Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rangers arrive in Prague

Though meaningless in the standings of their respective leagues, Thursday's game between Sparta Praha and the visiting New York Rangers is drawing considerable attention in the Czech capital. On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of hockey fans entered Tesla Arena for a rare opportunity to watch an NHL team practice.

The Rangers were full of smiles on the ice at Tesla Arena
on Wednesday. Photo:
September 28 is a state holiday in the Czech Republic, in celebration of patron saint Václav, and it gave many the opportunity to make the midday trek to the old arena in Holešovice.

In the not-too-distant past, the New York Rangers were easily the most popular NHL team in the Czech Republic. They had seven Czechs who played regularly for them in the 2006-07 season, including stars Jaromír Jágr and Martin Straka. They were so popular that, when Prague earned the right to host two NHL regular season games in October 2008, Czech officials campaigned hard to make sure the Rangers were one of those teams. Their efforts paid off, and Czech fans filled O2 Arena twice to watch them take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Three years later, there are no Czechs on the roster, and only one Slovak: Marián Gáborík. The Trenčín native got most of the attention from the fans. "It's almost like home," he said. "The countries are like brothers, in a sense, and we speak similar languages, so this doesn't surprise me." On Sunday, his Rangers play a little bit closer to home when they take on Slovan Bratislava in the Slovak capital. "It's interesting that I won't be playing for the home team, but I'll have a lot of fans there: my brother and some friends."

Gáborík had an amusing story about some of his teammates who had never stayed at a European hotel before. "Some of the guys were surprised there were no sheets on the bed, only a comforter," he laughed. "I said to them, 'Hey, we're in Europe now. That's the way it is.' Just like I was surprised when I came to the U.S. and there were sheets on top of the bed."

Website reported more culture shock when the visitors went out for lunch at Old Town Square, with Brendan Prust putting ketchup on his vepřový řízek and Steve Eminger attempting to eat knedlíky with his hands.

The Rangers announced that star Swedish netminder Henrik Lundqvist will rest on Thursday, with the start instead going to Martin Biron. When asked what he thought of the atmosphere at practice, he said, "It's a great arena, and you know the fans will be jumping, so it will be fun." About the prospect of playing against a team he's never faced, he answered, "It's going to be great. A couple of times I came out to Europe to play in the World Junior Championships and the World Championships, so I like to play overseas and see different teams."

At the other end of the ice, Tomáš Pöpperle will likely be Sparta's starting goaltender.

Thursday's game begins at 19:00 Central European Time, 1pm Eastern Time. There will be no television coverage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Extraliga team previews's Petr Polak has made detailed team-by-team predictions about the fortunes of the 14 Extraliga clubs for the 2011-12 seasons. Feel free to agree or disagree with his opinions:

Třinec: Big changes on the roster of the Extraliga champion

Last year's champion lost two of its most important players to the KHL, but the club's management is cautioning that even if they don't have any sounding names in the list of arrivals, they are still negotiating about a few interesting names.

The best example is Darcy Verot. The Canadian hulk is in Třinec for a try-out and every Extraliga team is now trembling with fear, because Verot is known from Vityaz Chekhov as a brawl instigator in the KHL. Jaromír Jágr asked, "Do they know in Třinec who Verot really is?" According to the words of many players, however Verot can be a really nice guy and a legitimate player and in Chekhov he was just following management's orders.

Even though Třinec lost Martin Růžička and his 83 points in 69 games last season (41+42) and also lost top defenceman Lukáš Krajíček, its representatives are talking about high goals for this season. "Last year, lots of journalists were laughing when we said that we want the Cup. They saw few advertisements on the ice and were thinking that we didn't have enough of sponsors to afford a quality roster," club director Evžen Delong said. "Today everyone is talking about Třinec's depth. Everybody knows we can do it."

Vítkovice: League darkhorse again?

