After getting my first taste of live Medvescak Zagreb hockey in Arena (part of Ice Fever) back in January, I knew I had to return at the next opportunity and watch the team play in their real home, Dom Sportova.
This became a necessity this season after the club had attained it’s dream and vision of entering the KHL.
The advantage of Medvescak’s lop-sided schedule allowed me to take in two home games over a weekend, on the 22nd and 24th November.
The adventure however almost didn’t happen. Due to a strike at Zagreb Airport my flight on Friday was cancelled! Thanks to having amazing friends in Vienna who were travelling to Zagreb that weekend and a change of flights, I was still able to make it to Zagreb despite a long and tiring day travelling wise.
Friday was to be a good day despite the long haul. Upon entry to Dom Sportova I was able to finally buy the Medvescak jersey I’d coveted this season. Namely one that had number 18 and the name Cheechoo on the reverse.
Facing one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference was always going to be a tough task for Medvescak and it proved that way as Metallurg Magnitogorsk dominated the opening frame.
Metallurg would open the scoring during the midway point of the game and Medvescak looked to be running out of ideas heading into the third period of finding a way past Vasily Koshechkin.
In an innocuous looking rush down the right side, Bill Thomas would gain control of the puck and rip an absolutely bullet of a wrist shot to tie the game up with eleven minutes remaining.
You could sense the atmosphere change on the ice and in the building. The home crowd turned the volume back up to eleven as they urged their team on to score a winner.
With 30 seconds left on a power play the team would respond to the crowds urgings. A shot from Kurtis Foster expertly tipped in by Jonathan Cheechoo, proved to be the game winning goal.
A perfect finish to my first game inside Dom Sportova and this is how you celebrate a victory in Zagreb.
On Saturday I was able to watch Medvescak’s next opponents, Traktor Chelyabinsk, train on the ice. It’s not every day you get to watch a KHL team train so this was a fantastic opportunity.
Not training with the main group as he was injured, was Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The Washington Capitals 26th overall pick in 2010 was running through skating drills by himself but courteously took time afterwards to pose for a photo.
The previous two days had been fantastic but Sunday started off even better. Watching Medvescak run through some game day drills and Dekanich, who wasn’t due to get the start that evening, going through an extended practise.
Then my day, well my trip if I’m honest, was made. Getting to meet Mark Dekanich and then Jonathan Cheechoo. Both were such nice guys and couldn’t have been more generous with their time. Great ambassadors for hockey and Medvescak Zagreb.
Unfortunately the game that evening wasn’t the perfect ending to theweekend.
I loved every second of my first time in Sektor B however. This is where the main singing and chanting takes place in Dom Sportova. You stand for the whole game and leave the building without a voice, well at least I did! Sadly Medvescak would blow a 3-1 lead in the third period, allowing a short handed goal the catalyst to their problems. Despite this they managed to again lead 4-3 before Traktor tied the game up on the power play. Overtime would end up solving nothing despite Medvescak dominating the extra five minutes.
A shootout loss in five rounds rested heavy on the hearts of the home fans when the team probably should have taken the maximum three points and at the very least deserved two, but walked away with a solitary one.
This is the KHL though and you are made to pay for mistakes but boy is it exciting hockey.
I had a fantastic weekend and thoroughly enjoyed every second taking in as much hockey related stuff as I possibly could.
A huge thank you to my Zagreb friends, you all know who you are!
Until next time. Zig Zag.