If you’ve read any of my previous articles then you will know I’m a fan of the Croatian hockey team Medvescak Zagreb and even travelled to Croatia to watch a couple of games.
They are a forward thinking club and one with ambition, which has shown in many innovations including the outdoor game held inside the Roman amphitheatre in Pula this past season.
The KHL announced they were to add teams for the 2013/2014 season with Medvescak one of the front runners to be one of those.
In late April of this year it was announced that a new team from Vladivostok would be admitted to league with it’s roster filled in an expansion draft.
The public named the team Admiral Vladivostok and chose the club emblem.
They will be the league’s eastern-most team and their President is former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Mogilny.
A few days after the Vladivostok announcement, came the news that Medvescak would be joining them in the KHL. Thus becoming the KHL’s most southerly team and making Croatia the eighth country represented joining Russia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Ukraine.
All eyes were on Medvescak to see how they would prepare for the biggest season in their entire history.
To start with they parted company with Canadian coach Marty Raymond and replaced him with his fellow countryman Mark French.
The Milton, Ontario native started his career behind the bench as head coach of Wilfrid Laurier University from 2002–04.
He moved on to be an assistant coach in the ECHL for one season with the interestingly named Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies .
French’s next two season would be spent as head coach and director of hockey operations for the Wichita Thunder of the CHL.
In 2008 he would leave for America once more to become an assistant coach of the Hershey Bears, and in 2009 he’d be named the head coach. Success would come in his first season in charge, winning the Calder Cup after setting an AHL record for regulation wins with 60.
Despite making the playoffs for three straight seasons afterwards, no further success was achieved and Hershey decided to release French.
It was clear to all that Medvescak would need to clear the decks and bring in players capable of competing in the KHL, a far stronger league than the EBEL.
Those who will remain Bears for the historic season are forwards Gal Koren, Dario Kostovic, Nathan Perkovich and defensemen Kenny MacAulay, Geoff Waugh, Sasa Martinovic, and Captain for the previous four seasons Alan Letang.
The first new signing to be made in the clubs KHL history was goaltender Mark Dekanich which fitted Medvescak’s policy of trying to recruit players with Croatian ancestry.
Dekanich has played 161 games in the AHL and one relief appearance in the NHL.
Drafted by Nashville in 2006, leaving that organisation in 2011 to sign for Columbus Blue Jackets where he spent most of the year recovering from ankle surgery. A move followed to Winnipeg, where he spent the season with their AHL affiliate the St. Johns Ice Caps.
Other goaltenders signed are youngsters Andrej Vasiljevic and Mitja Koren, 19 and 20 respectively and another AHL stalwart in Barry Brust.
Brust is a veteran of 222 AHL games for several teams and 11 starts for the L.A Kings in the NHL.
An AHL all-star in 08/09 and 12/13 he was also part of the 2010/11 Binghamton Senators team that won the Calder Cup. This season he would break a long standing AHL record as on November 24, 2012, Brust set a new longest shutout streak at 268 minutes and 17 seconds, breaking Johnny Bower’s previous record set with the Cleveland Barons in 1957.
Another three players to join the team with Croatian ancestry are as follows.
Mark Popovic was a 2001 draft pick in round 2, 35th overall by the Anaheim Ducks
The defenseman suited 81 times in the NHL and has 350+ AHL games experience.
Has spent the past three seasons in the NLA and blogs about his life and playing career here
http://markpopovic.blogspot.ca/ Worth a look as it comes across as a bit of a practical joker!
Mike Glumac is a 33 year old right winger.
Undrafted but still has 40 NHL games under his belt to go with 450+ in the AHL.
His last three seasons have been in the DEL with Adler Mannheim where he’s accumulated 98 points in 137 games.
Mark Katic is a 24 year old defenseman, drafted in 2007 round 3, 62nd overall by New York Islanders
His first three seasons in professional hockey amounted to just 11 NHL starts and 125 AHL outings.
Headed to Germany last season to play for Eisbären Berlin and his first taste of European hockey.
Hugh Jessiman is a 29 year old American right winger who was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round (12th overall) in 2003.
Would only play two games in the NHL for the Florida Panthers but has over 500 games total experience in the AHL.
Bill Thomas went undrafted but through sheer hard work accumulated 87 games in the NHL split between Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Florida. The right winger has over 400 games in the AHL racking up 269 points.
Luke Walker was drafted back in 2010 by the Colorado Avalanche, in round 5, 139th overall.