It was surprising when the Ostravian club reached the league finals in 2009-10. Then the following summer, they underwent a big transformation and went into 2010-11 with new coaches and a completely new roster, and the Czech media underrated them. Last September, many pundits picked Vítkovice to finish in 11th place. But once again, Vítkovice appeared in the finals. Now, they are once again being rated low.

Although the roster didn't see many changes, Vítkovice is not one of the favourites in the view of Czech bookmakers. According to their opinion, the Steelers are being given odds to win the title in the range of 7:1 to 10:1, which is fifth-best in the Extraliga. Will they be the darkhorse of the league again?

A key factor in answering that question will be the financial situation of the club because Vítkovice is entering the new season without a general partnership contract. Even though EVRAZ, a Russian steel magnate and the club's traditional partner, sent a message from Moscow stating that they will do everything to assure the club's financial stability, until the contract is signed you cannot be sure about anything. Two years ago, Vítkovice had to sell two players during the season because of the budget.

Pardubice: A new club tradition

Last season was very positive for the club from East Bohemia because they finished third and stopped a very unpleasant trend that after every successful season an unsuccessful one would come. One year after its 2004-05 championship, Pardubice ended the season in 9th place. 2006-07 brought silver medals to the city of gingerbread, and 2007-08 12th spot. The tradition was broken in the two last seasons: In 2009-10 Pardubice became league champions, yesteryear they finished third.

But another tradition started in Pardubice. The 2010 gold medal was won under the leadership of Václav Sýkora, but despite of this success, Sýkora decided to leave the team. His successor, Josef Jandač, left the team this summer after another great season. A new season calls for a new coach.

It will be a tough mission for new Pardubice coach Pavel Hynek to build on the success of his precursors with one more fruitful season. He had a free hand to choose the right players during the summer and he took advantage of this opportunity, bringing three transatlantic reinforcements: from Kärpät Oulu, Vladimír Sičák has come to help with the team's defence and from Linköping, Josef Melichar. This year's Pardubice roster is really strong on again.

Slavia: How does Růžička do it?

Every Czech hockey fan knows that Slavia is very fortunate to have Vladimír Růžička as its coach. Since he was assigned to the post as the team's head coach, Slavia has transformed from an average team into one of the best Czech Extraliga clubs.

Růžička started as a head coach of Slavia in 2000-01, and since that season his wards have never finished worse than 6th. Růžička also brings to Slavia a taste of victory. They have won the league twice and also won three silver medals and one bronze. That makes five medals in 10 years. It would be a disaster for Slavia if Růžička left. This danger was averted this summer when Slavia's ownership structure was changed and Růžička, despite offers from abroad, decided to return.

Every year, Slavia loses a few important players, like Jakub Klepiš in 2008, Jaroslav Bednář in 2009 or Roman Červenka and Josef Beránek in 2010. All of them were key players for the team, as was Michal Vondrka last year, who has left Prague for a contract abroad. Will Růžička be able to maintain Slavia's position among the league's elite?

Liberec: Still dreaming about the league finals

For decades, Liberec was just a small local club playing in second- or third-level leagues. A key break in the club's history came in 1994 when local building company Syner entered the organization, changed the club identity in an NHL-like Bílí Tygři (White Tigers) and outlined higher goals for the team.

The Tigers have been pretty successful since then. In the past eight years, the club hs advanced from the third-level 2.liga to the Extraliga and, after a short adjustment period, they became one of the leading Czech clubs playing in a newly-built arena. The Tigers have already won the bronze twice, but their dream about league finals hasn't been realised yet, even with the presence of NHL veteran Petr Nedvěd.

He wants to make this dream come true as much as team management does, but it won't be easy in 2011-12 due to the departures of Zdeněk Ondřej and Andrej Podkonický. Arriving in their place is Darrel Hay. Czech oddsmakers have given Liberec the fourth-best chance of any team to win the title.

