|National teams|| Men's|
|National federation||Croatian Ice Hockey Federation|
|IIHF since||May 6, 1992|
|Top league||Croatian Ice Hockey League|
|Current champion||KHL Medveščak II|
Croatia is a country in Central Europe. Zagreb is the capital and largest city. Croatia was part of SFR Yugoslavia until 1991.
|Yugoslav Ice Hockey League||1936||1991||Yugoslav-era competition|
|Croatian Ice Hockey League||1991||-||Top-level national competition|
|Croatian Junior Competitions||-||Various junior competitions|
|Croatian Women's Hockey League||2012||-||Top-level women's competition|
History of hockey in Croatia
The roots of Croatian hockey go back to 1894. That's when Dr. Franjo Bucar came back to Croatia after having studied gymnastics and modern sports in Stockholm, Sweden at the Central Gymnastics Institute. Upon his return he founded the first Skating Association consisting of a skating section. Between 1894 and 1896 when he was a physical trainer he introduced his students to hockey on ice (bandy hockey). Bucar had imported some equipment (sticks, balls, etc.) needed to play the game from Prague. He conducted lectures on the sport in 12 cities.
The first ice hockey team in Croatia was HASK (Horvatsky Akademicky Sportovni Klub) Zagreb which was founded in 1906. The first two official ice hockey games weren't played until the winter of 1916-17 in Zagreb when HASK Zagreb played against HSD (Horvatsky Sportovni Klub) Zagreb. HASK won the first game 2-0 and HSD won the second one 6-0.
In November 1922 The Winter Sports Federation of Zagreb was founded. It included skiing, skating and ice hockey. The first hockey games with six men and a puck was played in February 1924 between two Zagreb based teams. HASK defeated Zagrebačko Klizačko Društvo (Zagreb Skating Society) 4-1. Marathon Zagreb was also established this year.
Zagreb was where the Yugoslav Ice Hockey Federation was founded in 1930 (Croatia was part of Yugoslavia at the time). An independent Croatian Ice Hockey Federation was later formed on September 11, 1935, in Zagreb. Franco Bucar became its first president. After Croatia became independent, it joined the IIHF on May 6, 1992.
Croatia's first artificial ice rink was opened in 1961 in Zagreb. Prior to independence and the formation of the Croatian Ice Hockey League in 1991, Croatian teams played in the Yugoslav Ice Hockey League. There was also an unofficial championship played in Croatian territory during this time period. The first Yugoslav championship was played 1939. Four teams participated, two of them were Croatian clubs. Marathon and ZKD (both from Zagreb), but they didn't stand a chance against the winner Ilirija (from Ljubljana - Slovenia). Of the 47 Yugoslavian league seasons that were played between 1939-91, only six were won by Croatian teams (1947, 1949, 1956, 1989, 1990 and 1991).
Several Czech coaches helped out a couple of the Croatian teams. The two most successful Croatian teams over the years was Marathon and ZKD. Marathon was the name of the club when it was founded back in 1915. After 1945 the name of the club was KHL Mladost. They won the championship in 1947, 1949 and 1956. ZKD, or Medvescak Zagreb as it has been named since 1961 won the league the last three years that it was a mixed league (1989-1991).
Medvescak was dominant in the league these three years in a large part due to their Russian coach Anatolij Kostrjukov who increased the training regiment and instilled great discipline on the team. Strong Russian imports like Viktor Krutov, Sergei Borisov, Vyacheslav Anisin, Sergei Stolbun, Vladimir Scurjenko and Mikhail Anfiorov also helped. Former Canadian NHL'er Steve Gatzos (Pittsburgh) also played on the Medvescak team.
The success for Medvescak the last three years was mainly because a big industrial company named Gortan sponsored the team. The budget for the team during the 1988- 89 season when they first won the title was a little bit over $200,000 which easily was the biggest budget of all the teams in the league (it was a 20 game season).
The new Croatian Ice Hockey League was first played during the 1991-92 season. There were (and still are) four teams in Croatia (KHL Zagreb, KHL Medveščak Zagreb, KHL Mladost and KHL Sisak) That first season Sisak had to withdraw from the championship after only one game due to the instability in the region. The first Croatian champs was KHL Zagreb who won all six games. They had the best forward line in the league with Miroslav Kire - Dubravko Orlic - Alan Gojanovic, who scored 40 of the 56 goals that KHL Zagreb scored, and got a total of 67 points in the six games.
