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Soviets, NHL charity game in Red Square

The Canadian Press
12/9/2006 4:17:31 PM


The Great Five of Soviet hockey - Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov and defencemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov - as well as other famous Soviet players faced Team World, led by legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman.

Viktor Tikhonov, who brought the Great Five together, coached the U.S.S.R.-Russia team.

The Russian team played in the U.S.S.R. jerseys in the first two 15-minute periods, but wore Russia's in the third.

Larionov scored four goals while Fetisov, Kasatonov and Krutov had a goal apiece for Russia. Petri Skriko scored two goals for Team World. Thomas Sandstrom, Jarri Kurri, Ron Dugueq, Brad Brown and brothers Peter and Anton Stastny also had goals.

"It was just like in the old times," Larionov said. "Our mutual understanding was excellent and how precise our passes were. It was great."

Coffey, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, converted a penalty shot with two seconds left to secure a 10-10 draw.

"Look around - Kremlin, Red Square, Spassky tower - what a nice scene," Coffey said. "And we were a part of this great event."

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Canadian Press
Dec 16, 2006, 4:07 PM EST


MOSCOW (AP) - Karl Fabricius and Tobias Enstrom each scored two goals Saturday to help World and Olympic champion Sweden beat the Czech Republic 7-5 in the Channel One Cup.

"It was not a game that a coach would really like - 7-5 means there was no defence," Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson said. "But we are happy to win the second match here, and we have a good chance to win the tournament tomorrow (Sunday)."

Earlier, Russia beat Finland 3-0 with Petr Schastlivyi converting a short-handed breakaway in the second period.

Daniel Fernholm gave Sweden an early lead, scoring from close range at 4:11. Tony Martenson and then Sanny Lindstrom added power-play goals to make it 3-0 to Sweden at 15:26.

Jan Marek scored the Czech Republic's first goal after breaking through two defenders to beat Daniel Henriksson one-on-one.

The Czechs then failed to capitalize on two minutes of two-men advantage.

In the second period, defender Enstrom had two power-play goals for Sweden, while Miroslav Horava, Vlastimil Kroupa and Marek narrowed Sweden's lead to 5-4.

Fabricius, left unmarked near the left post, made it 6-4 off a rebound at 50:54 but Josef Straka revitalized the Czechs' hopes, scoring on a slap shot from the blue line at 55:08 for 6-5.

The Czechs pressed for an equalizer and substituted goalie Adam Svoboda for a field player with 55 seconds left. Fabricius connected to Fredrik Envall's pass near the blue-line and sent it flying across the box into an empty net with 30 seconds left in regulation for 7-5.

Russia dominated play and outshot Finland 36-18.

Center Schastlivyi opened the scoring 18 seconds into Finland's power play at 34:54 when he intercepted the puck in the centre, passed defender Pasi Puistola and beat goalie Petri Venanen with a shot into the top left corner.

It was Schastlivyi's fourth goal in the Euro Hockey tour this season.

Defender Ilya Nikulin made it 2-0 with a wrist shot at 47:06 and former Pittsburgh Penguins winger Alexei Morozov added another goal on a power play with one minute left.

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Morozov scores as Russia wins Channel One Cup; Finland edges Sweden

Morozov scores as Russia wins Channel One Cup; Finland edges Sweden
Canadian Press
Dec 17, 2006, 2:37 PM EST


MOSCOW (AP) - Former NHL player Alexey Morozov scored two power-play goals Sunday to help Russia beat the Czech Republic 4-1 and win the Channel One Cup.

Finland edged Sweden 2-1 to finish second in the Euro Hockey Tour tournament. Sweden, which led going into the final day, finished third, while the Czech Republic remained winless.

Russia, a two-time defending tour champion, also won the Ceska tournament in the Czech Republic in September and the Karjala Cup in Finland in November and secured a place in the final for the third consecutive time.

Neither team managed to score in the first period, but Petr Schastlivyi scored off Igor Volkov's pass at 1:25 into the second period for Russia. It was Schastlivyi's fifth goal in three Euro Hockey Tour events this season.

"We expected them (the Czechs) to play defensively," Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov said. "They had several scoring chances but our goalie played perfectly and then we managed to open the scoring."

Morozov, a former Pittsburgh Penguins winger, made it 2-0 on a power play midway through the second.

"We stuck to our defensive tactics in the first period, but we slowed down in the second and could not challenge our opponent," assistant Czech Republic coach Pavel Marek said.

In the third period, Nikolai Kulemin scored from the circle and Morozov added one more from close range to make it 4-0 with 10 minutes to play.

Jaroslav Bednar scored a consolation goal for the Czech Republic on a power play about a minute later.

Kim Hirschovits put Finland in the lead on a power play at 12:44. Finland had eight minutes of penalties early in the second period and Johan Akerman finally capitalized to level 1-1 midway through the second period.

But Janne Pesonen restored Finland's lead, scoring off Mika Pyorala's pass with 25 seconds to play in the second period.

Sweden pressed for an equalizer in the third period and goalie Ari Ahonen had eight saves. Sweden then pulled goalie Erik Ersberg with 30 seconds to play but failed to capitalize.

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Ak Bars reaffirms Russian dominance of European Champions Cup (Con't)

The Ak Bars jumped out quickly in the first period, out-shooting their opponents by a lopsided 18-3 margin. But after Zinoviev and Nikulin got Kazan off to a quick 2-0 lead, goaltender Christopher Heino-Lindberg (a Montreal Canadiens prospect), took over the game for Färjestad. The crew from Karlstad then clawed back to make the most of its limited chances. First, Emil Kaberg bulldozed a loose puck over the goal line, plowing goalie Alexander Eremenko into the net. Former NHLer Jonas Höglund then knotted the game 2-2 on a deflection to send the teams off tied 2-2 after the first period.

