While most KHL teams are gearing up for the new season with a mini-tournament or two, Slovan Bratislava is flying the league’s flag in the European Trophy.
The 32-team contest brings together leading club sides from Central Europe and Scandinavia, contesting four qualifying groups for the right to skate in the super six final series in Berlin in December.
Slovan finds itself in the ‘South’ division – logical enough for Slovakia, although it’s not so clear how the likes of Linkopings and HV71 of Sweden qualify as ‘southern’ – and currently leads the way with 13 points from seven games.
However, qualification is far from assured: most of the Bratislava club’s rivals have played just four times, with Slovan rushing to complete its fixtures before the KHL season starts. Indeed, after yesterday’s 4-2 win over Linkopings in Skalica there’s just one group game left, against HV71 in Piestany. Top spot, or a strong second place, would send the Eagles flying towards Berlin.
But if results have been mixed, there have been some strong individual performances: Martin Skoula, a summer signing, has a share of the lead among point-scoring D-men with his five assists, forward Milan Bartovic (pictured with Rostislav Cada) has four goals to his credit, while Michel Miklik’s 2+4 has him tying for second among the overall scorers. Goalie Jaroslav Janus has also picked up plaudits, with 5 ‘stars’ from his MVP awards so far. They’ve also seen some good crowds, with more than 8000 arriving for the local derby with Vienna Capitals at the start of the campaign, a game which Slovan won 6-2.
The tournament is helping Slovan gear up for its KHL campaign, which starts at Donbass on September 6, and in particular is giving Jan Lipiansky an insight into his new role as assistant coach to Rostislav Cada. Lipiansky was on the playing staff last season, and his swift promotion to a role behind the bench is a steep learning curve for him. Meanwhile, the team is also adapting to the likely loss of national hero Miroslav Satan, who is expected to join Lubomir Visnovsky at the Islanders.
The European Trophy also features Helsinki’s Jokerit, a team set to join the KHL for the 2014-15 campaign. So far, though, there has been little for these Jokers to smile about – one win in four has them rooted to the foot of the West Division.