seem to be looking forward to the prospect of better competition. "The Austrian League is better than the Czech First League," said team captain Radek Haman.
This isn't the first time that a Czech-based team has attempted to play in a foreign league. Karlovy Vary and Hradec Králové have each attempted to join the KHL, but failed. Karlovy Vary experienced setbacks related to the global financial crisis and the Hradec group, which had already named its team HC Lev Hradec Králové, was not given approval by the Czech Ice Hockey Association. The team moved to Poprad, Slovakia, and will play in the KHL next season in that city. Although the ČSLH didn't approve the Hradec plan, they have given the go-ahead to the Znojmo proposal.
"We carefully examined and refined all the conditions to make them viable for both parties," said Hahn. He also said that the club's youth teams will continue to play domestically. This would include the Znojmo U20 team, which is the reigning Czech junior champion.
Although the EBEL is based in Austria, it now has teams in five countries: six in Austria, two in Slovenia, and one each in Croatia and Hungary. Orli Znojmo becomes the league's 11th team, and there's a possibility of a 12th being added for next season, either in Hungary or Slovakia. Its reigning champion is Red Bull Salzburg.
More details about the Znojmo transfer will be announced Thursday.