After avoiding the incoming snow at Heathrow I made my way to Zagreb, Croatia. For those of you who heard about the weather chaos that hit England last weekend, you’ll know how lucky I was to get a flight out of the country!
Zagreb has endured far worse weather than the UK has encountered of late, with the snow around Arena Zagreb banked up to 5-6ft where it had been cleared to allow access for vehicles and pedestrians.
This bring me to the reason I was in Zagreb. As I wrote in this article http://wp.me/p2gDti-64, I was here to watch Medvescak Zagreb of the EBEL play two games over the weekend.
The first thing to say about the venue Arena Zagreb, is that it’s quite imposing elevated off ground level.
Lit up like a beacon you can see it from a fair distance away in the night sky.
Walking around the arena before a game you notice the differing age range of the fans. Certainly not a Toronto Maple Leafs NHL crowd but more like a Marlies fan base with the family type atmosphere to go with that.
No ticket touts that I could see, just vendors selling food and a very nice vibe for a sporting event.
Thanks to my friend Mislav and the nice people at Medvescak Zagreb, I had access to the press box for the games. A fantastic way to watch and gave me a real overview of what was happening on the ice and in the stands.
Medvescak had not won a home game in 2013 before my arrival so I was hoping my penchant for being a good luck charm for most of my other hockey teams was going to work for them!
Friday night’s opponents were EC VSV and I didn’t have to wait long to see my first Medvescak goal. Some good early pressure led to a scramble in front of net, resulting in Kostovic giving the home team a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds in. The rest of the 1st period was extremely scrappy, none more so than the play that allowed VSV’s fourth liner Patrick Plazer to tie the game with just over 2 minutes left in the first period.
The second period was a far more feisty affair with the five penalties of the entire game being awarded during it. On the first penalty kill for Medvescak, Brandon Buck was able to manufacture a breakaway but his backhand effort was well saved.
Medvescak have struggled with their power play and did so again in this game.
It wasn’t until 4 on 4 play late in the period that they retook the lead on a nice individual goal from Adam Miller. Going forehand-backhand-forehand he deceived the net minder for his 13th goal of the season.
The best moment of the game for me came two minutes into the 3rd period when my favourite player Kyle Greentree drove to the net and netted an easy rebound to stretch Medvescak’s lead to 2.
Adam Miller scored his 2nd of the game on a partial breakaway, tucking the puck under the goalies pads to essentially finish the game. VSV did pull one back with just over a minute left but there was no heroic comeback as Brandon Buck found the empty net to give him his 20th goal of the season and Modjeska a 5-2 victory.
The good luck charm had worked it seemed!
The last game of the regular season was on Sunday and the opponents were Dornbirner Eishockey Club. I had been warned that Dornbirner were not particularly good but they were the sort of the team that dragged you down to their level of play.
The ceremonial puck drop before the game was performed by members of the Croatian Air force which got a great reaction from the crowd.
I’d obviously had a positive effect on Kyle Greentree, as after scoring for the first time in 6 games in his last outing, he opened the scoring in this game after a nice passing play with Francois Bouchard. The goal registered with not even two minutes on the clock.
Brandon Buck and Adam Miller have really clicked as a partnership from the games I’ve watched this season and no more evidence than in the first period. Both unlucky on a few occasions not to extend the lead.
Robert Kristan had been given the net for Medvescak in this game, taking over from Ouzas, and he made 2 big saves late in the 1st period. A pad stop to deny a breakaway effort and then a very fancy poke check to stop what looked a certain goal.
Those saves looked even bigger when early in the 2nd period Nathan Perkovich was left alone in the slot and made no mistake with an assured finish.
A rash of penalties followed the goal and Medvescak were made to paid to pay the price as MacMillan slapped the puck past an out of position Kristan on the power play. The puck taking a wicked bounce of the backboards and landing directly on the goal scorers stick.
Greentree restored the two goal advantage shortly afterwards in a random series of events. It looked like Desrochers had made a huge save but after a prolonged video review the goal was given. However the goal was given to Letang when it was clear that Greentree had touched the puck last! Before they could even give that goal back to Greentree, Andy Sertich had fired a shot from the point which somehow found it’s way into the net. The 4-1 lead was cut to two as Kozek made no mistake from in close to give Dorbiner some hope.
Medvescak coasted the 3rd period and were always in control. From a selfish point of view I was hoping someone would lay on a hat trick goal for Greentree. There was to be one more goal but it was Perkovich with his second of the game. Shifting the puck around the net minder and firing home short side.
A consecutive 5-2 victory for Medvescak on the weekend, that left the fans very happy indeed!
So what were my impressions? I had no expectations as to the level of hockey. Watching on streams that barely work doesn’t really lend itself to making hard conclusions. The hockey is hard to judge compared to the North American game (bigger ice just one factor) but I do see a little of the AHL in some of the play. Mostly entertaining, very competitive and the game flows. There are very few TV timeouts and probably helps in that regard. The Medvescak fans are great and I’m not just saying that! They resemble more of a football(soccer) crowd than a North American one. They don’t stop supporting their teams throughout the whole game and this is no more exemplified then the fans in “Sektor B.” I spent a little time with them during one of the games and they are the heartbeat of the crowd. Their drums echo through the arena and every song you can hear seems to be driven by them.
Overall I had a fantastic time.
No expectations going in and I was blown away by Zagreb.
The people are great and a huge thank you to everyone I met. You were all so welcoming and unbelievably kind. Special thank you’s to Mislav and Antea.
Would highly recommend Croatia and Zagreb to anyone thinking about watching hockey in Europe.
Words can’t always do myself, a place or an event justice so please take 5 minutes to watch the video below. It will hopefully give you an even clearer insight in to what Medvescak hockey is all about.