Zlín: This will be a different Zlín with no Balaštík in the roster

The alliance looked unbreakable. If Jaroslav Balaštík was skating on Czech Extraliga ice, it was only in the jersey of Zlín. Until now. Balaštík made a salary demand that the club couldn't match, and they had to part company. Add to that the loss of Ivan Rachůnek and a coaching change, where Zdeněk Venera has been replaced by his hitherto assistant Vlach, it looks like a different Zlín than we knew in the past.

Zlín has definitely lost three men with hearts beating for the city, but another has come back home: Petr Čajánek has ended his tenure with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg and will help Vlach maintain the team's morale and lead the team's offence.

České Budějovice: How will they face up to stronger opponents?

HC České Budějovice was in the middle of the pack last year. The club's management didn't markedly change the team's look and so they will be hard-pressed to improve on that this season. Even maintaining their ground will be difficult because three rivals who finished below them have made changes and declared higher goals.

Since the end of Josef Jandač's era as head coach in 2008, České Budějovice has not had much success in the league and it looks like nothing will changed in the outlook of the 2011-12 season. They will rely heavily on the goaltending of Jakub Kovář.

Litvínov: A major reconstruction is needed

Czech hockey experts fear for Litvínov's near future. The entire club looks like the old Ivan Hlinka Arena that they play in. Everything is in immediate need of renovation, but it seems like management has only enough resources to maintain the status quo. The club wants to reach the playoffs, but the hockey public thinks that the play-outs might be more likely. A few big names left the rosters and none came back during the summer. General manager Jiří Bubla is surely doing his best, but it probably won't be enough for the upcoming season. 

Hope dies last, and it is valid also in the case of Litvínov. Maybe the 2011-12 season won't be successful, but if the squad around Martin Ručínský and Vojtěch Kubinčák is able to prove its strength in the future if any empowering will come. As well, renovation plans for Ivan Hlinka Arena are scheduled to take place within a few years. But maybe Litvínov could surprise right now.

Plzeň: Third time lucky?

Big changes started in 2008. Martin Straka came back from United States and settled down in his hometown of Plzeň. In addition to his established rolls of on-ice player and dressing-room leader, he also cast a chair in the general manager's office.

Straka's first season in Plzeň has so-far been their most successful playoff-wise, advancing to the semifinals. But changes have continued since then. The next year, Straka bought the club and got rid it of its debts. Marian Jelínek was hired as head coach and a lot of roster changes were made. In 2009-10, Plzeň won the President's Trophy, but was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

The 2010-11 season was marred by a scandal that resulted in the deduction of 19 points. The team didn't quit and were able to climb back into a playoff spot, but by then they had nothing left in the tank to advance past the first round. The Indians hope that the old saying "third time lucky" holds true, and they will find the success that has eluded them in 2011-12.

Karlovy Vary: Will the club's off-ice insecurity show on the ice as well?

It was like a revelation: The Karlovy Vary club came out from the shade in 2008 and the team that was accustomed to the nether regions of the standings reached the seventh game of the finals, and then won the league title one year later.

Karlovy Vary moved from their old ice rink into a brand-new arena and the fans were looking forward to a glorious future. But it hasn't worked out that way so far. After 13th- and 11th-place finishes, the team is once again in a rut. The explanation is simple: the club is not able to pay the high rent at the new arena, and its representatives are fighting with the city over financial subsidies. At one point last season, it looked like the club would move out of the city. HC Energie is still in Karlovy Vary, but because of the poor financial situation, it is not clear how it will affect on-ice results.

Brno: Let's make things better

The classic motto suits this year's Kometa Brno team well. Brno is entering its third Extraliga season in a row, and after their first season started bad but finished well, and their second one started very strong but finished terribly, they now looking to put together a solid season from start to finish.

Brno went through big changes during the summer but the results from the European Trophy don't promise anything special. This year's pre-season yielded only one impressive result: a 3-1 victory over SKA St. Petersburg.

Sparta Prague: Czech Rangers vs New York Rangers. And what about the Extraliga?

