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 ct24.cz/sport. The rest of Sunday's slate of games all begin at 17:00 or later, and most of them can be viewed at tv.hokej.cz.
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:
|1||HC Oceláři Třinec||52||26||5||8||13||178||136||96|
|2||HC Bílí Tygři Liberec||52||26||5||6||15||159||139||94|
|3||HC Vítkovice Steel||52||26||6||2||18||162||137||92|
|5||HC Eaton Pardubice||52||24||3||10||15||146||125||88|
|6||HC Mountfield České Budějovice||52||23||6||4||19||158||131||85|
|7||HC Slavia Prague||52||21||9||3||19||140||131||84|
|8||HC BENZINA Litvínov||52||23||2||4||23||133||162||77|
|9||HC Plzeň 1929||52||27||6||3||16||153||145||77*|
|10||HC Energie Karlovy Vary||52||15||7||12||18||152||154||71|
|11||HC Kometa Brno||52||19||5||1||27||130||146||68|
|12||HC Sparta Prague||52||14||6||3||29||115||142||57|
|13||HC Vagnerplast Kladno||52||10||3||5||34||105||172||35*|
|14||BK Mladá Boleslav||52||14||4||5||29||123||158||33*|
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: hc-kladno.cz.
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, rytirikladno.cz, 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, hokej.cz 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: http://www.hokej.cz/index.php?lng=CZ&view=prestupy&id=539
Complete opening-day rosters of all teams, along with some interesting statistics, can be found here: http://www.hokej.cz/index.php?lng=CZ&view=clanek&id=53494
Finally, the complete Extraliga schedule, by individual rounds of matches, can be found here: http://www.hokej.cz/index.php?lng=CZ&webid=385&id=539&view=
Sunday's games, which is actually the second round, are:
|Slavia Praha||Karlovy Vary||17:00|
|Oceláři Třinec||Kometa Brno||17:00|
|Pardubice||Bílí Tygři Liberec||17:00|
|Rytíři Kladno||Sparta Praha||17:30|