Miskolc defeats defending champion HC Nove Zamky for their first-ever MOL Liga title.
Riding a combination of strong defence and timely scoring during the regular season, Miskolc ran through the playoffs with four-game sweeps in the semi-finals and the final series.
Miskolc was able to complete the sweep in a nail-biting 5-4 come-from-behind overtime victory which was exciting for the casual hockey supporters while some older Miskolc fans were happy that they took their heart medication. Defenceman Jesse Dudas ripped a game-winning rocket at 6:11 of the overtime period to net his third goal of the game and also to send the crowd into euphoria. “I had all day in the slot and hit the short side on a slap shot,” Dudas said after the game about the series clinching goal.
Slovak participant HC Nove Zamky had a 4-0 lead late in the second period thanks to a brace by former World Champion Marek Uram. Dudas scored a power play goal on a two-man advantage, thanks to Zach Cohan screening Nove Zamky goalie Pavel Krajcovic, to get one back. Nove Zamky took a 4-1 lead into the third period.
In the last period both Cohan and Keegan Dansereau scored power-play goals and suddenly it was a one-goal game. Dudas struck again with a slapshot from the slot that tied the game at 4-4 and the arena was rocking. The defenceman would cap off his hat trick with the game winner. After the game Nove Zamky forward Eric Caladi could only praise the former Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick: “It was his game, Dudas played a perfect game, and they deserved to win the title.”
The MOL Liga finals started with a bit of drama. HC Nove Zamky did not show up for the first game, yes this does sound strange. The background story on this is that Nove Zamky is a Slovak club that is playing in the Slovak third tier (2HL) as well as the MOL Liga with Hungarian and Romanian teams.
The past couple of seasons they have used that league a little bit a farm team, but this season they set out to win both leagues that they were competing in. According to the plan of the management, they made it to the finals of both. However, there was a minor slip up. The Slovak club was expecting to win the best-of-three series with a two-game sweep and play game one of the MOL Liga, but they lost game two and would have to play back-to-back games with the MOL Liga game being booked by the two Slovak games.
Club president Frantisek Sucharda stated that if there is a third game in Slovakia his team will not travel to Miskolc, which is what happened. Miskolc was awarded a 5-0 win for the forfeit, game four which would have been played in Nove Zamky was rescheduled to be played in Miskolc and the team was also fined 2,000 Euros.
With game one already in the bag Miskolc dismantled Nove Zamky in game two with a 7-0 win that could be argued as a perfect game. Bence Balizs pitched a shutout, Adrian Toth and Dansereau scoring two goals each. Both coaches touched a bit on the strange situation in their analysis of the game.
“It is tough to get back into ‘game mode’ after 17 days off. I’m glad we got back on track so quick and smooth. It is just one win,” said Miskolc’s Gergely Majoross, whereas Nove Zamky coach Lubomir Hurtaj commented on his team being tired but did not use it as an excuse. ”Everyone is familiar with our situation. Recently we have been playing games one after another,” he said. “We didn't start the game bad but in the second period the goals started to come and we were not able to stand up from that. It doesn’t matter if we lose by one goal or by seven, a loss is a loss.”
The third game, which was played in Slovakia, was a real playoff battle as every time Nove Zamky scored Miskolc would pull even. The home team looked like the stronger squad until a mistake on the power play. The Nove Zamky players were somehow stuck in the attacking end when Dudas and Tyler Metcalfe skated in on a two-man breakaway against goalie Lukas Cikanek. Dudas scored the shorthanded goal. In the closing minutes of the game Toth scored the game winner to give Miskolc the chance to close out the series on home ice.
The way the MOL Liga playoffs are set up, the two teams at the top of the standings get automatically put into the semi-finals with teams three through six playing in the quarter-finals. HC Nove Zamky finished in third place, and beat sixth-ranked Ujpest Budapest 2-1 in the best-of-three series. In the semi-finals they faced second-seeded Dunaujvaros, who they upset 4-1 in the best-of-seven series. In the other semi-final Miskolc, which finished in first place one point ahead of Dunaujvaros, swept Romanian team Brasov 4-0.
Neither head coach Gergely Majoross and Lubomir Hurtaj were unfamiliar with the MOL Liga finals as both of them had won a title as a player. Another common trait between the two was that they are both at the early stages of their coaching careers. Majoross had won the league exactly five years ago with the now defunct Vasas Budapest Stars under the guidance of head coach Glen Williamson. After being a youth coach for MAC Budapest, he was hired this past offseason by Miskolc and led them to the title during his first season and was named coach of the year.
On the other side Hurtaj had won the league last year as a player with the Robert Spisak coached Nove Zamky side. After an injury late in the season Hurtaj had to jump in behind the bench after Slavomir Chlebec stepped down because of health reason. The team started the season with Spisak as the coach and now were finishing it up with their third coach behind the bench. Hurtaj sayd that since his father was a hockey coach he knew he would be one as well. He embraced the opportunity.
After the final whistle and the emotions had calmed down both head coaches were asked to evaluate their team’s season. “I think the biggest reason why we were successful was our mentality. We knew where we wanted to get and we were willing the pay the price to get there,” said Majoross, “Whatever was thrown at us we had found a way to get over it. We dreamed big and made it come true. I’m really honoured to have a chance to work with these guys. There is nothing more a rookie coach could wish for. I am so thankful for the management to give me this opportunity.”
Hurtaj had a bit of a different experience as he took over mid-season: “This season was really tough for us. Playing in the two leagues, we had many injuries, it was not easy for the team to play for three coaches. Since I knew the players I knew that I could come in and coach, and these finals were a great way to close the season.”
As in any regular season, the MOL Liga had a couple of surprises. After years of finishing at the bottom of the table Ujpest Budapest with a new coach and key import signings brought something for the fans of the purple and white to root for by making the playoffs. On top of that they finished two points ahead of crosstown rivals Ferencvaros, who just missed out on the postseason.
Debreceni HK, who entered the league this year not only had a respectable season but qualified for the playoffs, thanks to the veteran on-ice leadership of Balazs Ladanyi, before losing 2-1 in the quarter-finals to Brasov. After making a surprise playoff run to the silver medal last season Brasov was not able to regain the magic that they had one year ago.
A key to any good team is having excellent domestic players being at the same page and having great locker room atmosphere with the imports that the management signed in the offseason. Nove Zamky brought in Czech players while Miskolc strictly went with Canadians and Americans and Debrecen had a strong Russian presence in the locker room.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the offseason for the MOL Liga, aside from the usual comings and goings of players there are a number of rumours with regards to new teams joining the league, not only Hungarian and Romanian clubs but there has been interest shown from clubs in Slovakia, Serbia and Poland as well. Either way there is much to look forward to in the MOL Liga.
3. HC Nove Zamky
5. Debreceni HK
6. Ujpest Budapest
7. Ferencvaros Budapest
8. HC Csikszereda
Playoff MVP: Keegan Dansereau, Miskolc
Goalie of the Year: Bence Balizs, Miskolc
Defenceman of the Year: Jesse Dudas, Miskolc
Forward of the Year: Teemu Elomo, Ujpest Budapest
Coach of the Year: Gergely Majoross, Miskolc
All-Star Team voted by the media
G: Janis Kalnins (Dunaujvaros)
D: Jesse Dudas (Miskolc), Pavel Kowalczyk (Nove Zamky)
F: Keegan Dansereau (Miskolc), Tihamer Becze (Miskolc), Teemu Elomo (Ujpest)