New Czech teams: Kometa Brno & Hradec Kralove qualify from semi-finals
Kometa Brno just beat Mountfield Hradec Kralove in the Czech semi-finals, but both teams have qualified for the CHL. It's a brand new experience for Hradec Kralove, while Kometa haven't played for a European title in 50 years.
Kometa Brno and Mountfield Hradec Kralove just finished a gruelling six-game series in the semi-finals of the Czech Extraliga. Kometa won, but both teams have qualified for the Champions Hockey League for the first time.
Hynek Zohorna's overtime goal gave Kometa a 2-1 victory on home ice Saturday night in game six, which sent the Brno club to the league finals for the third time in six years.
“I think that not only the team, but all of Brno is happy that we managed to beat such a strong opponent. It wasn't easy, they made us work for it, but I think we were just a little bit better over the course of the series,” Kometa head coach Kamil Pokorny said after the last game.
As finalists, their CHL qualification was automatic at that point, giving Kometa the third of four available slots available to Czech clubs. The following night, Bili Tygri Liberec eliminated Pirati Chomutov in the sixth game of the other semi-final, giving the fourth CHL spot to Hradec Kralove.
“It's a tribute to our club, if only for the reason that we are among the best European teams,” Hradec Kralove general manager Ales Kmonicek said about CHL qualification on Monday afternoon. “Personally, I look forward to it. It will be a new experience for us.”
Indeed it will, as no team from Hradec Kralove had made the league semi-finals before, or competed for a European championship. This past season, however, the club did compete in the prestigious Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, where they acquitted themselves well by beating KHL club Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Looking ahead to next season, Kmonicek wants to build a team that can continue to compete well against opponents both domestically and abroad.
“It will be very challenging because there will be more games, with the Champions League awaiting us and we'd also like to return to the Spengler Cup,” he said. “With that in mind, we'll have to build a team that is strong enough and has enough depth.”
As for Kometa, they don't have the luxury of looking ahead to next season yet, as they still have the small task of the finals coming up. They recently made the finals in 2012 and 2014, but against defending champions Liberec they'll try to bring the first national title to Brno since 1966. At that time, TJ ZKL Brno was a powerhouse in Czechoslovakia and across Europe. The 1966 title win was the club's 11th in 12 years, and they also won three European Cups in a row in 1966, 1967 and 1968 – the first three years that an official European club championship was staged.
The other Czech teams to qualify were the top two finishers from the regular season – Liberec and Ocelari Trinec, who have both played in the CHL multiple times before. With Kometa's and Hradec Kralove's qualification, all 24 teams from the CHL's Founding Leagues are now known. There are still three more qualifiers to come from the champions of Norway, Denmark and Slovakia. The entire field of 32 teams for the 2017-18 CHL season will be known before the end of April.