David vs Goliath in the EBEL finals

David vs Goliath in the EBEL finals

01 Apr 2016Lucas Bradelj»

Today marks the start of 2016 EBEL finals. For the third time in a row, Red Bull Salzburg is one of the teams involved. They will be challenged by Orli Znojmo.


Red Bull, the undoubted favourite to defend its title, has had a tougher ride to the final than many had predicted. In 2015, Salzburg won twelve straight playoff games to win its fifth EBEL title. This season the team coached by Daniel Ratushny needed seven games in the quarterfinals to eliminate Austrian record champion Klagenfurter AC. The fact that things did not go according to Salzburg’s wishes was also underlined by a goaltending change the Bulls made in the series. 21-year old Slovenian net minder Luka Gracnar lost his starting job in Game 3 of the quarter finals, giving veteran Finnish net minder Juuso Riksman the chance to shine also in the semis.

In the semifinals, Villacher SV was awaiting them. The Eagles proved to be a pesky opponent, consistently playing with four lines. Led by their top unit including Ziga Pance and Benjamin Petrik centered by Rick Schofield VSV even gained a 2-1 series lead. JP Lamoureux was again excellent in net, as was experienced defenceman Gerhard Unterluggauer but also the youth of 18-year old talent Christof Kromp. Villach was able to match Red Bull’s depth and that was the main reason why five of the six games of the series were decided by just a one-goal-margin.

Logo Red Bull SalzburgFinally though the Red Bulls would come back and show that quality-wise, they still had an edge over VSV. A strong goaltending duo, an experienced and proven devence including Matthias Trattning and a dangerous group of forwards including Luciano Aquino, Brett Sterling and topscorer John Hughes led the Red Bulls to a 4-2 series win. When the ‘big bulls’ did not get it done, Salzburg’s fourth line including Peter Hochkofler, Alexander Rauchenwald and Florian Baltram emerged with important goals such as the game winner in Game 4 in Villach.

Qualfiying for the EBEL finals as the only Austrian-based team, Salzburg has also already won the title as Austria’s champion for the third year in a row. However, what ultimately matters is winning the EBEL trophy.

Logo Orli ZnojmoSalzburg’s challenger, Orli Znojmo, has already proven itself as a strong team in the past seasons, despite not nearly having the financial possibilities of the league’s top teams such as the Red Bulls. However, EBEL’s Czech representative never managed to carry its success into the playoffs. Despite making the playoffs in each of their six seasons since joining the league in 2010, they never made it past the first playoff round. Also this year it seemed as if the Dornbirn Bulldogs would have the edge in the quarter finals, gaining a 2-0 series lead. Znojmo though fought back, going on four-game winning streak to earn its way to the second round.

One man especially responsible for the team’s success is forward Colton Yellow Horn. Collecting 57 points in 52 regular season games and adding 7 goals and 14 assists in the post-season thus far, the league’s topscorer could also not be stopped by the Black Wings Linz in the semi finals.
Linz took the series lead, but in the end it was especially Znojmo’s depth alongside Yellor Horn’s offensive instincts to make the difference, winning the series in six games. Whereas Linz rolled with three lines and one checking line, Znojmo could rely on a more equal line-up including Ondrei Fiala, Roman Tomas and Peter Pucher. On the back end, the acquisition of veteran Austrian defenceman Andre Lakos also proved to be worthy. The 36-year old was without a contract for large parts of the season, before Znojmo decided to add the experienced puck moving defenceman. Their plan was to become more of a playoff team, as proven also by the signing of Canadian forward Corey Trivino.

In net, the Czechs have used a very interesting system in the playoffs so far, changing their starting goalie after every loss. They have two solid young goalkeepers on disposal with Jan Lukas and Patrik Nechvatal, who have both proven to know how to stop the puck in a heated playoff match-up.

Red Bull is whouth any doubt the favourite to win the title. However, hard work can beat talent if talent does not work hard. If Red Bull only relies on their superior skill, they will be punished again as they were two seasons ago when the Bolzano Foxes defeated them.

If Znojmo wants to become the second non-Austrian team to win the EBEL championship trophy, they will have to rely on their skilled game and use their well-rounded lineup to defeat the Bulls. On paper, Red Bull should win the series easily, but the Eagles know that hockey games are decided on the ice.

Logo EBEL Playoffs 2016

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