Friday, November 18, 2011

National team and clubs dispute over players for December tournaments

It's not often that European hockey clubs and national teams dispute over the availability of the players. In contrast with North America, where the NHL is king, wearing the national colours in Europe has always taken priority and, normally, domestic leagues shut down for international tournaments. However, on the third weekend in December, there are international and club tournaments scheduled to operate at the same time, and Otakar Duben of is reporting that some of the Czech clubs involved have made it clear that they intend to take their full rosters.

Alois Hadamczik might not have all the players he wants in
Chomutov and Moscow. Photo: Kateřina Šulová,
From December 15 to 18, the Channel One Cup, which is the second leg of the 2011-12 Euro Hockey Tour, will be held in Moscow. It features the national teams of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. That same weekend, the Red Bulls Salute, the playoff round to determine the winner of the 2011 European Trophy, will be held in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria. Among the quarter-finalists that have advanced from the pre-season tournament are one team each from Austria and Finland, three from Sweden, and three Czech clubs: České Budějovice, Pardubice, and Plzeň.

At the recently completed Karjala Cup in Finland, the Czech roster included goaltender Jakub Kovář and forward Aleš Kotalík of České Budějovice and forward Petr Koukal of Pardubice. It appears that they might not be there the next time.

"I have a responsibility to the owners, partners and fans (of the Pardubice club)," said general manager Zbyněk Kusy. "I cannot let an elite player miss a top club event and replace him with somebody from the First League." Meanwhile, Budějovice's general manger, Josef Zajíc said, "If Kovář is going to be used as a back-up as he was at the Karjala, it will be better for him to play the tournament in Austria."

National team coach Alois Hadamczik, for one, is aghast that some clubs are threatening to withhold players from the national team for what he considers to be an inferior tournament. "If someone would rather play in a third-rate tournament, that's pretty sad. To argue that the European Trophy is more beneficial to the player than games with Russia, Sweden and Finland? Those are far more important confrontations."

Kusy told newspaper Sport that the issue has already been settled, claiming "(National team general manager) Slavomír Lener announced to the APK that the European Trophy finalists will have all their players and they will not be selected for the Channel One Cup."

Lener, however, claims that he did not make such a promise, and that ultimately Hadamczik is free to choose the team he wishes. As for who he will choose, Hadamczik says, "I have a moral obligation to select who I think are the best players available."

Making the dispute more interesting to Czech hockey fans might be the fact that one of the opening games of the Channel One Cup will be played in Chomutov. The North Bohemian city's brand new arena will play host to the Czech Republic-Sweden game on December 15.

The Finnish and Swedish rosters might also be affected by this conflict, as they both have players on their national teams that are in the Red Bulls Salute. From Finland's Karjala Cup roster, defenceman Ossi Väänänen plays for Jokerit, forward Topi Jaakola plays for Luleå, and forward Mika Pyörälä plays for Frölunda. From Sweden, goaltender Johan Gustafsson and forwards Simon Hjalmarsson and Johan Harju play for Luleå, defenceman Klas Dahlbeck and forward Andreas Jämti play for Linköpings, and defenceman Christian Bäckman plays for Frölunda. The fact that two Finns play for Swedish clubs involved could complicate things further.

It remains to be seen how Czech television handles the concurrent tournaments. ČT4 normally shows most Euro Hockey Tour games, and all games involving the Czech Republic. However, they also televised several European Trophy games in August and September, and it would seem odd to ignore the playoff portion of the tournament with three Czech teams involved.

Here is the schedule for the Channel One Cup (all times are Central European):

Thursday, December 15:
17:00 Russia - Finland (Moscow)
18:20 Czech Republic - Sweden (Chomutov)

Saturday, December 17:
11:00 Russia - Sweden (Moscow)
15:00 Czech Republic - Finland (Moscow)

Sunday, December 18:
11:00 Russia - Czech Republic (Moscow)
15:00 Sweden - Finland (Moscow)

And here is the schedule for the Red Bulls Salute:

Friday, December 16:
17:15 Jokerit Helsinki - HC České Budějovice (quarterfinal, Vienna)
17:15 Frölunda Indians - Linköpings HC (quarterfinal, Salzburg)
20:30 HC Plzeň 1929 - Luleå HF (quarterfinal, Vienna)
20:30 HC Pardubice - EC Red Bull Salzburg (quarterfinal, Salzburg)

Saturday, December 17:
17:15 Winners of quarterfinals in Vienna (semifinal, Vienna)
17:15 Winners of quarterfinals in Salzburg (semifinal, Salzburg)
20:30 Losers of quarterfinals in Vienna (qualification, Vienna)
20:30 Losers of quarterfinals in Salzburg (qualification, Salzburg)

Sunday, December 18:
14:00 Losers of qualification games (7th/8th place, Salzburg)
17:15 Winners of qualification games (5th/6th place, Salzburg)
17:15 Losers of semifinal games (3rd/4th place, Vienna)
20:30 Winners of semifinal games (championship game, Vienna)

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