Back in September of last year I wrote about the fantastic event that KHL Medveščak Zagreb were hosting, with two EBEL league matches being played inside the Roman Coliseum. You can find the article here http://wp.me/p2gDti-3o
I first began following KHL Medveščak Zagreb through meeting Croatian Toronto Maple Leafs fans (Leaf fans are everywhere eh) on twitter and became a fan from there. I’ve kept up with how team were doing, trying to learn about them and the league they compete in.
This season I’ve been able to watch a few games online including the afore mentioned event in the Roman Coliseum.
I’m going to go one better a week from now as I’m heading out to Croatia to watch a couple of games, including the last of the regular season.
I’m very much looking forward to this experience, watching my new favourite players, seeing first-hand the amazing support the fans give the Bears and visiting what looks to be such a beautiful country.
I’m guessing most of you won’t know much about KHL Medveščak Zagreb, so here’s a little about the club.
Established in 1961, from the team SD Zagreb, Medvescak began life in the Yugoslav Hockey League playing home games in Šalata. Šalata is where they now play a Winter Classic every year, I assume going back to their roots because in 1971 the team moved into an indoor rink in Zagreb called the Dom Sportova. This venue has the capacity to hold up to 6,400 fans and Medvescak still call it home to this day.
There was little success for the team, no championships and in 1985 they were almost relegated from the top Yugoslav league and in the midst of severe financial difficulties.
The following year the club was sponsored by the Gortan Building company, owned by Zdenko Gradecki, to become the de facto owners. Gradecki did more than turn the club around, he transformed it by pumping in the money required. One of his early moves was to bring in Russian Hall of Famer, Vyacheslav Anisin, who proceeded to produce 55 points in 31 games in his one and only season for Medveščak. By the late 1980s the team was winning everything in sight. Three consecutive championships from 1989, and four Yugoslav Cups. This culminated with an appearance in the 1991 IIHF European Cup in which they progressed to the second round.
With the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, most of their sponsors including Gortan Building company suffered financial problems and withdrew their support from Medveščak. Without the financial backing Medveščak had to now compete as an amateur outfit in the Croatian Ice Hockey League.
This didn’t make them too downhearted however as from the late 1990s to late 2000s they dominated the league, winning almost every championship. In search of more competitive hockey, Medveščak entered the Slovenian Hockey League in 2007.
They would finish their inaugural season in second place.
The following year with two of the better teams having entered the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (EBEL), Medvescak won the league losing only one game in regulation.
In 2009–10 Medveščak decided to follow the better teams into the EBEL and again take a step up the hockey ladder.
To help with the adjustment they hired Ted Sator from fellow EBEL team Alba Volán Székesfehérvár, who had previously spent twelve years in the NHL, four of those as head coach.
In this first season they made the semi-finals losing to eventual champions EC Red Bull Salzburg, after knocking out the top seeded Graz 99ers in the previous round.
Medvescak have made the playoffs every season thus far in the EBEL and currently sit 2nd in the league as I write this.
Talking of this season the current coach is Canadian Marty Raymond, formerly of Bakersfield Condors (ECHL). He took the Condors to the playoffs for the first time in their history, a feat they achieved every season he was holding the reigns.
This is his second season in charge of Medvescak.
Here are some of the current players you may have heard of.
Medvescak’s captain is defenseman Alan Letang. He had a very short NHL career in which he played for Dallas, Calgary, & NYI and then a four year stint in Germany before heading to the EBEL.
François Bouchard was a 2nd round pick for Washington in 2006 but didn’t make the big league and played the majority of his games for Hershey Bears in North America.
Brandon Buck had a 3 year stint playing for Guelph Storm (OHL) in which he was
a point per game player in his 2nd & 3rd seasons. Had a good year in Norway last season before the move to Medvescak.
Nova Scotia native David Brine scored 100 points in his last season in the QMJHL.
In 2006, he was a contestant on the Global reality series Making the Cut: Last Man Standing. Though Brine didn’t win the show he earned a tryout with the Florida Panthers with whom he signed but only made a few starts and ended up being a regular for the Rochester Americans.
My personal favourite player is Kyle Greentree. He made just two starts in the NHL for Calgary but had a very productive 6 year AHL career, registering 268 points in 347 games. Kyle had a great start to his Medveščak career, averaging a point per game.
Andy Sertich was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2002. In his early career for University of Minnesota he played alongside Thomas Vanek, Paul Martin and Phil Kessel! He didn’t make the big time and played just 34 games in the AHL. He has dual nationality and returned to Croatia to become a huge fan favourite for Medveščak.
I’m extremely lucky that the games I’ll be attending are part of the Arena Ice Fever, when Medveščak play games at a bigger venue called Arena Zagreb. They can host over 15,000 people and the atmosphere is something to behold apparently. I can’t wait! I shall document my time out there and hopefully have a great article for you to read on my return.
As the fans would sing……. Zig Zag Medveščak!