In its second official year of existence, the Austrian-based ICE Hockey League has now crowned its second champion.
And good grief, this was as convincing a champion as you could imagine.
A long-time powerhouse in the league formerly known as the EBEL, Red Bull Salzburg is the league’s 2021/22 champion, its first championship since the league changed its name in the summer of 2020.
This year’s motto might as well have been “Sweep, sweep, sweep”, because that’s exactly what the team from the city of Mozart did all playoffs long. After having bowed out to KAC Klagenfurt in last spring’s final, the team put in a dominant season right from the beginning (finishing first overall with a 33-16 record) in gaining its first championship in six years, which is quite a drought for an organization that often boasts the league’s most bodacious budget.
This Karl Nedved Trophy is the club’s first, but in total its seventh championship in Austria’s highest league and the celebration, which took place on the road just southwest of Budapest, sounded every bit as if it were conducted right in Salzburg. Well, if you judge by the decibel level in the arena. Plenty of the over 3,000 attendees made the trip to the home rink of Fehervar AV19.
As the evening kicked off, Fehervar’s back was against the wall, but the team sure didn’t look like it was going to accept defeat on this evening. The team came out like gangbusters and pressured Salzburg for much of the first period. A goal by Balint Magosi in the 8th minute of play brought the building to eruption and looked like it might be a sign of things to come, as the team kept the pressure going, obviously energized by the tally. Fehervar would go on to outshoot Salzburg 14-5 in the first period.
But as is often the case when a team can’t make optimal use of its opportunities, an unfortunate goal against usually rears its ugly head soon thereafter. In the 16th minute of play, defenseman Mike Dalhuisen was able to tie things up, although it looked like Captain Thomas Raffl may have gotten a piece of the shot on the way in. One way or another, this dimmed the high spirits of the opponent heading into the first intermission. Salzburg had clearly caught itself and recharged because it entered the second period looking like a whole other outfit. Eventually outshooting Fehervar 15-4, the Red Bulls jumped out into the lead in the 33rd minute of play when Raffl collected his fifth official goal of the playoffs on a beautiful between-the-legs shot from a near impossible angle.
Alas, this would eventually be the game’s game-winning goal.
The 3,260 people in attendance would witness a Salzburg team dominate the third period with another 15-4 shot count and slowly, but surely squeeze the life out of the opponent, which itself had finished the regular season in third place with a 27-20 record . Former NHL coach Kevin Constantine ultimately pulled goalie Rasmus Tirronen with a minute and a half to go, but to no avail as defenseman TJ Brennan stole the puck from an opponent deep in Salzburg’s zone, turned around, and launched an ice-length shot into the empty net just 15 seconds later.
That would prove to seal the deal for the league’s second ever champion as Fehervar couldn’t muster together any answer in the waning moments of the game.
Elated, the team stormed the ice as the final buzzer went off, gathering together rather controllably around their goalie, in their zone, right in front of the stadium section that is allotted to the fans of the guest team. In this case, to the fans of the new champion who would spend the next hour celebrating in song and sound with their newly crowned champs.