Slovan would be a worthy new addition to the ranks of the KHL if only for its followers’ boundless passion for the game. Even though we are still at the height of summer, HC Slovan Bratislava’s game last Tuesday against SKA Saint Petersburg drew to the Slovnaft Arena a crowd of almost eight thousand – for a preseason friendly! And among that crowd was a certain Ivan Gasparovic – President of the Republic of Slovakia, no less.
“I won’t say right now exactly who was the first to say that Slovan should play in the KHL,” says Alexei Yashkin, executive director at the Bratislava club. “It was a joint decision by those in charge of the team, and one which was supported at the very highest level. We believe this step will provide a valuable stimulus for the progress and development of hockey in Slovakia. The matches will arouse huge interest among the fans, and competing in the KHL will enable the club to build the right business model.”
It is true that in the domestic championship Slovan could draw a full house maybe five or six times a year for games against its bigger rivals, from Kosice, Skalica, or Zvolen, but there was a thirst for greater things. And now that the club has hit the big time, thousands of season tickets have been snapped up in the first few days of sale; indeed, Slovan could even emulate Amur Khabarovsk and sell as many season tickets as there are seats in the stadium – and the Slovnaft arena holds 10,000.
For the all-important post of head coach, the club has put its trust in Rostislav Cada. Last year he was sent packing from Omsk, even though his Avangard team was riding high in third place in the Eastern Conference and its defense was the joint best in the league along with that of Traktor. In fact, it was a shootout defeat at the hands of Traktor which brought about a premature end to the Slovak specialist’s three-year contract.
“The team has become far too cautious and ineffective in offense, and the problem has clearly spread to all three lines without exception. We can’t be confident any more about the outcome of a match.” When these words were aired on the local TV by Leonid Polezhayev, Governor of Omsk Region, Cada’s fate was sealed.
“Rostislav is an experienced coach who has worked in Slovakia and in the KHL,” said Alexei Yashkin. “We know him to be an open, straightforward and honest man; I think he’ll find a common language with the players, and just as importantly, with the owners of the club. He is a very demanding professional and that’s the kind we need.”
Cada’s playing philosophy is based, first and foremost, on iron discipline. And while many in Omsk may have criticized him for concentrating too hard on defense to the detriment of offense, Rostislav is unlikely to hear such complaints repeated in Bratislava. The coach’s beloved tactic was implemented in that exhibition match against SKA and it passed the test with flying colors.
“We’re putting a decent team together here, and if we get into the play-offs it will be great,” said Slovan forward Roman Kukumberg. The Bratislava-born veteran knows a thing or two about success in the KHL, having tasted Gagarin Cup glory with Ak Bars in 2010. “I worked with Cada a few seasons ago and was impressed by the kind of hockey his teams play. During his time in Omsk I think he got to know the playing style of the teams in the KHL. He knows how to play against them, so we’ll become formidable opponents. In many of my former teams, both in Russia and Slovakia, we had to endure very long training sessions, maybe two or two-and-a-half hours. I’ve never liked them. With Cada the sessions are shorter but very intensive, and this adds to the pleasure of working with him.”
As yet there have been no headline-grabbing major signings by Slovan, but all this could change in the very near future: club general manager Maros Krajci has put hope in the hearts of those fans yearning to see their club sign two of Slovakia’s 2002 World Championship winning heroes, forwards Miroslav Satan and Zigmund Palffy. Krajci has announced that talks will get underway with both players very soon. And even without a contract, Satan is already helping Slovan as part of the club’s marketing plan: as you read these words, all of Bratislava is putting up portraits of the legendary attacker, adorned with the message: “Welcome to the Slovnaft Arena and the KHL.”
Vladimir Samokhin, special for khl.ru