If you are an owner of a sports club in Prague and it is called Sparta, you are supposed to be the favourite, regardless of the sport. This is also the case with HC Sparta Prague. One of the richest Czech clubs is always marked as a big favourite, and this year is no exception.

But can we rely on preseason forecasts? Usually, yes. Sparta has been one of the best clubs in Czech hockey history, but last season was the club's worst ever. Sparta lost one game after another in the autumn and its winter excursion to play in the Spengler Cup didn't help. Sparta ended up in the play-outs, and major changes were necessary. According to some Czech experts, it will be a return to the "Iron Sparta" that we know from the past.

Sparta Prague of last year reminds us of the New York Rangers: a rich club that gets no results. Coincidentally, these two clubs will face each other in an exhibition game on September 29 in Prague. But let's not forget about being ready to play against the rest of the Extraliga as well.

Kladno: Finally a light at the end of the tunnel

Kladno was the biggest Czechoslovakian club of the 1970s. Between 1975 and 1980, Kladno won the league five times. But the '90s and especially the new millenium have brought one big hit after another to Kladno's face. The club has floated between 9th and 14th spot, the lone exception being a 7th-place finish in 2004-05, and in 2003 HC Kladno was even eliminated from the Extraliga.

One year after the elimination, Kladno advanced back again, but the situation did not improve. Kladno has always had one of the lowest budgets and cannot even rely on help fromthe city. Club management hopes that is not the case anymore. Before this season, Jaromír Jágr bought his hometown club and started a big transformation. Even though he will spend this season in the services of the Philadelphia Flyers, he promises to manage the club from across the Atlantic and he said that he thinks the Knights of Kladno can win the Cup.

Mladá Boleslav: Time to move up

The most recent success in the history of BK Mladá Boleslav is came in the 2008-09 season. They won the 1.liga and advanced to the Extraliga over Ústí nad Labem. Three seasons have passed since then, but Mladá Boleslav has not risen above 14th and last place.

The club was hoping to change that last year, but because of the points they were deducted, they fell back to the bottom and weren't able to climb out the rest of the way. This summer, two big names have been added to the roster: David Výborný and Jaroslav Balaštík. Both of them are really good players with NHL experience. Will they be enough to help Mladá Boleslav  finally escape the basement?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Extraliga Opening Day

It's time for the puck to drop on another Czech Extraliga season. The first game will, in fact, be an afternoon affair between BK Mladá Boleslav and PSG Zlín, beginning at 15:10 CET. The game can be seen live on ČT4 in the Czech Republic and online at The rest of Sunday's slate of games all begin at 17:00 or later, and  most of them can be viewed at

One of the more interesting opening-day matchups will occur in the northeastern corner of the country, where Oceláři Třinec will begin defence of their first-ever national championship on home ice against Kometa Brno. They were the league's most dominant team last year, finishing first overall during the regular season and then going 12-6 in the playoffs, winning seven of their last eight games.

One of the great things about the start of a new season is the fresh start that every team gets. Everyone is optimistic that they can improve on their fortunes from a year ago. But how realistic are those expectations? For comparison's sake, here are last year's final standings:

1HC Oceláři Třinec5226581317813696
2HC Bílí Tygři Liberec5226561515913994
3HC Vítkovice Steel5226621816213792
4PSG Zlín5222781515813488
5HC Eaton Pardubice52243101514612588
6HC Mountfield České Budějovice5223641915813185
7HC Slavia Prague5221931914013184
8HC BENZINA Litvínov5223242313316277
9HC Plzeň 19295227631615314577*
10HC Energie Karlovy Vary52157121815215471
11HC Kometa Brno5219512713014668
12HC Sparta Prague5214632911514257
13HC Vagnerplast Kladno5210353410517235*
14BK Mladá Boleslav5214452912315833*

Since last season's conclusion, some teams have overhauled their rosters so much that trying to predict where they will finish this year would be a daunting task. Logically, most of the teams that fit into that category were the ones that missed the playoffs last season, and last year's bottom three teams: Sparta Praha, Kladno and Mladá Boleslav, bear little resemblance to the ones that finished the 2011-12 season. 

