Current Affairs In hockey league playoffs, Kometa Brno shine bright
In the Czech hockey league, the semifinals best-of seven series are under way, with the Liberec White Tigers going ahead 2:1 against Pardubice on Wednesday in some really nerve-wrecking action. In the other series, however, Kometa Brno is set to surprise just about anyone including their most devoted fans. Having finished 10th in the regular season, Kometa knocked out the winners Sparta Prague. Now, the Brno side is leading the regular season runners-up Plzeň 2:0. RP spoke to Czech TV commentator and former Philadelphia Flyers forward Martin Hosták about what made the playoffs’ underdogs the hottest candidates for the title.
“Kometa Brno have a good team with some really good players. During the regular season, they were quite nervous and had their ups and downs. In the last three seasons, they failed to reach the playoffs and the pressure was mounting on them. But now, after they made it to the playoffs this year, they suddenly loosened up and got the right momentum. So I think they are in a good position to become the playoffs’ big surprise.”
After the two games in Plzeň which Kometa won, the series moves to Brno on Friday. How do you think Plzeň will cope with the pressure?
“I’m not sure because they have tried almost everything against Kometa in their home games. On the other hand, they are not the favourites anymore so maybe the pressure will be on the hosts. But Brno look really strong and their play is simple which is great for the playoffs. They play tough, they follow up on their checks and they go to net. And I think another serious problem for Plzeň will be the Brno crowd which is outstanding.”
In the other semifinal series, Liberec play Pardubice. Last night, Liberec went-ahead 2:1. Which of these two teams do you think is more likely to reach the finals?
“For me, Liberec have been the favourite in this series, and I still think so. Pardubice seem to have a big problem because their best player Petr Koukal is injured. He’s been playing under painkillers but he’s not ok and is not putting in as much as we are used to from him. Liberec play very well, they are very patient; however, they lost quite a lot of energy and I’m not sure if they can muster enough strength to win the fourth game tonight.
“It should be really interesting tonight. In Wednesday’s game, Pardubice used their fourth line a lot and it worked. By contrast, Liberec mostly rotated only three lines which might have cost them some energy. So we’ll see but I think Liberec remains the favourite.”
There have been quite a lot of injuries in the playoffs so far. Most recently, Plzeň’s American forward Nick Johnson suffered a serious injury [ruptured spleen]. What do you think of the refereeing? Are the referees up to the play?
“I don’t see a very big problem with the referees. Of course, they have bad days and good days, as we could see in the second Pardubice-Liberec game. But they are generally quite good. I think injuries just occur in the playoffs and, it doesn’t really matter on how much you blow the whistle or how many players you sent to the penalty box. In the playoffs, the teams take it to the edge. They have to win, and they play up to the edge of the rules and of injuries.
“Unfortunately, Nick Johnson’s injury was very serious and I hope he’ll be fine. But nearly every player has suffered minor problems because the games are tight and the stakes are high.”
Before the semifinals began, the bookmakers favoured Plzeň. Who do you think now looks best poised for the overall win?
“Right now, Kometa looks really strong although I’m not sure if they can go all the way. From 10th place, it would be a really big surprise. However, Liberec does not look that strong as they did in the quarter finals, so Kometa could really be the favourite for the title now.”