The 23 year old never had the chance to feature for the Avs but has 183 games in the AHL, though last year he suffered concussion which limited him to 47 outings
On January 5, 2010, Walker won a Gold Medal as a member of the United States men’s national junior ice hockey team that won the 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, beating Canada in the final.
Boyd Kane followed Mark French from the Hershey Bears to the Croatian Bears.
The left winger was drafted twice, in 1996 round 3 #72 overall by Pittsburgh Penguins and 1998 round 4 114th overall by New York Rangers after failing to come to terms with Pittsburgh on a contract.
Kane has only 31 starts in the NHL but the 35 year old is the definition of an AHL veteran with over a thousand combined games and 563 points to his name
Has won the Calder Cup three times, once with Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2004/05 lockout season and twice with the Hershey Bears where he has been captain for the two past seasons.
Jonathan Cheechoo will perhaps be the best known signing by Medvescak.
The 2nd round, 29th overall pick by the San Jose Sharks in 1998 has over 500 games experience in the NHL and 300 plus in the AHL.
A former winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy (top NHL goal scorer) in 2005/06 with 56 goals and 11 of those would be game winning goals to also top the league in that category..
Has spent the last three years in the AHL and this will be his first time playing in Europe since playing 20 games during the lockout season in the SHL.
Ryan Vesce is a 31 year old American who plays mostly ring wing.
Has over 260 AHL games experience and been the captain of the Worcester Sharks for the past two season. Has been a former AHL all-star game member on two occasions but has plenty of experience in Europe playing in the Allsvenskan, SM-liiga, KHL and SHL.
Has spent two season in the KHL representing Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, where he scored 29 goals and the same number of assists in 69 games.
Charles Linglet is a left winger from Canada, who just this year has become a Belarusian citizen.
A more than fair AHL career with 96 goals in 331 games and in the 2009/10 season he’d rack up 74 points in 75 for the Springfield Falcons.
Linglet has spent the last three season in the KHL with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Minsk
Matt Murley is a US winger drafted in 1999 round 2, 51st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
62 NHL and 353 AHL games experience but has spent the last five seasons in Europe playing in the KHL, NLB, NLA and SHL.
Michael Ryan is another 1999 draft pick, selected in round 2, 32nd overall by the Dallas Stars.
The 33 year old US centreman has a similar North American record to Murley but only left for European shores last season.
Was a member of the Ässät team that were 2012/13 SM-liiga Champions, with Ryan contributing 36 points during the regular season and 9 in 13 post season games.
Patrick Bjorkstrand is a year old who can play centre or right wing.
Spent the majority of his career thus far in Denmark with the past season his first outside his homeland.
Representing Mora (Allsvenskan) he would suit up 51 times accruing 13 points.
Mathieu Carle was drafted in 2006 round 2, 53rd overall by the Montréal Canadiens but would only suit up three times for the Habs
The 25 year old defenseman racked up 294 games in the AHL before heading for Europe last season, where he split the season between Dinamo Riga (KHL) and Genève-Servette (NLA).
Kyle Klubertanz was drafted in 2004 round 3, 74th overall by Anaheim Ducks.
The US defensemen has just one full AHL season experience with the Hamilton Bulldogs and some experience in Europe in the SM-liiga and SHL.
Brian Willsie is on loan to Medvescak until the SM-liiga starts where he will rejoin TPS.
Drafted in 1996 round 6,146th overall by Colorado Avalanche, Willsie would play 381 times in the NHL. Was the captain of TPS last season, leading from the front with 24 goals (11A) in 48 games.
Medvescak have two players on tryout contracts.
Ivan Svarny is a 28yo defenseman from Slovakia.
Spent the last two seasons with HC Slovan Bratislava, including their first in the KHL last year.
Emil Lundberg is a 31 year old Swedish forward.
Has one season in the KHL, spent with Lev Poprad and has other playing experience in SM-liiga, SHL and Slovakia.
Medvescak’s season will start with eight pre-season fixtures between the 6th-30th August.
The real business begins on the 6th September when their historic first game in the KHL will be at their home venue, Dom Sportova, against the famous CSKA Moscow.
In fact their first four fixtures will all be at Dom Sportova as Medvescak will then face Dinamo Riga, Lev Praha and Slovan Bratislava who will be contesting their second season in the KHL.
All of those opponents are Medvecak’s rivals in the Bobrov Division (Western Conference) and they are joined by Dinamo Minsk and SKA Saint Petersburg.
There are just 54 games in the KHL regular season, where you face every team twice and like the NHL it’s the top eight teams in each conference who qualify for the post-season.
Slovan Bratislava made the post season in their first KHL season so let’s hope the Bears can do the same!