KHL Zagreb went on to win the championship the next two years. In 1993 they had three Russians on the team (Ivan Lisenko, Sergei Makarov [not the famous one] and Alexander Bachnyuk) and in 1994 when they won the league for the third consecutive time they were carried by two Canadian born Croats, Tomas Keca and Ivo Beljo. That year the league attracted a lot of media attention and over 5000 jammed the arenas in the final games.
In 1995 KHL Zagreb won for the fourth consecutive time...or at least that is what everybody thought. KHL Zagreb beat Medvescak 3-2 in games in the final series but the results in the last three games were reversed due to the illegal use of a player on the KHL Zagreb team. So Medvescak became the league champs off the ice.
In 1996 KHL Zagreb retained the title but Medvescak assumed the mantle again the following year, beginning a run of dominance where they have won 18 titles in 19 seasons of play. The only team to break the hegemony of Medvescak was KHL Mladost in 2008.
The top Medvescak team (it has been their second team that's played in the Croatian League in recent years) has played abroad in the Slovenian Ice Hockey League as well as the Austrian Hockey League. For 2013-14, the club joined the Kontinental Hockey League, the top league in Europe. Medvescak has used a roster composed primarily of imported players in the KHL.
Yugoslavia played their first international games during the 1939 World Ice Hockey Championships in Basel and Zürich, being trounced by Czechoslovakia 24-0, Switzerland 23-0 and Latvia 6-0. On that first Yugoslavian national team only three of the fifteen players were Croats, the rest of them were Slovenes. Defenseman Milan Popovic (HASK Zagreb), forwards Zvonko Stipetic (ZKD Zagreb) and Jovan Tomic (Marathon Zagreb) were the historic Croats, the first ever on the national team.
The Croatian National Team played their first games as an own nation back in 1941 when they briefly were an independent country. They played games against Romania, the Czech Republic, and two games against Slovakia, one January 17, 1941 where they lost 4-1 and the other February 9,1941 when they lost 6-1 . Their historic lineup looked like this: Goaltender: Salic. Defensemen: Bellak, Kovacevic, Starcevic and Miocka. Forwards: Stipetic, Smidek, Tomic, Potzl, Basic and Sacher.
They however were quickly playing as Yugoslavia again. After their 1939 debut it took Yugoslavia twelve years until they played internationally again (in the B-Pool) in Paris (France) 1951. There they had a lot more Croats on the team than they did in 1939. Eight players were Croats, both goalies Milan Dusanovic and Otto Weiner (both KHL Zagreb), and forwards Olivier Potzl, Stjepan Muvrin, Rudolf Renaud, Andrija Krajcic, Jovan Tomic and Zvonimir Stipetic.The stars on the team was Potzl and Renaud who both played for HK Partizan Belgrade.
In 1955 (B-Pool in Germany) the Yugoslavian team had six Croats on the team. The goalie Dusanovic and Tomic (his 3rd WC), Krajcic, Potzl, Muvrin and Renaud. After that the Yugoslavian team mostly had Slovenes on their team.
It wasn't until 1991 that Croatia was an independent nation once again. The last game where Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes played together was April 7, 1991. After that the Croatians assembled their own team, wasn't as strong as the Yugoslavian or Slovenian team. The reason is that during the 57 years that the mixed Yugoslavian national teams played, only 13% of the players were Croats. Of the 213 players, 144 were Slovenes, 33 Serbs and only 28 were Croats.
Croatia made its independent "comeback" late in 1992 when they played two qualification games in Zagreb against their rivals from Slovenia. The winner would get a ticket to the C-Pool World Championship. The Croatian team didn't have a chance against the swift skating Slovenes who won easily 15-1 and 7-2. The result meant that Croatia had to wait another year for a qualification game. In November 1993 Croatia got a new chance to qualify for the C-Pool. They played two games against Turkey and completely thrashed them 24-0 and 34-1.
Over the years Croatia has played exclusively in the lower pools of the World Championships. Their low-point was the D Pool in 1997. Since then the Croats have gone back and forth between the C Pool (Division II) and Division I (the new term for the B Pool). Croatia has hosted five World Championship tournaments since 2003 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2013).
Some of the best Croatian players of all-time include: Boris Renaud, Miroslav Gojanović, Igor Zajec, Zvonko Oštrić, Miljenko Lazić, Panta Ančević, Igor Jačmenjak, Ivo Ratej, Vanja Belić, and Borna Rendulić. Worth noting is that Zvonko Tkalcec and Dubravko Orlic were the last players on the Croatian national team who had represented the "old" Yugoslavian team
The women's national team first participated in the Women's World Championships in 2007. They have participated every year since then, with the exception of 2009, when the Division III tournament was cancelled.
Special thanks to Patrick H. for supplying information on this country.