A short history of Serbian Hockey since 1991: two decades (1991-1992 through 2011-2012)

A short history of Serbian Hockey since 1991: two decades (1991-1992 through 2011-2012)

26 Aug 2012 | Lazar Ilic

A short review of Serbian hockey's last two decades, from the independence to current crisis

Serbia's hockey league was formed in 1991, upon the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Initially there were four teams in it. Due to difficult conditions in the country, the quality of hockey in the country went down. Losing their Slovenian players, who were now foreign, some teams got weaker. The first season ended with Crvena Zvezda winning the championship, though they coincidentally were the best Serbian team in the last season in the Yugoslav league. For the next several seasons the championship would be shared between Crvena Zvezda and Partizan.

In the 1996-97 season, a new team appeared, HK Tas. The following season, 1997-1998, HK Vojvodina became the champion. It was the first of seven titles in a row that they would go on to win.
The following season, 1998-1999, was very different. NATO's bombing of the country caused much chaos, and there was ever less funding for hockey. With renovations of the ice arena in Belgrade under way, there was no senior hockey in what was traditionally the center of the sport in Serbia for two seasons.
A new team was formed, HK Novi Sad, and so in the new season there were three teams, and thus enough for there to be a league. Eight games were played instead of sixteen. The following season was similar, having only three teams.

In the 2000-01 season, Partizan and Tas returned. The following season Crvena Zvezda returned, but Tas fell out. In 2004-05, Vojvodina's title run ended, as Crvena Zvezda became the winner. The following season HK Spartak fell out mid way in the season, and Partizan began their own title run. The 2007-08 season began with five teams again, as a new team, HK Beostar, from New Belgrade joined the competition. The 2008-09 season was perhaps the peak of the league. But, the global financial crisis took its toll, and hockey in Serbia entered yet another phase.

The 2009-2010 season saw many changes take place. HK Novi Sad's main sponsor pulled out, and thus the club had to fold due to financial problems. HK Beostar was also in financial difficulties, and folded their senior division. With many senior players looking for a club, HK Spartak steped in to fill the void. HK Partizan meanwhile went to play in the newly formed Slohokej Liga. Also, some junior teams started to play in the Hungarian and Slovenian leagues. The Serbian league itself had three teams, who would compete to play Partizan in the finals. Due to poor organization this system did not go on well, and fewer and fewer games were played each subsequent season. Partizan meanwhile appeared to have no serious challenger.

In the following season, a new club was supposed to join the competition. Made primarily of former players of Partizan and Crvena Zvezda, HK Vitez, was to be an alternative for senior hockey players in Belgrade. But, due to a lack of efficient player transfer rules, their entrance was blocked and hence postponed until the following season. Partizan continued to play in the Slohokej league, though the Serbian league was in an ever worse position, playing fewer games than ever. The last season, 2011-2012 was perhaps the worst that Serbian hockey has seen. No official games were played properly, and the only three that were played had irregularities. HK Vitez was the only club which was in a decent enough position to be the challenger to HK Partizan for the title, but even that was an lopsided match as their enthusiasm had faded since the start of the season.

The time now is very difficult for hockey in Serbia. Problems are not just financial, but organizational too. During the last three years, the national team has performed worse and worse. The upcoming season will be critical, and will perhaps reveal if hockey indeed has a future in Serbia, or will continue declining, as it has been doing the last three seasons.
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