Owner Jágr, flanked by Pavel Patera and Jiří Bicek in
Kladno's new jerseys. Photo:
The financially-strapped Kladno club was close to selling its Extraliga license in the off-season, but were saved by native-son Jaromír Jágr, who is now the club's owner. 

The new-look Kladno team has dumped the corporate name and adopted the catchy nickname "Rytíři" (Knights). As far as player personnel, the biggest name added to their roster is former NHLer Jan Hlaváč, who has spent most of the past three seasons in the Swedish Elitseren. 

The club's new website,, will soon open. Currently, the new site displays the club's new logo and slightly modified colour scheme of double blue and gold.

While Kladno did all fans a favour by discarding a long corporate nickname, HC Pardubice went the opposite direction and adopted what is quite possibly the most cumbersome team name in the history of organised sport. HC ČSOB Pojišťovna Pardubice should again contend for the title, which is good news for their strong and loyal fans, but bad news for writers and broadcasters who have to use the name. 

Like Kladno, PSG Zlín has made a cosmetic change. They are keeping their trademark yellow and blue colours, but adopting what they are calling a "retro-modern" design, which includes a laced neck and stitched numbers and names. The names will also be above the number, as modelled by Antonín Honejsek below.

Photos: Daniel Ostrčilík, Zlínský Deník.

Keeping with the new Zlín sweaters, the Extraliga this season is returning to the policy of having the home team wear dark colours and the road team wear light. However, Zlín wishes to continue wearing yellow at home, and were seeking an exception.

As for who will win the championship, it would seem that the top teams from last season will probably remain so, but where exactly they finish is anyone's guess. One should keep in mind that Plzeň 1929 belongs in that group, even though they officially finished 9th last season. They were deducted 19 points mid-season, which otherwise would have landed them in a first-place tie with Třinec. 

For those who want detailed information about off-season player moves, team rosters and schedules, provides plenty of it, and is even manageable for readers who don't understand Czech. 

For a complete list of off-season roster moves, listed alphabetically by player, visit here:

Complete opening-day rosters of all teams, along with some interesting statistics, can be found here:

Finally, the complete Extraliga schedule, by individual rounds of matches, can be found here:

Sunday's games, which is actually the second round, are:

Mladá BoleslavZlín15:10
Slavia PrahaKarlovy Vary17:00
Oceláři TřinecKometa Brno17:00
PardubiceBílí Tygři Liberec17:00
Rytíři KladnoSparta Praha17:30
LitvínovČeské Budějovice17:30
Plzeň 1929Vítkovice 17:30

Saturday, September 17, 2011

National Youth Academy Project

The problems that the Czech Republic has had developing young players in recent years has been well documented on this site and elsewhere.'s Jooeri Loonen examines the steps that the Czech Ice Hockey Association is taking to reverse that trend.

When Slavomir Lener speaks, hockey leaders in the Czech Republic listen. The veteran coach and Czech Ice Hockey Association coach supervisor has been very vocal in the past few years about the state of hockey in his home country, and it seems that Czech hockey is beginning to listen.

Michael Frolík (left) and Ondřej Pavelec are two young Czechs
that have bucked the trend and found success in the NHL and
internationally. Photo: Matthew Manor, HHOF-IIHF images.
In recent years Czech hockey has seen Extraliga teams focusing more on short-term success on the ice, mainly due to financial incentives. Operating on tighter budgets, there was no time for teams to have developmental seasons in which to build for the future.

The effects have been disastrous for Czech hockey. Hampered by a lack of ice time, juniors left for the North American junior leagues where they often faded among their American and Canadian peers before returning home disillusioned.

