Saturday, the 17th of December, marked 50 years to the day since the founding of Croatia’s most popular and successful hockey club, Medveščak of Zagreb, and the high point of the celebrations in honor of the jubilee was arranged with the help of the Kontinental Hockey League - a friendly game between Medveščak and Dynamo Moscow.
The men from the illustrious Moscow team arrived the day before, and when they conducted an intensive 90-minute open training session it attracted a fair few journalists and dozens of spectators.
Beforehand, head coach Oleg Znarok, plus forwards Alexei Kudashov and Vyacheslav Kozlov, took part in a press conference together with Medveščak president Damir Gojanović and three of the Zagreb club’s Canadians: head coach Marty Raymond, defenseman Alan Letang and forward Frank Banham.
The three Dynamo men all congratulated the Zagreb club on reaching its half century, and all expressed their intentions of giving a performance worthy of the Dynamo name and which would delight the local hockey fans.
“We expect the game to be a festival and we want the fans to enjoy our play,” said Alexei Kudashov. “We hope we’ll make a good job of representing our league and our team in Croatia.”
Zagreb boss Marty Raymond expected the event to resemble an all-Star Game. “The players want to perform well, and there will be very few strong hits. All the same, I expect commitment from my guys – the chance to compete against a team from the strongest league in Europe is practically unique.”
Medveščak attacker Frank Banham, who played 6 games for Dynamo back in the 2003-04 season and knows Kudashov from that time, mentioned that his short time playing in Russia did him the world of good:
“It was great experience. In Russia the hockey is completely different, and practically every player has excellent movement, speed and technique. It will be interesting to play against the current Dynamo and see what has changed in that time.”
In answer to a question about whose supporters were the most passionate, Russian or Croat, the Canadian said: “In Moscow our support was good, of course. But tomorrow a surprise awaits dynamo – Croat fans support their team with real fervor.”
Both Marty Raymond and Oleg Znarok promised that the spectators would see some beautiful combination play, and their players certainly did not let them down. There was barely an aggressive hit in the entire game (when players did collide they simply gave a quick apology and continued with the hockey, and there was not a single penalty given) while nearly every new shift introduced yet another captivating combination, followed by gasps and ovations all around the packed stadium.
The day had not started too well for Dynamo, however, as for various reasons four of the roster brought to Zagreb – Granak, Shchadilov, Gorokhov and Velikov – would be unable to take part in the game. This forced Znarok into forming defensive pairs of one recognized defenseman alongside one forward, with the attackers Shafigulin, Volkov and Pestunov called upon for defensive duties. This certainly gave a clear signal of Dynamo’s attacking intentions.
A mere eight minutes into the game, those fervent Zagreb fans already had reason to raise the volume even higher when the hosts opened the scoring.
The setback did dot dent the Dynamo men’s spirit. Instead, they showing remarkable confidence in taking control of the proceedings, and hit five goals in the second period to put the result beyond any doubt.
Medveščak managed to score the last two goals of the game and so halve the margin of defeat, and it is fair to assume both sides were content with the final score. The grateful home fans gave the Dynamo men the warmest of ovations, chanting “Dynamo Moscow” and keeping the guests on the ice for fully ten minutes after the hooter had sounded.
The Croatian hosts made no secret of their desire in to see their team join the ranks of the Kontinental Hockey League, and no-one could deny that both their team and its home arena are good enough to meet the required standards. KHL President Alexander Medvedev, while talking with journalists during the break, confirmed that nothing is impossible. All that is needed is for the club to demonstrate by the 1st of April that it satisfies all the necessary criteria demanded by the League.
Medveščak Zagreb 4 1 2 1
Dynamo Moscow 6 1 5 0
Goals: Sertić, Banham (2), Morency - Mosalev, Shafigulin, K. Volkov, Kozlov, Konkov, Soin.