Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kometa in ELH finals means changes to U18 schedule

When Brno's Hala Rondo (since renamed Kajot Arena) was named the primary venue of the 2012 IIHF U18 World Championship last August, the possibility for a scheduling conflict was possible.

After all, the arena is also home to Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga, and the tournament has traditionally coincided with the league finals. However, when one considered that Brno hadn't won a national championship since 1966 or even a playoff series in the top league since the late '80s, the decision seemed safe.

Five weeks ago, Kometa qualified for the Extraliga's post-season for the first time since joining in 2009 and quickly dispatched of Kladno, whose recent track record has been almost as futile, in the preliminary round.

Waiting in the wings, however, was Sparta Praha, the league's first overall team, in the quarterfinals. After dropping two of the first three games, Kometa then stunned a large percentage of the nation's hockey fans by reeling off three straight wins to take the series.

Their roll continued into the semifinals against #2-ranked Plzeň 1929, a team that has the league's best combined record over the past three seasons. No matter. The streaking Kometa went into West Bohemia and took the first two games.

With their path to the final now clear, people began to see the clear conflict ahead, and many wondered aloud what would happen. Would Kometa be rewarded for their improbable finals appearance by having to play the entire series on the road? Or their "home" games at a neutral site? Would the Extraliga radically alter their pre-determined schedule to make it work?

On March 28, the club made an announcement on its website.

"The priority is the domestic league. Kometa isn't migrating anywhere," said general manager Zdeněk Zikmund. "There is already an agreement in place. We have an alternate plan. That will be announced in the event Kometa advances beyond the semifinal. For sure, though, we can say that the whole tournament will be played in Moravia."

They have indeed advanced, as Kometa went into Plzeň on Monday night and won in convincing fashion, 7-2, to finish off the series in five games. Thus, it became time to speculate on what that alternate plan might be.

From the U18 tournament's official website and hokej.cz, here are the schedules for the two events in conflict:

DateKAJOT Arena in Brno (Group A)Zimní stadion Znojmo (Group B)
16:00   DEN - CAN (1)16:00   LAT - RUS (2)
20:00   FIN - USA (3)20:00   GER - SWE (4)
15:30   CZE - DEN (5)18:00   SUI - LAT (6)
13:00   USA - CZE (7)14:00   RUS - GER (8)
18:00   CAN - FIN (9)18:00   SWE - SUI (10)
14:00   DEN - USA (11)18:00   LAT - SWE (12)
16:00   CAN - CZE (13)16:00   GER - LAT (14)
20:00   FIN - DEN (15)20:00   RUS - SUI (16)
16:00   CZE - FIN (17)16:00   SWE - RUS (18)
20:00   USA - CAN (19)20:00   SUI - GER (20)
Day Off
15:00   A2 - B3 (21) - quarterfinal15:00   A4 - B5 (22) - relegation
19:00   B2 - A3 (23) - quarterfinal19:00   B4 - A5 (24) - relegation
15:00   B1 - W21 (25) - semifinal15:00   A4 - B4 (26) - relegation
19:00   A1 - W23 (27) - semifinal19:00   A5 - B5 (28) - relegation
14:00   L21 - L23 (29) - 5th/6th-
12:00   L27 - L25 (30) - Bronze-
16:00   W27 - W25 (31) - Gold-

Extraliga Final schedule
  Pardubice or Liberec - HC Kometa Brno
Mon, 09.04.2012Pardubice/LiberecHC Kometa Brno
Tue, 10.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
Fri, 13.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
Sat, 14.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
*Tue, 17.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
*Thu, 19.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
*Sat, 21.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
When observing these schedules, there does seem to be a bit of wiggle room. Note that on Friday the 13th and Sunday the 15th, there are single tournament games scheduled for early afternoon, leaving the evenings free. Games 3 and 4 of the Extraliga Final, to be played in Brno, are slated for the 13th and 14th. Surely they could change the Saturday game to Sunday, no? That would still leave a day off before game 5.

As for the quarterfinals, scheduled for the same day as a possible sixth game, perhaps they could be moved to Znojmo in the event the game becomes necessary. That would mean relegation round games being moved to Saturday.

Of course, none of that takes into account the logistical nightmare of redesigning the rink back and forth. Anyone who's seen an Extraliga game knows that the ice is littered with advertising to an almost nauseating level. IIHF tournaments, meanwhile, have different and, mercifully, far fewer on-ice ads. Would changing them back and forth be feasible?

Apparently not.

On Tuesday afternoon, the club announced that five games are being moved out of Brno: only one to original co-host Znojmo, and four to Břeclav, which now becomes the tournament's third host city. Břeclav is no stranger to U18 international hockey as a regular host of the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

Presumably, the five games being moved are the single game on the 13th, and the two each on the 14th and 19th, and the game going to Znojmo is the one on the 13th: Czech Republic-Denmark. A revised schedule has not yet been released, however.

"We have an understanding," Zikmund said to news agency ČTK. "We are working on it with the IIHF and after the meeting with the (tournament) organizing committee and the international federation, it will be published officially."

EDIT: Within two hours of this post being published, the revised schedule was released by the official website of the U18 World Championship and HC Pardubice eliminated Bílí Tygři Liberec to advance to face Kometa in the Extraliga Final.

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