Photo: Davor & Dea Sajko

New Year, New Bears?

ZAGREB – The Christmas markets in downtown Zagreb have been crowned as the best in Europe, having attracted tourists from all over the world to Croatia in all of December. What hasn’t been so joyful in the last month of the year was Medvescak’s losing streak, which lasted from November 27th to December 21st, spanning nine consecutive losses, resulting in a change behind the bench.

But as Christmas came, the story turned around. The Bears, lead by their new head coach Doug Bradley, who isn’t that new to Zagreb, as he’s already sat in the office and stood on the bench in the team’s first EBEL era, embarked on a four game winning streak, which started with an 8:3 blowout win in Villach the day after Christmas.

Two wins at home against Graz and Klagenfurt were next, as was a 4:3 overtime win in Klagenfurt on January 1st.

What changed?

The Bears found ways to score. During the nine game losing streak, the Bears scored only 11 goals. In the first four games of said streak, Medvescak were shut out three times. The math which calculates that to 1.22 goals per game only proves the lack of scoring. Not that Medvescak doesn’t have any talent which will put up the points, they in fact have the league’s leading scorer, Tyler Morley, centering the first line. In those four wins, Morley scored five goals and added two apples. Mahbod, Olden and Netik found themselves on the scoresheet quite often, too, while Mike Boivin’s hat trick propelled Medvescak to the 4:3 OT win in Klagenfurt.

Kevin Poulin, Medvescak’s starting goaltender was invited to the Spengler Cup as one of Team Canada’s goaltenders – a great honor and an even greater opportunity to perhaps secure himself a spot on the Canadian Olympic roster. Team Canada went on to win the prestigious tournament in Davos for the second consecutive year, shutting out Team Switzerland 3:0 in the finals, with Poulin saving all 36 shots on goal.

With Poulin absent, the 21 year old Zagreb native, Vili Rosandic got the nod in net, and he put up quite the show between the pipes. One can’t truly trust the EBEL’s statistics, so to mention his save percentage more than likely wouldn’t be accurate, however what can be said for sure is that Rosandic was a key factor in those games. Rosandic later went on to be nominated by the league as a candidate for the Rookie of the Month award.

The system itself didn’t change all too much, but what changed was that the Bears came together as a team to put the losing streak behind them. They played a more aggressive game, they drove the net, they took more shots and more shots went in, and most importantly, they tightened up defensively.

After a very rocky Advent in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, Medvescak have vacated the turbulent skies and at least for the time being, are back in the fight for a direct playoff spot, sitting in seventh right now. Five of their last nine games during the regular season will be against team below them in the standings – tonight at home against Villach, on the road against Bolzano and Fehervar and at home and away against Znojmo.

Two games, one the road and the second at home against the league leading Vienna Capitals will only toughen the challenge, while two home games against Red Bull Salzburg and Innsbruck definitely won’t come easy either.

The Bears have had a rollercoaster of a season so far, but what is left for the people of Zagreb is that the bad streaks are left behind in 2017.