Medveščak Zagreb ‘5 to watch’

The following article was written for the Cardiff Devils match programme, for the weekend they faced KHL team Medveščak Zagreb. It was the first time I’ve had my work published in print and hopefully not the last.

Medveščak Zagreb have rung the changes this summer, with many of last season’s roster, including leading scorer Radek Smolenak, not returning for 2016/17.

The Bears have retained the services of 14 players and signed a further ten for their fourth KHL campaign.
Here are five members of the roster you should keep an especially keen eye on this weekend.

Edwin Hedberg

Colombian born and raised in Sweden is certainly not a stereotypical background of a hockey player.
It hasn’t stopped Hedberg from progressing, despite some hiccups in his young career to date.
A failed drug test that led to a six month ban and more recently he was the victim of racism during a game on the road in Spartak Moscow earlier this year

The 22 year old progressed through the age groups at Modo hockey club before going on to a play a full SHL season in 2013/14.
That was enough to persuade Medveščak to take a gamble on whether he could take a step-up at the KHL level.
In a very disappointing year for Zagreb overall, Hedberg’s rookie numbers of eight goals and seven assists through 37 games, was a bright spark during 2014/15.
The young winger was afforded increased ice-time last season but he found it difficult to produce, given tougher assignments in what was another rough season for the Bears.

With age is coming strength and experience however, and Hedberg is an extremely hard-worker who enjoys playing as physically as his frame will allow.
That should not detract from his impressive speed, a quick release and general nose for the net, as he demonstrated when scoring on a rebound for his first KHL goal.

An excellent team player, Hedberg is capable of playing both wings and will be desperate to be more of an offensive threat this season.

Edwin Hedberg Image
Image courtesy of “Igor Šoban/MDV Press”

Gilbert Brulé

Since being selected 6th overall in the NHL draft that saw Pittsburgh take a certain Sidney Crosby, it’s been a rollercoaster life and career for Brulé.
A plethora of family issues, including a difficult relationship with his father, left him struggling with depression and his career floundering.

On the ice, Brulé has been a victim of several bad injuries including a fractured sternum and breaking a leg during his first NHL season.

After 299 games in the NHL, the Edmonton native had amassed 43 goals and 95 points but chose to retire on January 1st, 2014, after short spells with ZSC Lions and Phoenix.

It was a surprise then when Brulé signed for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg a few months later and would go on to accrue ten goals and five assists in 44 outings during his debut KHL season.

Medveščak Zagreb came calling and Brulé finished last year fifth in team scoring, with 24 points.

Now more settled, the forward has apparently worked hard during the off-season to get himself fitter and stronger to cope better with the rigours of the KHL.

Brulé is a very talented centre man, who at 5’11” plays with a physical edge for someone of his build and stature.
He brings a high level of energy with his overall game, is a swift skater and proven goal-scorer.
Medveščak will rely on him in most situations so expect to see him garner a lot of ice-time.

Gilbert Brule Image
Image courtesy of “Igor Šoban/MDV Press”

Alexandre Bolduc

Despite being drafted 127th overall in 2003, Bolduc would accumulate just 65 NHL game during his time in the league..

The Quebec native has spent the majority of his career in the American Hockey League and was typically always amongst the leading scorers for whichever team he plied his trade.

Leaving the NHL as a free agent after spells with Vancouver and Phoenix, Bolduc chose to sign for Russian club, Traktor Chelyabinsk. He struggled to hold down a spot after a stint with the teams VHL affiliate and was traded to Medveščak on October 21, 2015.

More known for dropping the gloves than for his playmaking or expertise in front of net, Bolduc is far from a one trick pony.

Provided an opportunity in Zagreb, the 31 year began to acclimatise to the KHL when afforded plenty of ice-time, netting three points in his final four games of the season. That included a spectacular goal against Lokomotiv, where Bolduc danced around two defensemen before slotting home.

The Centerman plays in a typically North American aggressive style and will have success with that brand of hockey should he remain disciplined.

Bolduc is dependable at both ends of the ice and Zagreb will be looking for him to be a reliable if unspectacular performer, who logs third line minutes and PK time.
He should feel more settled this season and could be one of the players to benefit from team familiarity and a style that suits him.

Foto:Igor Šoban
Image courtesy of “Igor Šoban/MDV Press”

Francis Paré

The signing of Paré this summer is a major coup for Medveščak, and much will be expected of the offensively gifted Quebec native.

Having gone undrafted through his junior career, Paré put pen to paper for the Grand Rapids Griffins and enjoyed success during his five seasons in the American Hockey League.
Through 363 games, the 29 year old put up 237 points and was a big part of the Griffins Calder Cup Championship win in 2013.

Since then, Paré has been much travelled in European hockey.
A pair of spells with TPS (Liiga) has book ended stints elsewhere with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Traktor Chelyabinsk and HC Slovan Bratislava.
In 2014, the multi-functional forward won the Gagarin Cup with Magnitogorsk and has registered 41 points in 108 KHL outings.

As well as being a threat at even strength, it’s expected that Paré will be expected to contribute on both special teams and receive greater ice-time than at either of his two previous KHL teams.

Although he has been primarily playing Centre, Paré is equally efficient at RW and that’s likely to be his role with Zagreb. Despite being a diminutive player, he’s capable of shielding the puck well, owns great vision and playmaking ability.
In addition, the Canadian forward has been adept at hitting the twine during his time in the KHL and looks certain to thrive in a more stable situation than he’s found himself in of late.

Francis Paré Image.jpg
Derek Smith

Smith brings a wealth of NHL (92 games) and AHL experience to Zagreb.

The left-handed defenseman was signed by Ottawa as an undrafted free agent but would ultimately spend more time with their affiliate during his time in the Senators organisation.

Injuries have ultimately been the 31 year old’s downfall during his career, limiting his opportunities to crack an NHL line-up.
That frustration for Smith extended into his three seasons with Calgary – frequently on the cusp of making the team but either hurt or not dressed.

He ultimately had more success in the AHL, tallying 185 points in 332 games and winning a Calder Cup with Binghamton in 2011.

Smith returned to North America last year after a single season in Switzerland.
Restricted by injury to just 28 games, the defenseman was still able to produce 19 points for Springfield Falcons.

His ability to play a full-season may be questionable, but what isn’t in doubt is Smith’s offensive abilities.
Not afraid to carry the puck or make the perfect outlet pass, Smith is also adept at shooting from the point and finding a seam. He’s not always going to score with his shot but often provides secondary opportunities.

Medveščak may well turn to the Ontario native to quarterback a power play which has historically struggled during their time in the KHL.

Although a big bodied blue liner, Smith does not play an overly physical brand of hockey and the larger European ice will suit his expansive game.

Derek Smith Image

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