The Czech Republic had 21 players drafted in 2004, but the number sank to just three in 2009. The national U18 and U20 teams, previously accustomed to competing for medals, instead were fighting to avoid relegation from the top levels.

In order to bring this slide to a halt, the Czech Ice Hockey Association (ČSLH) had to come up with something to change the mentality of the clubs. As money and prestige matter, they decided to reward teams that took good care of their development centres. Nine clubs took on the challenge to be rated by the ČSLH and get compensated for their good efforts. In the end six teams passed the tests sufficiently and were officially given a star academy accreditation.

The various criteria needed for accreditation crossed all aspects of junior development. The ČSLH was not only looking into the on-ice facilities but also rating what the various clubs offer their juniors in terms of education and medical support, realizing that not every player can become a pro. Having players take classes next to their hockey activities ensures they will not be sidelined on the job market if they don’t make it to the pro ranks following their junior careers.

Other criteria to which the clubs were measured to had to do with the number of licensed youth coaches and the amount of international contacts that gave juniors the opportunity to play teams abroad.

In return for their investment, the association offers the teams a number of benefits. Not only will they receive financial compensation but they can also count on the experience of foreign coaches and their junior teams being protected against relegation.

“It offers these teams an opportunity to work with juniors on a long term strategy,” Lener said. “They will not have to worry about short term results.”

“Each team will get three coaches paid and offered by the ČSLH. Their impact will be immediate. It is important to harmonise training methods and style of play within the whole organization from the youngest juniors to the A-team.”

Two teams rated a near perfect score on all areas: HC Karlovy Vary and Bílí Tygři Liberec. Four others, HC Pardubice, Sparta Praha, HC Vítkovice and Czech second-tier team KLH Chomutov managed to be rated at least the minimum of 80%.

“All teams put in a lot of effort in order to be awarded,” ČSLH chairman Tomáš Král said. “Even the three teams that did not make the mark this time are in excellent condition to obtain one next season. For example, second tier Dukla Jihlava did not have enough qualified coaches but they were fine in most other aspects.”

Former Czech 1994 Olympian Pavol Geffert is the head of Sparta Praha’s junior department and also coaches a junior team himself. It is no surprise he’s delighted that his team has been recognized.

“Even before this project saw life, we complied with some of the new standards,” he said. “As soon as we could apply, the whole organization, ranging from team leader Petr Briža to all coaches, stood behind participating in the project. Being awarded not just looks good on paper but also gives us an edge to parents of young players who are looking for the best place to send their children to. They know the kids will be given good care at Sparta Praha.”

One of the areas Sparta Praha had to invest in was upgrading locker room facilities for their youth teams. It is required that these meet the same standards as those of the first team and therefore the team’s academy building will see a complete makeover this summer.

Geffert: “We’ll be setting up state-of-the-art facilities including a dormitory using smart cards. Also, a new junior team will be created that will play in the second-tier junior level. This should ensure we don’t lose the players that do not receive a lot of ice time in our top junior team and used to be surplus to requirement.”

The earlier mentioned educational part of the project is vital, according to Geffert. His team made arrangements with schools so the school schedule can be combined with the practice schedule on ice.

“This is a win-win situation as the player does not have to miss classes while on the other end we get a motivated player not having to worry about exams when practicing.”

The Sparta Praha youth chief admits his team struggled in the past collaborating with school directors, meaning players either missed practices or classes.

“In every top hockey nation such collaborations exist but in the Czech Republic it was somewhat neglected over the years. I am not in favour of the stereotype thinking that the less intelligent a person is, the better hockey player he has become. I even think the opposite is true.”

All six award-winning teams will get together frequently to share experiences and discuss their progress. For the Czech Ice Hockey Association this project will serve as one of the primary measures geared to stop the talent slide.

“The ČSLH Academy will have to become an appealing brand,” said Král. “It’s the first step for us to prevent 15 and 16 year old players to move abroad, by offering them a solid alternative at home.”

