Halfway Happiness in Zagreb.
So with today’s game (Sunday Nov 17th) on the road in Magnitogorsk in the book, Medvescak Zagreb now head to Chelyabinsk after hitting the halfway point in their inaugural KHL season.
It’s been a up and down season thus far with the team having streaks of results. Hardly surprising as a new coach and players get used to a playing in Medvescak and the top league in Europe.
Another issue the team has is the difference between playing at home and on the road.
Dom Sportova is a smaller rink than most elsewhere in the league so they’ve had to learn to adapt their North American checking game to those larger ice surfaces.
It started off so well for Medvescak and their fervent fans.
A 7-1 victory against CSKA no less at Dom Sportova was beyond the dreams of anyone in the building that evening.
It came crashing back down to earth quickly as the following three home games yielded just one point.
The road trip afterwards wasn’t much fun either as two overtime losses in four outings saw the Bears with just one victory to show from eight games.
There is no place like home however and Medvescak enjoyed their home cooking with six straight victories. The last three wins were all won with a duck egg next to the opponents name as Barry Brust recorded three consecutive shutouts, making 101 saves in the process.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard “BARRY, BARRY, BARRY” chanted for so long and so loudly in one building before. Brust has been a streaky goaltender in his career up to now and made a sticky start in Zagreb. When he’s hot though, he’s HOT.
With confidence at an all time high, Medvescak recorded their first victories on the road, the first in overtime to take the unbeaten run to eight before losing four straight. Did I mention streaky before?
To be fair to Medvescak, three of those games were decided by a solitary goal and the other was only a two goal game because of an empty net tally late on.
Returning home late in October sparked an upturn in fortunes as the team recorded points in five consecutive games with 2 wins, 2 SOW and a single SOL.
A 4-0 loss to Metallurg Magnitogorsk today came a little out of the blue and Medvescak’s worst defeat since suffering a 5-1 reverse at the hands of Dinamo Riga in the second game of the season.
The Bears have shown the capacity to bounce back this season and I’d expect better to come on Tuesday and back home at Dom Sportova next weekend.
No matter what league you’re in you need good goaltending and Barry Brust and Mark Dekanich have done well. Dekanich taking the reigns early as he seemed to settle better than his partner.
As I alluded to earlier, Brust is hot when he gets on a run and he’s now taken the majority of starts.
Both have decent numbers, though Mark’s goals against average looks a little more unflattering than it should be. Both have adapted themselves well to a brand new style of play and will give the team a chance of making the post season.
(Brust .934SV% & 1.92GAA – Dekanich .918SV% & 2.75GAA)
At the other end of the ice it’s Jonathan Cheechoo who’s been taking a lot of the plaudits.
With twelve goals he leads the team in that category and is 8th in the KHL.
Split evenly between 5on5 and the power play, he’s proving to be a threat every time he’s on the ice.
Matt Murley and Ryan Vesce were not such big names coming into this season but both have produced.
Leading the team with 20 points a piece and have been dominant in the face-off circle.
Murley is at 50.5% whilst Ryan is at a staggering 60%.
Two game winning goals also for Murley who must be enjoying every second of this new adventure.
On defense Kurtis Foster has been leading the way in points production with 15 to his name already.
Not a surprise to see him do so but there is always that uncertainty in brining your game to Europe.
All four of his goals have been power play markers.
Mathieu Carle looks like he has benefited from his stint with Dinamo Riga last season .
Twelve points for him already on the backend and one of his three goals turned out to be a game winner.
Some players haven’t quite produced as they or the coaching staff would have liked but the one story that turned out sadly is that of Steve Montador. Having to leave the team and due to health issues related to a past concussion in 2012. We all hope he makes the right decision for his career and his future.
So where does this leave Medvescak?
Well they currently lay 4th in the Bobrov Division and 6th in the Western Conference, though teams around them have games in hand.
With ten home game between now and January 6th it’s important Medvescak make those count as they finish the season with nine out of twelve on the road.
A total of 73 points was enough to make the play-offs in the West last season, although it was a scramble with 8th-11th place separated by just 4 points.
Should Medvescak be able to double up their total from this halfway mark then the play-offs would be a guarantee.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
I’m heading to Zagreb next weekend for my second trip to watch the Bears this year.
It’ll be my first time watching them in Dom Sportova and am very much looking forward to that experience and viewing the KHL live.