For only 3 years has Hradec Kralove been able to enjoy top Czech ice hockey. Now its team, Mountfield HK, will already make its first Spengler Cup appearance.
It is well known that beer plays an important role in the Czech Republic. The Czechs love their brew, have one of the highest per capita consumptions worldwide, and are home to a vast number of excellent breweries. But that the influence of beer reaches all the way into the top Czech ice hockey league is still a little surprising. In fact, Mountfield HK of Hradec Kralove would not be at this year’s Spengler Cup if it hadn’t been for a “beer conflict” four years ago.
When beer displaces hockey clubs
This is how the story goes: As the Czech Extraliga for the season 2012/13 agreed on an exclusive contract with the brewery Radegast, which stipulated that no other beer be served at the arenas, HC Mountfield was put in a tough situation. The city had a contract of its own with Budweiser Budvar prohibiting serving any other type of beer at Budvar Arena. Because the two parties could not reach an agreement, the Extraliga licence as well as all player and employee contracts were sold to a newly founded operating company in Hradec Kralove 220 kilometres away. Mountfield HK was born.
The club, still carrying the name of its main sponsor – the Czech gardening equipment retailer Mountfield -, is starting the fourth campaign at its new location, Zimni Stadium holding 7700 spectators. The university town of around 92,000 inhabitants in the northern part of the country had experienced top Czech hockey once before: 1993/94 the team played in the Extraliga for one year under the name HC Stadion Hradec Karlove, before being relegated again at the end of the season.
New head coach, new luckiness?
Things are going better now and the team’s performances have been very consistent. They reached the playoffs in each of the three seasons, although the team was subsequently eliminated in the quarterfinals. There have been many changes leading up to this season, none of which were ground breaking, though. The most important new hire is that of the head coach – Vaclav Sykora has now replaced Vladimir Kyhos, who took over during the past season after the German Peter Draisatl was released. The 63-year old has been a professional head coach since 1988, coaching in Finland (Rauma, Tampere) and the KHL (St. Petersburg, Lev Prague, Cherepovets), and has won the Czech championship with Sparta Prague and Pardubice in 2002 and 2010, respectively.
On the roster, which contains few big names, one name stands out: Yaroslav Bednar, champion with HC Davos in 2011 and SC Bern in 2013, captains the team. The 39-year old does is still a threat in front of the net: In 2014 and 2015 he was the most productive forward of Slavia Prague, and HK Mountfield’s top scorer the year before.