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft saw 10 Czech players drafted, a definite improvement over the previous years. Time will tell whether the increased number of Czech players drafted in 2011 was an exception, or just the beginning of a steady progress to numbers that both Czech hockey and the rest of the hockey world is used to.

Lev starts 0-2, heads on the road

As an expansion team, big things are not expected from HC Lev Poprad this season. The KHL, generally regarded as the second-best league in the world, boasts many names that are internationally known in the world of hockey, but Lev's roster is relatively annonymous by comparison. Few players are well-known outside of the Czech and Slovak Republics. The only players with NHL experience are defencemen Branislav Mezei and Karel Pilař and forwards Ľuboš BartečkoLadislav Nagy and Václav Nedorost. There are a few others with previous KHL experience, but mostly as depth players. So when they can compete against top teams in the league, it's a promising sign.

Ľuboš Bartečko (left) scored Lev's first 2 goals. Photo: Ľuboš
They did just that in their home opener on Monday against Metallurg Magnitogorsk, one of Russia's powerhouses over the past decade. Though the visitors jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period, it was Bartečko, the captain, who almost single-handedly got them back even. In the last minute of the second period, he put his name in the history books with Lev's first goal, as he ripped a slapshot over the glove of goaltender Georgiy Gelashvili. In the third, he scored a fluky goal from behind the goal line and then almost tied it with about three minutes to play, as Gelashvili stoned him from point-blank. An empty-netter made it a 4-2 final.

"My two goals went upstairs," Bartečko said figuratively, while gesturing to the sky. "I gave them to Paľo (fallen friend Pavol Demitra), he was with us. It's just too bad we weren't able to win."

"The goal at the end of the second got us going again," said coach Radim Rulík. "During the break before the final period, we said that we've got to give an effort for a full 60 minutes. In the third period we were the better team."

"Leo" leads an enthusiastic gathering at Aréna Poprad.
Friday's game was close most of the way, with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk holding a slim 1-0 lead late in the third period. Lev put on all sorts of pressure in the final frame, but couldn't get the equalizer before Yugra scored twice in under a minute to put the game out of reach with four minutes to play. Tomáš Netík finally broke the goose-egg with just three seconds on the clock, and the game finished 3-1.

Though they didn't pick up any points in the standings, they did win some points with the crowd for their determination late in the games. The sold-out crowds were really into both games, chanting "Poprad! Poprad!" and singing throughout. The team even has a song, already, which the club has released on YouTube.

The team now heads out on its first road trip, with the first stop being St. Petersburg to take on SKA on Monday. The game starts at 17:00 CET and will be televised in the Czech and Slovak Republics on Nova Sport. That will be followed by a pair of games in the Moscow area against Atlant and CSKA before winding up against Dinamo Riga in the Latvian capital. They return home to play OHK Dynamo Moscow on September 30.

Below is the team's revised schedule for the season. The original home opener, scheduled for October 10 against Avangard Omsk, was of course postponed after the airline tragedy involving Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The game has been re-scheduled to October 31. Also, the two games against Yaroslavl, highlighted below in red, have been cancelled and will not be made up against other clubs. The league schedule has therefore been reduced from 56 games to 54, the same number as was played last season. All times are Central European.

More information about the team can be found on the club's website, in English, at

