Defenceman Jaroslav Modrý, sent off for hooking in overtime in a game where his team, Plzeň 1929, was facing elimination, sat watching helplessly as Richard Jareš fired home the series winning goal to send Benzina Litvínov into the quarterfinals, and send Plzeň to an earlier-than-expected off-season.
For a time, it didn't even look like Plzen would have a chance to fight for its season in O.T. With five minutes to play in regulation time, Litvínov led 3-1 when Martin Straka and Tomáš Vlasák, the team's offensive saviours all season, bailed them out twice more with a pair of late goals to send the game to extra time.
|Jaroslav Modrý leaves the ice on Sunday after what was|
apparently his last game. Photo: Milan Podpera, hcplzen.cz.
The Plzeň club is left to wonder "what if?" What if they hadn't lost all those points, and been forced to play in the play-in round? They came back against the odds on a few different occasions in the season. After losing 19 points, they rebounded and fought their way into the playoffs. After dropping the first two games, they responded with a strong game at home to get back into the series, and then in the fourth game, with a chance to tie it, they fell behind again. Again, they came back and tied it. But at that point, they were out of comebacks.
It was a character-building season for sure, and one in which Straka, the team captain, general manager, and co-owner--the Reg Dunlop of the Czech Extraliga, if you will--seemed to age a few years as he tried to deal with the headaches in the front office and keep his players ready to play on the ice. For a team that finished first place last year only to be knocked out in the quarterfinals, this season was not the atonement that they were looking for.
For Modrý, who was acknowledged on the public address system at Plzeň's ČEZ Arena following the game and given a nice ovation from the crowd, it was surely also not the way he envisioned ending his lengthy career. But spending the year with good friends Straka and John Slaney, wiley veterans themselves, was maybe more important than the way it ended.
"In life, there comes a time when you have to somehow decide. But I've already made the decision itself," he said, addressing his future plans. "I want to thank Martin and my teammates for two wonderful years here. Because of those moments that I experienced here with the guys, it's worth it. Martin did a lot of work here. His heart, determination and hard work; hats off. I'm glad I was part of it."