Former Ottawa 67’s defenseman Karol Sloboda makes his way back to the Czech Republic after a year in the KHL with Lada Togliatti. Sloboda rejoins HC Vitkovice Steel in the Czech Extraliga, a team he played for from 2011-12 to 2013-14.
Sloboda played two years in the Ontario Hockey League, 2001-02 and 2002-03, both with the Ottawa 67’s. Ottawa selected him 41st overall at the 2001 CHL Import Draft.
In 2002-03, Karol was number five in overall scoring with the 67’s with 46 points on six goals and 40 assists over 59 regular season games. He was the second leading defenseman behind Brendan Bell. The positioning remained the same with 18 points over 23 playoff games. Ottawa finished second overall in the OHL, two points behind the Kitchener Rangers. In the Robertson Cup finals, the 67’s fell to the Rangers in five games.
During his two years in the OHL, Karol played for Slovakia at the IIHF World Juniors. In 2002, the tournament was held in the Czech Republic. Slovakia finished first in Group A but lost in the quarter-final to Switzerland in a shootout. The following year, in Halifax, Slovakia finished third in Group A and was shutout in the quarter-final by Finland, 6-0.
Undrafted to the National Hockey League, Sloboda returned to Europe. Since 2003-04, he has played in the Czech Extraliga, Slovak Extraliga and the KHL. In 2007-08 with HC Slavia Praha, Sloboda won the Czech championship. Prague finished second overall in the 14 team league over the 52 game schedule. In the finals, the team took out HC Karlovy Vary for the victory.
The following year, 2008-09, HC Slavia Praha took the first overall spot and ended up in a rematch with HC Karlovy Vary in the finals. This time, it was Karlovy Vary coming out on top.
Sloboda played for Slovakia at the 2014 IIHF World Championships. His country finished the tournament in ninth place.
For the 2014-15 season, Karol jumped to the KHL to play for Lada Togliatti. The team did not qualify for the Gagarin Cup post season. He returns to HC Vitkovice for 2015-16. He played three years with the team between 2011-12 and 2013-14.
HC Vitkovice Steel
The club dates back to 1928 and was last promoted to the Extraliga for the 1988-89 season. Since, Vitkovice has been denied a championship but has been to the finals five times. In 2014-15, they finished eighth in the 14 team Extraliga and lost in the preliminary playoff qualifier round.
HC Vitkovice Steel plays home games at the CEZ Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic, a 12,500 seat venue that opened in 1986. This rink was co-host for the recent 2015 World Hockey Championships.
Ostrava is the second largest metro area in the Czech Republic, behind Prague. Located in the far east of the country, on the border with Poland, Ostrava has a city population of around 325,000. This is the birthplace of Petr Mrazek, a goaltender who also played for the 67’s in the OHL. Mrazek, of course, now plays for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. He developed in the HC Vitkovice junior program before coming to Canada.