2.Mon 12.9.2011 HC LEV Poprad Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2:4
3.Fri 16.9.2011 HC LEV Poprad Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk 1:3
4.Mon 19.9.2011 SKA St. Petersburg HC LEV Poprad17:00
5.Wed 21.9.2011 Atlant Moscow Oblast HC LEV Poprad17:30
6.Fri 23.9.2011 HC CSKA Moscow HC LEV Poprad17:30
7.Mon 26.9.2011 HC Dinamo Riga HC LEV Poprad18:30
8.Fri 30.9.2011 HC LEV Poprad OHK Dynamo Moscow19:00
9.Sun 2.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad Amur Khabarovsk17:00
10.Tue 4.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad HK Sibir Novosibirsk19:00
11.Thu 6.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad Metallurg Novokuznetsk19:00
12.Wed 12.10.2011 HC Dinamo Riga HC LEV Poprad18:30
13.Fri 14.10.2011 AK Bars Kazan HC LEV Poprad17:00
14.Sun 16.10.2011 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk HC LEV Poprad15:00
15.Tue 18.10.2011 HC Salavat Yulaev Ufa HC LEV Poprad15:00
16.Fri 21.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad HC Dinamo Riga19:00
17.Sun 23.10.2011 HC CSKA Moscow HC LEV Poprad13:00
18.Tue 25.10.2011 HC Dinamo Minsk HC LEV Poprad18:00
19.Thu 27.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad SKA St. Petersburg19:00
1.Mon 31.10.2011 HC LEV Poprad Avangard Omsk19:00
20.Wed 2.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad Severstal Cherepovets19:00
21.Fri 4.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad Vityaz Chekhov19:00
22.Sun 6.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad HC Spartak Moscow17:00
23.Wed 16.11.2011 Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg HC LEV Poprad15:00
24.Fri 18.11.2011 Traktor Chelyabinsk HC LEV Poprad15:00
25.Sun 20.11.2011 HC Barys Astana HC LEV Poprad13:00
26.Tue 22.11.2011 SKA St. Petersburg HC LEV Poprad17:00
27.Sat 26.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod17:00
28.Mon 28.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad Lokomotiv YaroslavlN/A
29.Wed 30.11.2011 HC LEV Poprad OHK Dynamo Moscow19:00
30.Mon 5.12.2011 Avangard Omsk HC LEV Poprad14:00
31.Wed 7.12.2011 Metallurg Magnitogorsk HC LEV Poprad15:00
32.Fri 9.12.2011 Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk HC LEV Poprad15:00
33.Sun 11.12.2011 HC Spartak Moscow HC LEV Poprad15:00
34.Tue 20.12.2011 HC LEV Poprad HC Dinamo Riga19:00
35.Thu 22.12.2011 HC LEV Poprad SKA St. Petersburg19:00
36.Sat 24.12.2011 HC LEV Poprad Atlant Moscow Oblast13:00
37.Mon 26.12.2011 HC LEV Poprad HC CSKA Moscow17:00
38.Tue 3.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad HC Spartak Moscow19:00
39.Fri 6.1.2012 HK Sibir Novosibirsk HC LEV Poprad12:00
40.Sun 8.1.2012 Metallurg Novokuznetsk HC LEV Poprad12:00
41.Tue 10.1.2012 Amur Khabarovsk HC LEV Poprad10:00
42.Thu 12.1.2012 OHK Dynamo Moscow HC LEV Poprad17:30
43.Sun 15.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad AK Bars Kazan17:00
44.Tue 17.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad HC Salavat Yulaev Ufa19:00
45.Thu 19.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk19:00
46.Thu 26.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad HC CSKA Moscow19:00
47.Sat 28.1.2012 HC LEV Poprad HC Dinamo Minsk17:00
48.Tue 31.1.2012 Vityaz Chekhov HC LEV Poprad17:00
49.Thu 2.2.2012 Severstal Cherepovets HC LEV Poprad17:00
50.Sat 4.2.2012 HC Spartak Moscow HC LEV Poprad15:00
51.Wed 15.2.2012 HC LEV Poprad Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg19:00
52.Fri 17.2.2012 HC LEV Poprad Traktor Chelyabinsk19:00
53.Sun 19.2.2012 HC LEV Poprad HC Barys Astana17:00
54.Wed 22.2.2012 OHK Dynamo Moscow HC LEV Poprad17:30
55.Fri 24.2.2012 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl HC LEV PopradN/A
56.Sun 26.2.2012 HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod HC LEV Poprad13:00