Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New season begins July 31

The last day of July seems to be the start of the 2012-13 hockey season, at least in the Czech Republic.

Action from last year's European Trophy, featuring Sparta
Praha against Linkoping. Europeantrophy.com.
The last day of July sees the first game of the 2012 European Trophy, and it will be hosted by the Czech Extraliga's newest team, Piráti Chomutov, against Slovan Bratislava. Just as last year, seven Czech clubs will compete in the 32-team tournament, with Piráti taking the place of Slavia Praha. The other six are Sparta Praha, Bílí Tygři Liberec, Pardubice, České Budějovice, Plzeň 1929 and Kometa Brno.

What began as a pre-season tournament for Scandinavian clubs, the European Trophy has grown in size and stature over the past few years, to the extent where last season teams were refusing to relinquish players to their respective national teams so they could compete for the championship. This season, more of the tournament has been scheduled into the traditional international breaks, and it is assumed players will stick with their club teams then as well. In recent IIHF-led discussions about the future of club hockey in Europe, one of the speculated scenarios had the competition grow into a full-out international league.

The top eight teams will play in the Red Bull Salute, December 15 to 18 in Bratislava and Vienna. The full tournament schedule can be seen here. Last season, three Czech teams were among the final eight.

The last day of July also sees the first-ever exhibition game for the first Czech-based club to compete in the Kontinental Hockey League: Lev Praha. They kick off their 10-game pre-season schedule on Tuesday night at Svijanská Arena in Liberec against Rytíři Kladno at 17:30 CET. The Lions then take on host Bílí Tygři in a cat fight on Thursday night.

Jaroslav Svoboda shoots on Drew MacIntyre at Lev Praha's
first training camp. Photo: Vladimír Jína, levpraha.cz.
A similarly-named club based in Poprad, Slovakia competed in the KHL last season, and this edition of HC Lev has a few returnees, including captain Ľuboš Bartečko along with defenceman Jiří Hunkes and forwards Juraj Mikúš and Jiří Sekáč. Other notable names include goaltender Tomáš Pöpperle, defenceman Michal Sersen and forward Tomáš Rachůnek, who all played last season for Sparta, as well as ex-NHLers Tomáš Mojžíš, Marcel Hossa, Erik Christensen, Jiří Novotný, Michal Řepík and Jaroslav Svoboda.

The team's pre-season roster and schedule are available now at the Czech version of the club website; the English version should be online within a week.

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