KRAKOW – Sports has its own undefinable laws. Polish hockey has one itself too. Since 2006, Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy have duelled for the Polish Hockey League title six times. For the sixth time Cracovia comes out on top leaving their rivals empty handed.
It was a rare lapse in concentration in an otherwise tight match. Less than a minute into overtime of game seven, Petr Sinagl was left all alone on centre ice receiving a pass from Damian Kapica. The Czech veteran sniper made no mistake and found a hole between the legs of Tychy netminder Stefan Zigardy with many fans still finding their way back to their seats; 2-1.
Sinagl’s goal not only meant an instant finish of the game but also completed a remarkable comeback in the 2016/17 Polish Hockey League final series. Being the top seed after having won the regular season, GKS Tychy took a commanding lead winning both games on home ice; 3-2 and 4-2 before the best-of-seven series moved to Krakow.
GKS Tychy were full of confidence entering game 3, not just boosted by the two earlier victories but also knowing that they had defeated their rivals five times during the regular season as well as in the Polish Cup final. Add to that an early 1-0 lead in game three and all the ingredients for a classic case of underestimation were present.
Not impressed by the early goal, Cracovia hit back hard with seven goals in less than 30 minutes to take make it a 7-2 lead, leaving the two late Tychy goals merely having statistical value. The 7-4 loss was supposed to be a wake-up call for the team of Czech GKS head coach Jiri Sejba.
Within a minute of game 4, they took the lead and won the all-important fourth game of the series and put themselves in an excellent position to win the league.
The reigning champions were not going to admit defeat that easily though and fought back with an away win themselves in game 5; 4-2 before tying up the series with another 4-2 victory that made a seventh game necessary to decide on the 2016/17 PHL finals outcome.
“It showed that we perform best when we have a knife on our throats,” commented Cracovia coach Rudolf Rohacek afterwards. “We are then able to show what character the lads are made of.”
Hockey in Krakow and Rudolf Rohacek are a match made in heaven. The 54-year-old Czech head coach arrived in one of Poland’s most beautiful cities 13 years ago and has been very successful ever since. To date the coach has won no less than 509 games resulting in seven league titles, two silver and two bronze medals. His resume also boasts two Polish Cup trophies and as many Polish Super Cups. No wonder Cracovia fans were delighted to hear Rohacek had extended his contract with the club for another three seasons.
One of the key members of Rohacek’s squad is goaltender Rafal Radziszewski, who has been part of each of championship-winning team led by the Czech coach.
“We have shown everyone you can’t break Cracovia,” said the 35-year-old goalie who kept his team in the series during the playoffs. “GKS Tychy had prepared everything for a celebration after game 5 and the arena was packed with noisy home fans but we weren’t in the mood for a party and didn’t give them a chance to cross that last “T”. We won that game and believed we were able to turn this series around.”
Cracovia now is also automatically qualified for the 2017/18 Champions Hockey League again being Poland’s representative. Last year’s CHL debutantes didn’t fare too well, losing all their games against Czech giants Sparta Prague and Sweden’s Farjestad Karlstad but Rohacek is looking forward to next year’s competition.
“Last year was great in terms of learning what is asked for at that level. Even though we lost all our games I believe we played some good games,” said Rohacek. “With that experience under our belts I’m confident we can do better next season.”
Players and fans in Tychy were arguing the value of yet another silver medal. All Polish teams would be proud of such an achievement other than Cracovia and GKS Tychy. All the more if one team has to feel the burden of carrying the load of six silver medals.
By retaining the Polish title, Cracovia now has 12 titles to show for and they will be rewarded with the largest ever bonus in Polish hockey history.
“We will stick to our promise to make one million Zloty (approx. €237,000) available to be split among the team,” team president Janusz Filipiak confirmed.
It is probably the most valuable shot Petr Sinagl has ever released from his stick in his career.