KHL Medvescak Zagreb Moving Back to Move Forward

With their return to the Ersta Bank Eishockey Liga (EBEL), KHL Medvescak Zagreb appears to be living the latest version of Back to the Future.

The club spent the last four seasons in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). When Medvescak entered the KHL, expectations ran the gamut from fans who just wanted to not be completely embarrassed while watching legendary Russian clubs like SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow visit Dom Sportova (Medvescak’s home rink) to those who expected deep playoff runs yearly. For the most part, the first group wasn’t disappointed too much while the second group definitely was.

After making the EBEL playoffs in every season the team was in the league, the Bears made the KHL playoffs just once in their first season, 2013-14. The team was then promptly swept by HC Lev Praha. Conversely, Medvescak made four EBEL playoff appearances in all four seasons with two runs to the league semifinal.

Medvescak’s move back to the EBEL was made official on March 15, 2017 and to make sure it was officially official, the KHL announced the club’s departure on May 25.

When Medvescak joined the KHL, Croatia was by far the lowest ranked nation in the IIHF World Rankings to have a KHL team. They became the second lowest nation when China’s Kunlun Red Star joined this past season. Now Croatia will be the lowest ranked team in the EBEL but that is far more manageable and the club has proven in the past they can handle the success. Not only will Medvescak be able to field a more competitive roster in the EBEL as compared to the KHL, this will also lend an opportunity to develop more Croatian players who wouldn’t have gotten much ice time in the KHL. That, in time, will improve the Croatian national team.

Medvescak leaving the KHL for the EBEL is the best for all parties involved. The KHL is closer to their goal of having a maximum of 24 teams, the EBEL gets an old team back that fits perfectly in their footprint, Medvescak has the better opportunity to compete, and the Croatian national team has an environment more conducive to developing homegrown talent.

Brine, Deutsch are Familiar Faces to Guide the Future

On June 19, the Bears announced their first three signings for the 2017-18 EBEL season and two of the three names are already familiar to Medvescak fans: David Brine and Adam Deutsch.

Brine is a Canadian born forward who hails from Truro, Nova Scotia, and he was initially signed prior to the club’s third EBEL season. In addition to helping Medvescak on the ice for two seasons, Brine gained Croatian citizenship with plans to eventually join the Croatian national team. Brine has since competed in the last two World Championships for Croatia at the Division I, Group B level. Last season, Brine skated for the Cardiff Devils in the UK-based Elite Ice Hockey League and he and the Devils won the EIHL championship.

David Brine
David Brine, Cardiff Devils, EIHL (HelenBrabon)

Deutsch is a young Swedish defenseman who played for Medvescak two seasons ago in the club’s penultimate KHL season. He spent last season in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second tier, with Almtuna IS. Initially signed as a promising young defensive prospect, Deutsch appeared in 20 games for the Bears in 2015-16 and scored just one goal but he managed to be a plus-1 on a team that finished with a minus-28 goal differential.

Brine is expected to slot in as the club’s third or fourth line center which means he will be expected to add some scoring punch, which he has proved he can do at this level with 57 points in 109 EBEL games, but his primary focus will be his defensive game and to be a solid penalty killer. Deutsch will likely see the majority of his time in the club’s top two defensive pairings if not solely in the top pairing. While he will likely see higher offensive output than his KHL time, it likely will not be much more. He only had two goals and one assist in 46 games with Almtuna IS.

Due to their past experiences, both players will be relied upon by both the club and their new teammates to help the players new to Croatia acclimate to their new surroundings. Luckily for Brine, he has a relationship with some of the players the club will eventually sign to fill out the Medvescak roster thanks to his time with the Croatian national team.

Koskiranta Brings Scoring with a Finnish Touch

The club also welcomed in a new face with Finnish center Tero Koskiranta. Koskiranta joins Medvescak after playing last season with SaiPi in the Finnish Liiga. Despite SaiPi finishing dead last in the league and missing the playoffs by 22 points, Koskiranta led the team in scoring with 16 goals and 14 assists in 56 games. In his previous stops in Liiga and the Swedish Hockey League, Koskiranta has established himself as a reliable second line center at that level.

While the level of play in the EBEL has risen over the recent past and closed the gap between itself and the elite leagues in Europe, a Liiga second line center like Koskiranta would be a first line center in the EBEL. There is little doubt that he can and will play that role successfully for Medvescak.