International Ice Hockey Federation

Romania's steelmen

Romania's steelmen

Galati joins the international game

Published 20.10.2016 10:23 GMT+2 | Author Henrik Manninen
Romania's steelmen
Once a perennial runner-up, Dunarea Galati has put itself at the forefront of Romanian club hockey. Photo: Michal Griel
Once known as a talent pipeline to the big Bucharest clubs, today Dunarea Galati has stepped out of the shadows and become the team to beat in Romania.

Clocking up mileage on the road in a season where it has had to juggle playing schedules in the Romanian championship and the international MOL Liga, games have come thick and fast during a relentless start to the season for Galati.

Moving north to Tychy in Poland, Dunarea Galati will steps out on the ice on Friday during the second round of the Continental Cup, hoping to continue what has been a steady run of success for hockey in Romania's equivalent of Magnitogorsk or Pittsburgh.

Housing Romania's largest iron and steel plant where the Danube river serenely slides towards the Black Sea, Galati home of quarter of a million people. Located in the southeastern part of the country, the city proudly houses the country's top ice hockey team.

Having won the club's first league championship in 2014/15, it was followed up by its second consecutive domestic title last spring. Last July the club succeeded in its third attempt to join the MOL Liga. Galati was accompanied by the arrival of fellow newcomers HK Belgrade from Serbia, which considerably stretched the frontiers of the 11-team strong cross-border league.

"It's very good for us to be playing in the MOL Liga as the level is much higher than we have been used to at our national championship," said Galati's 24-year-old forward Adrian Irimia. "But the travelling has been different, first it was four games in five days and then the next round of games we had seven games in eight days, but after a month we got used to the tempo."

Galati's baptism of fire in the MOL Liga began in Eastern Hungary, where they were taken apart in a 7-0 loss against reigning champions DVTK Jegesmedvek from Miskolc. The open day encounter became a double blow for Irimia, as he suffered a fracture on his face in his MOL Liga debut when blocking a shot.

Despite their opening day setback, Galati has enjoyed some success in its opening season and is currently in eight spot out of eleven teams in the league. The team recently returned from their second round of games on the road, encompassing three countries where a round trip Galati-Belgrade-Budapest-Galati is 2,195 kilometers.

With Dunarea Galati now making a name for themselves beyond its country borders, the club's General Manager Mihai Brindabur's is finally getting rewarded for an almost two decade long battle in his current position before the sport started to get the attention he felt it deserved in a city where football has ruled the roost.

Brindabur, himself a keen skater at the time of the rink in Galati was inaugurated in 1970, witnessed first hand as development in Galati started to take off. Ice hockey in the city got a huge boost when the city hosted the 1979 World Championships, Group B which saw Romania finish in third place ahead of countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Denmark to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid 1980.

But as their talents were discovered and honed, Galati’s best players ended up with a one-way ticket to Bucharest, Romania's capital, three hours drive down the road where they were to spend the peak of their careers. While the supply of talent from Galati to Steaua in Bucharest continued well into this century, tables were turned a few years ago, as Romania's hockey landscape underwent drastic change.

Romania's capital Bucharest, saw its only ice rink shut its doors in 2012, Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc and Corona Brasov, the country's other representatives in the MOL Liga, looked best equipped to increase their stronghold of the Romanian game.

Instead it also saw Galati start its rise as a contender. When the Galati municipality had disapproved of the city's local football team, Otelul Galati dealings in the aftermath of its only league championship to date in 2010/11, increased investments were instead starting to find its way into other sports, with ice hockey becoming a big benefactor.

"It has been a big difference in a few years for sure, in the past all the good players from Galati used to go and play for Steaua in Bucharest, but since a few years now we have got a more support and sponsors, got players from Miercurea Ciuc together with good imports and won the league championship. We have got attention on TV, and radio and people have started to come to the ice rink," said Irimia, who following a stint at Steaua returned to his home town ahead of the 2012/13 season.

Irimia who was introduced to the game at the age of seven after his mum, a keen figure skater took him down to the rink in Galati where he saw the local hockey team practice. On the current Galati roster, Irimia is one of very few local players getting a regular shift for a club which once again is making efforts to get their youth development back on track.

Apart from their newly started under-18 team, the club also has another three youth teams from under-16 until under-10, where Galati's proximity to the Republic of Moldova has also seen the club struck up a link-up with their neighbouring country, which currently sees five youngsters from the capital Chisinau playing in Galati's youth program.

The ripple effect of hockey's recent success has also seen Galati take part in the IIHF’s World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend, and in nearby Braila, a town home of 180,000, located just 17 kilometers south of Galati, youth hockey is starting to take off.

Irimia, who recently returned to action following his early season injury, is now steaming ahead to get back to his best during a long season that will have plenty to play for right until the very end, as Galati will host the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II in early April next year with Romania aiming for a swift return back to Division IB.

"My goal this season will to play better than last year and help my team to success but also to take a place in the national team which will be special because they play in my home town," said Irimia who was part of the Romania team who went undefeated when winning promotion from Division IIA in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015, his only senior tournament to date so far representing his country.

He can take a major step toward to the national team with an inspiring performance in this week's Continental Cup. Making their tournament debut last year saw Galati suffered defeats to Coventry Blaze and GKS Tychy before closing off with win against Partizan Belgrade. They now have the chance to redeem themselves against Tychy, but also against their rival from the MOL Liga, DVTK Jegesmedvek from Miskolc. The third opponent in this year's group is the resurgent Acroni Jesenice from Slovenia.

Such challenging matchups will require Irimia and his teammates to be at the top of their game this weekend.

"Having played in the Continental Cup last year, it is maybe the best level I have ever played at," said Irimia. "The hockey is a little bit different to that of the MOL league with better players and everything going faster. But these are big games you want to play in order to develop."

The Continental Cup, Second Round, Group C is played in Tychy, Poland between 21-23 October 2016. The winner in a group of GKS Tychy (POL), DVTK Jegesmedvek Miskolc (HUN), Dunarea Galati (ROU) and Acroni Jesenice (SLO) will move into the Third round Group E played in Ritten, Italy between 18-20 November 2016.



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