Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Wrapping it up

I had decided to cut my trip short somewhat, as I really wasn’t feeling going back to Switzerland today, so I would cancel the last two games on my trip and head home from Bratislava today.

I was up at 6:45 in Munich in order to get the train to Bratislava in time to meet my good friend Michal, who hooked me up with my job at Slovan Bratislava. The train ended up being around forty minutes late which messed my connections up somewhat, but I was in Bratislava by mid-afternoon, and met Miko outside the Petrzalka railway station, where I was soon whisked away to a pizzeria. An afternoon meal of pizza made with bryndza (sheep’s cheese) was on the menu, and it came highly recommended, and I sure can vouch for that.

I checked back in at the hostel I stayed at when I was in Bratislava at the start of my trip, and I soon met Miko again at around half four, where I got taken to the arena two hours before faceoff, and given a whirlwind tour of pretty much everywhere in the Slovnaft Arena. The head offices, meeting all of the PR staff, going down to ice level and the press room and things like that. It was awesome seeing the behind the scenes workings of Slovakia’s biggest club, especially as there was a great panic within most of the staff as they were expecting a sell out crowd, and a whole host of executives in from Gazprom for the game against SKA St. Petersburg. I had been gifted an incredible book, documenting the 90 years of history of Slovan Bratislava as a gift by Miko, and he’d had it signed by the majority of the team the day before. However, we decided to stand in the mic zone as the players came off the ice after warm-up, and managed to get the signatures of guys like Miro Satan, Jan Lipiansky and Milan Bartovic. The child in me was on cloud nine being up so close with players I’d only watched on crappy online streams before. However, our presence wasn’t appreciated by some of the security there, as the suits were out in force and we got barked at for trying to get the autograph of Michel Miklik. After the game finished, we even got the autograph of Lubomir Visnovsky, as we ended up sharing a lift ride with him, as he had just agreed to play for Slovan during the lockout.

Once again it was another game in the Sky Lounge, with free drinks and free food, and we had to rush up to the top of the arena in order to be there when the game started. It was a good thing we ran, as it didn’t take long for Slovan to open the scoring, as Mario Bliznak scored on the powerplay, firing a wicked wrist shot into the top corner which Jakub Stepanek flailed at but failed to stop. There’s no doubting that SKA were the more skilled side, and at times they were all over Slovan like a cheap suit. Maxim Afinogenov at times waltzed around the offensive zone like he was playing against kids, but fortunately, his solo breaks rarely amounted to anything. Alongside Afinogenov, SKA had NHL veterans Dmitri Kalinin, Alexei Semonov, Patrick Thoresen and Toni Maartenson, but Slovan were keeping pace with them. Jaroslav Janus was in incredible form, although he couldn’t do anything about Thoresen’s goal in the 8th minute which came on the rebound. Something was in the air that night at the Slovnaft Arena though. It was a sell out 10,055 in the stands, and they all rose to their feet late in the first period, when young Tomas Mikus, desperately playing for his place on the team, scored a wonder goal. He picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, beat his man before sniping it top corner over Stepanek. It looked like he didn’t do what to do after he scored, but he was quickly mobbed by his teammates so it didn’t matter I guess.

SKA as individuals are such a good side, and it’s no wonder why they’ve consistently been at the top of the Western Conference. At one point in the second period, they were outshooting Slovan 26:11, and it didn’t take long for them to equalise. A shocker of a play by Ivan Svarny on the point whilst Slovan were on the powerplay gave SKA a 2 on 1 break, and Thoresen found Petr Prucha, and the former New York Ranger deked Janus to score. Janus, who would make a number of saves on similar two on one breaks was unlucky not to get a piece of Prucha’s effort. Still Slovan seemed able to absorb what SKA could throw at them, and then try and build attacks of their own. Late in the second period, Michel Miklik burst through the SKA line and was unlucky not to score on the breakaway. However, the refs, who really seemed to call the slightest infraction adjudged Kevin Dallman to have hooked back the former Kosice man, so Miklik had a penalty shot. His effort was… well it was shocking. Tried to go five hole from the hash marks, and it was easily knocked away by Stepanek.

