Friday, July 29, 2011

KHL's Lev Poprad will have large Czech presence

The first KHL team outside the territory of the former Soviet Union was almost placed in the Czech Republic. In 2009, there was an attempt to place a franchise in Karlovy Vary that fell through due to the World Economic Crisis. A year later, HC Lev Hradec Králové was born, but was unable to get the necessary sanctioning from the Czech Ice Hockey Association, leading to their move eastward to the town of Poprad, in the Slovak Tatra Mountains.

Though they are no longer a Czech team, the club will have a familiar look to Czech hockey fans. Ten of the 24 players they currently have under contract are Czechs, along with nine Slovaks, three Swedes, a Canadian and an American. Additionally, three of the Slovaks played in the Czech Extraliga last season.

Of the ten Czechs, three are coming to Poprad from other KHL teams, while four are moving over from the Czech Extraliga. Two players, goaltender Tomáš Duba and forward Stanislav Balán, are joining the team from PSG Zlín, while Jiří Hunkes comes from Bílí Tygři Liberec and Bohumil Jank from Mountfield České Budějovice. Jank played last season with Drummondville of the QMJHL before returning home to Budějovice following his team's playoff exit. Another player coming from the CHL is Štěpan Novotný of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos.

But those aren't the only players that will be familiar to Czech fans. Some of the Slovaks on the roster have made names for themselves in the Czech Republic as well. Branislav Mazei and Rostislav Špirko both played in Pardubice last season and Rudolf Huna played for Vítkovice.

Defenceman Jakub Jeřábek of Plzeň was taken by Lev in this summer's KHL draft, but it appears he will remain in the Extraliga for at least another season.

Radim Rulík (far left) runs practice at Lev Poprad's inagural training camp. Photo: Jan Molnar,
Head coach Radim Rulík is also Czech, hailing from Ostrov nad Ohří. Rulík has a long history coaching in the Czech Republic, particularly in Plžen and Karlovy Vary. He spent most of last season as an assistant coach with Sparta Praha. Back in June, Rulík foreshadowed the make-up of the team when he told World News--Russian Opinion, "My wish is that the team has only Czech and Slovak players. Then we will have a family atmosphere." Of course, there are a handful of other players on the team, but for the most part, Lev's roster is Czech and Slovak dominated. 

In addition to coaching in the Czech Republic, though, Rulík has also coached in the KHL, and knows the work he has ahead of him. The primary difference between the KHL and Czech Extraliga is the maturity of the players and the travel, he says. "The level of the KHL increases with each passing year. I would like to rely on core of veteran players aged 25 to 28. We want this main core to be more than than 12 players because we have a long flights. Believe me, I could see this when I worked for Avangard." 

That desire for a veteran presence may explain the club's foray into foreign talent. The five non-Czech or -Slovak players are all between the ages of 24 and 29.

In preparation for their initial KHL season, Lev will face a couple of the Czech Extraliga's best teams. Last year's finalists, champion Oceláři Třinec and runner-up Vítkovice Steel, will each host Slovakia's KHL entry on home ice, and once more in Slovakia. On August 9, Rudolf Hana will get a chance to face his former mates when Lev pays a visit to Ostrava's ČEZ Arena. The following day, they make the short journey to Třinec to take on Oceláři. Later, Vítkovice will play Lev again on August 20 when they face each other in the Tatranský Pohár (Tatran Cup) in Poprad. On August 28, Třinec and Lev renew acquaintances at the Cassovia Hockey Cup in Košice.

After their nine-game pre-season schedule has finished, Lev will open up the KHL regular season at home on September 10 against Roman Červenka and Avangard Omsk.

From the club's website,, here is Lev Poprad's inagural pre-season schedule:

1Thu, Aug 4 HK Spišská Nová Ves (Slovak 1.L) ZŠ Spišská Nová Ves18:00
2Tue, Aug 9 HC Vítkovice Steel (Czech EL) ČEZ Aréna, Ostrava18:00
3Wed, Aug 10 HC Oceláři Třinec (Czech EL) Werk Aréna, Třinec17:00
4Thu, Aug 18 Graz 99ers (EBEL) Aréna Poprad16:00
5Sat, Aug 20 HC Vítkovice Steel (Czech EL) Aréna Poprad19:00
6Sun, Aug 21 TBD Aréna PopradTBD
7Fri, Aug 26 HC Košice (Slovak EL) Steel Aréna, Košice 18:30
8Sat, Aug 27 HC CSKA Moscow (KHL) Steel Aréna, Košice15:00
9Sun, Aug 28 HC Oceláři Třinec (Czech EL) Steel Aréna, Košice 15:00

1 comment:

  1. The KHL will now be shown on for free! I have now seen that they will show Lev's game tonight