Hockey in a Mediterranean country that has only one indoor ice rink? Believe it or not, it’s possible. Not just possible, but successful as well.
Back in 2009, hockey was just an exotic sport in Croatia. Other sports like football, basketball, handball and tennis have much greater tradition than hockey. There were only 4 hockey teams in the whole country and it wasn’t even close to becoming a big deal for players or the audience. But then, Medveščak Zagreb rose to the heaven of European hockey scene.
It all started when Medveščak entered a regional hockey league called EBEL. It was an Austrian league with 2 Slovenian and 1 Hungarian team now filled with a new underdog from Croatia. The main reason why this story had a potential were pumped Croats who simply adore teams that always give their best even though no one expects that from them. Local players along with few older Canadian players who had Croatian roots simply attracted the audience, but that wasn’t an ordinary audience. Those were parents with their kids who wanted to see something different than hooliganism and boring old football. The crowd was always positive, nearly 90% of them didn’t even know hockey rules at all, the only thing that was important is fun and sportsmanship. The final result was: Hockey renaissance.
The story of Medveščak entering playoffs as an 8th seed and knocking out the 1st seed and biggest Austrian hope in the first round in just 6 games was ringing not only in Croatia but in the whole hockey world as well. Not to mention the energic chants and songs which could be heard in every single minute of a match even if the score was 5:0 in favor of a guest team. Medveščak’s fans even broke the record for the loudest cheer at an indoor sports stadium with 130dB. The record was held by NBA’s Sacramento Kings at 126dB. Imagine playing hockey in that kind of environment. That is how everyone in Croatia wanted to be a part of that beautiful sport.
The goal was completed. New generations of hockey players are growing in Croatia as you are reading this, not just little boys but even their sisters and mothers have started to play recreationally or even professionally. One new indoor ice rink is about to be built in a small city of Sisak near Zagreb. Seasonal outdoor ice rinks were built all over Croatia, holidays without ice are now unimaginable as people just can’t get enough of it.
Sports and health at their best.
Hockey is growing.
Image Source : www.medvescak.com