From October 14 to 16, Angers will host Croatian KHL Sisak as part of the Continental Cup. The latter obtained their qualification by winning the first round of this same competition, last weekend in Sofia (Bulgaria). Certified as the little thumb of the competition, the KHL Sisak will do everything to become the beautiful story of this 25th edition of the “Conti Cup”. Over the seasons, relocations and deadly conflicts, let’s try to trace the history of a club, which today, through its sporting exploits, contributes to the development of this sport, despite the lack – or even absence – of infrastructure.
The story begins on March 17, 1880 in Sisak, a town south of Zagreb. Some volunteer firefighters in the city founded the « Croatian Skating Society », which aims to develop and promote the discipline across the country. The company is responsible for the appearance of the first ice rinks in the country… at least, when the weather conditions allow it. The decades pass and in 1930, a discipline points the end of its butt in Croatia: ice hockey. On February 21 of that same year, two teams of high school students competed for what will remain in the history of the club, such as the very first hockey match in Sisak. The following year, on the same February 21, the Sisak team faced a national selection made up of students of the same age. Here we are, the story of what will become – a lot – later the KHL Sisak starts. The club joined the National Skating Association (ANP) in 1935 but was pushed out three winters later, for lack of resources.
Since pushed towards the exit of the ANP, the hockey section of the club is transferred to Zagreb. For several years, the HASK Zagreb club would fight for the top spots in the Yugoslav hockey championship, finishing honorable 3rd place in 1939 and 4th in 1940. As the alliance between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin faltered, the specter of the Second World War strikes Croatia, a co-signatory of the Axis tripartite treaty. The country then plunged into the chaos of the Eastern front in 1941 and Zagreb like Sisak, became theaters of the horrors of the Reich. However, it is still possible, even during the darkest hours of history, to attend various ice hockey matches. Hask Zagreb played their last match in the winter of 1942.
Sisak remains a hockey town!
With the war now over, hockey returns to Sisak. A little less than 10 years later, the city again had an ice hockey club, since the UPS Forward Sisak was created in the fall of 1946. Until 1952, the club played in the Yugoslav championship and performs well there when the climatic conditions allow it (the lack of ice leading to several white seasons). Before finally merging with the Nafta club, on February 28, 1952. Faced with a cruel lack of funds, the club had to resolve internal opposition until 1954 when they finally obtained funding to integrate the championship, and even obtain the promotion to the top flight 5 years later. The club will not find the heights during the following decades. He will not play a single match between 1965 and 1972 since the construction of an entirely artificial ice rink and the climatic conditions will not be met before spring. Over the course of the club’s countless name changes, the city has discovered a discipline that it takes on board. The club continues its journey in the Yugoslav championship. But while the discipline is becoming more democratic on this side of the Iron Curtain, the political and economic context complicates the development of hockey. The Soviet bloc began to crumble over the 1980s and the economic decadence of the entire bloc prevented the creation of the infrastructures necessary for the development of the practice, particularly in Croatia. The results of the club now named INA Sisak are unknown between 1982 and the beginning of the 2000s, since between the fall of the Soviet bloc (1991) and the war in Yugoslavia (1991-2001), hockey ultimately had little place in eastern Europe.
The KHL Sisak, a semi-professional team full of promise
After a decade of war, things are gradually calming down and hockey is regaining its place in the daily life of the inhabitants of Sisak. In 2008, INA Sisak changed its name – yes yes, again – and becomes the KHL Sisak. The club evolves in the Croatian championship (which is composed of 4 teams) and must face the domination of the clubs of the capital, Zagreb. However, the club also plays in the International Hockey League which is home to many Slovenian, Serbian and Croatian clubs. The club is therefore inevitably a driving force in the development of hockey in Croatia, despite a flagrant lack of infrastructure at the national level. Long in the shadow of the capital’s clubs, the arrival of academics David Anderson and Austin Wilk (USA) then Canadians Sean Ramsay and Gabe Schovanek enabled the club to take a big step forward in sporting terms and become the first club not from the capital to win the national championship. A real feat for a semi-professional club.
Thus qualified for the first round of the Continental Cup, they went so far as to triumph, thus qualifying for the next round of the competition. Luka Jarčov, player, coach and general manager of the team, sees this victory as a step towards the professionalization of the team, which he hopes within 3 years, but also as an additional step towards the development of hockey in Croatia:Croatians are talented in many sports, but at the moment we don’t have enough ice rinks to develop ice hockey. You can see what we (Croatians) are capable of when we have the necessary infrastructure. Sisak is a good example through what we have accomplished over the past three years.From now on, it remains to be seen where the KHL Sisak will stop in this competition, because although with 10 players having a third job and whose participation in this second round remains uncertain, the Men of Luka Jarčov intend to repeat the exploit. . They will go to Angers from October 14 to 16 with the desire to show Europe that David can defeat Goliath.
Calendar of their next matches in the Continental Cup:
Friday, October 14, 2022: SC Miercurea Siuc – KHL Sisak (4.30 p.m.)
Saturday October 15, 2022: KHL Sisak – Ducs d’Angers (8 p.m.)
Sunday October 16, 2022: TC Ferencvaros – KHL Sisak (2 p.m.)