In the third period, Miko and I moved to the VIP section, where we were really surrounded by luxury. The Slovak President was only a few rows in front, and after the game he passed me on the stairs and gave me a nod. In the row behind me, there was the GM of Slovan, the president of the SZLH (Slovak ice hockey federation), a host of Slovan legends from the 70s and 80s, plus Ernest Bokros, the coach of the Slovak U18’s and U20’s. I certainly felt out of place wearing a t-shirt and shorts surrounded by such high company. The VIP seats were incredible, and it was much better being in the actual arena bowl. The third period saw more of the same, as SKA piled forward, but Janus saved everything. Hearts were in mouths in the 47th minute, as SKA thought they had scored after a point shot went straight in on the powerplay. However, after an eternity, the referees adjudged Gleb Klimenko to have tapped it in with a high stick. It only seemed fair, as Klimenko first went to celebrate on his own after he scored, before realising half a second later that he had to rush to the point to celebrate with the defenceman, otherwise it was clear it was a high stick. This decision was key for Slovan to turn the game around, and step forward Slovak legend and club captain Miroslav Satan. Slovan were getting chances, and Bliznak was unlucky not to get a second, but with under five minutes left in the game, Miro, who always looked like he was playing in slow motion, ghosted through the slot with the puck on his stick, made it past two defencemen, before firing it across Stepanek and into the top corner. Euphoria. Even the Slovak president was on his feet to celebrate that one. Ninety seconds later, and Milan Bartovic sealed an incredible and historic win for Slovan Bratislava. Stepanek didn’t even see the shot, which bounced off the back bar and out. It was reviewed but eventually given.

Practically all 10,000 fans stayed at the end of the game to cheer off their team, who had just picked up their first regulation win at home in the KHL, and the racket was deafening at times. I hadn’t experienced such an adrenaline dump from a hockey game since the Blaze won the league in Edinburgh in 2010. After the game, I went with Miko down towards the locker room, where we met up with a couple more of the office staff, and somehow, Miko and I managed to get permission to enter the locker room. It was packed with press, mostly wanting to get a word with Satan (as always) and Janus, who had made 44 saves in the victory. I’d never thought I get to experience something like that, standing next to guys like Michal Vondrka, Libor Hudacek etc. Thank goodness that the locker room was air conditioned though, as I braced myself for ‘that’ hockey smell, only to be thankful when there was barely a whiff.

After a quick detour to Ruzinov, Miko and I headed into the centre of town for a beer after the game, still beaming after seeing an incredible game. Soon though it was time to head home, as Miko had work and I had to be up early for my flight back to the UK, which now closes this chapter, as well as finishes the blog that I’ve been writing for this trip. It’s been a remarkable trip, taking in five countries and eight games.

7th September: Zilina vs Dukla Trencin 1:2
8th September Slovan Bratislava vs Dinamo Riga 2:3 (PS)
9th September: Vienna Capitals vs SAPA Fehervar 3:1
10th September: Lev Praha vs Donbass Donetsk 1:0
14th September: HC Davos vs EHC Kloten Flyers 2:3 (PS)
15th September: EHC Kloten Flyers vs ZSC Lions 3:4
16th September: EHC Red Bull Munich vs Dusseldorf 2:3 (OT)
17th September: HC Slovan Bratislava vs SKA St. Petersburg 4:2

Only one game saw a victory for the team that I wanted to win, and I was incredibly disappointed that my white glove watch turned out to be really quite in vain, however, I got introduced to the world of Swiss hockey, which I loved when standing with the Davos fans in the Ostkurve, whilst I was also acquainted with the worst hockey fanbase I’ve discovered so far in the EHC Munich fans. I got into half of the games for free, and saw some remarkable goals, from Tony Romano’s strike for Vienna, to Walser scoring a brilliant goal for Kloten to tie their game in Davos. I saw countless NHL players, and numerous young prospects for the future, and it’s safe to say that it was a brilliant two weeks on the rails. Just a shame that the travel was so wearing.

I’ll post the pictures link on here when I’ve uploaded them to Flickr, but that’s all for now for this blog. Be sure to check my main blog, www.velvethockey.blogspot.com during the season, which will have all your Czech and Slovak hockey news, especially as the NHLers begin to flock to the Extraliga.

Thanks for reading.


EDIT: Pictures can be viewed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39311233@N03/sets/72157631568380069/

No comments:

Post a Comment