In the second period, Färjestad grabbed a 3-2 lead as a perfect Mathias Johansson pass enabled Esa Pirnes to hammer a one-timer past Eremenko. The Ak Bars tied the game 3-3 on the powerplay as Morozov (who collected four points in the tilt) roofed a shot over a helpless Heino-Lindberg. Just 35 seconds later, Nikulin weaved a shot through a screen past the FBK goalie to regain the lead for the Ak Bars.

Färjestad came out fighting in the final period and quickly cashed in on a five-on-three power-play opportunity. Pelle Prestberg did the honors, blasting a Janne Niskala pass over Eremenko. Just 25 seconds later, Färjestad scored an apparent go-ahead goal by Christian Söderström.

On the sequence, an Ak Bars defender appeared to knock the goal post off its moorings just before the shot crossed the line. A seven-minute replay delay followed. The verdict: no goal. At the 4:45 mark, Morozov was awarded a penalty shot, but couldn’t get the puck past Heino-Lindberg.

The game remained tied 4-4 as the clock ticked below seven minutes. Morozov made a strong move, creating a flurry around the net. Finally, Zaripov poked home the puck for a 5-4 lead. Färjestad pulled goaltender Heino-Lindberg in the final minute, desperately looking for an equalizer. Zaripov sealed the game with an empty-netter with just six seconds left, completing a 6-4 win for his team and a nine-point game for his line. For the game, Kazan outshot Karlstad 41 to 14.

Afterwards, Färjestad coach Tommy Samuelsson was in no mood to congratulate the Ak Bars. He was still angry about the disallowed goal and even angrier about several calls he believed referee Aleksei Rantala missed, particularly a Tomas Rodin penalty and an uncalled slew-footing of Jonas Frögren that preceded the game winning goal.

“Here we played perhaps our best game of the season and we didn’t get a fair chance to win it,” Samuelsson griped at the postgame press conference.

For their part, the Ak Bars pointed to their frequent territorial domination of play, heavy shot advantage and the virtually even distribution of penalty minutes as proof the more deserving team won.

The next day, Färjestad came out looking weary legged and dispirited against a rested HC Lugano club. The Swiss club, conversely, played disciplined hockey, out-hustling and out-skating FBK.

Defenseman Steve Hirschi pinched in to beat goalie Daniel Henriksson for a 1-0 lead. Midway through the second period, Sandy Jeannin collected a rebound goal to extend the lead to 2-0. Meanwhile, Lugano goalie Simon Zuger was barely tested on the 24 shots he faced. Lugano collected a last-minute power-pay goal by Raffaele Sannitz to top off a 3-0 shutout win.

With a pair of losses and nine goals allowed (to four scored) in two games Färjestad was doomed to a last-place finish in the tournament. Meanwhile, HC Lugano took its shot at upsetting the Ak Bar to earn a place in the finals.

Lugano put up a valiant fight, sticking to the technically sound defensive game that is the pet strategy of top Swiss club teams and the Swiss national program alike. Lugano limited the shots against and didn’t get sucked into chasing the Russian team around the defensive zone. But the Ak Bars top line was simply too much to handle.

Morozov (who tallied assists on every Kazan goal in the tilt) set up defenseman Proshkin for the game’s first goal at 12:48 of the first period. In the middle frame, Zinoviev did the honors to extend the lead to 2-0. Midway through the final stanza, the Ak Bars cashed in on a five-on-three power-play, with Zinoviev scoring again to provide the final 3-0 margin and win the Hlinka Division. Goaltender Mika Noronen turned aside all 22 shots he saw to earn the shutout.

HPK the newest Finnish finalist

Over in the Ragulin Division, HPK Hämeenlinna aimed to continue the trend of an SM-Liiga team facing the Russian Super League champs in the ECC championship game.

The path for HPK was carved out quickly, as the team from Hämeenlinna hammered Slovak entry Zilina 7-0 in the opener, talling twice in the first period, three times in the second and two more times in the third. HPK killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage early in the game and then Juha Pekka-Loikas struck to give his club a lead it would never relinquish. HPK top scorer Toni Mäkiaho then put his club in the driver’s seat with a power-play goal. Mäkiaho later scored again, while Ville Leino racked up a goal and three assists. HPK goalie Miika Wiikman was flawless in turning back all 25 shots he saw.

In the next game, Slovak entry Zilina stunned their storied Czech counterparts, Sparta Prague by a 4-2 score, all but assuring HPK of winning the Ragulin Division round-robin even if they lost to Sparta in the last game. Michal Straka, the brother of New York Rangers star Martin Straka, broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period to put Zilina up for good. Sparta dominated early, racking up a 21-3 shot advantage in the first period (52 to 14 for the game) but grew frustrated by their inability to put the puck past Zilina goalie Imrich Petrik.

All HPK needed to do now to win the division was avoid getting blown out by Sparta. The Prague team needed to win by at least five goals to earn a berth in the finals. Instead, the Finnish squad got the better of play for most of the tilt, out-shooting Sparta 50 to 23 and winning the game 3-2. Janne Lahti staked HPK to an early lead. After Sparta battled back, Mäkiaho's scored a backbreaking short-handed goal midway through regulation and were never seriously pushed thereafter.

Suspense ends early

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Ak Bars reaffirms Russian dominance of European Champions Cup


Ak Bars reaffirms Russian dominance of European Champions Cup
Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 17, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

European hockey fans have always had keen interest in the performance of their national teams. But loyalty to one’s favorite club team in the domestic league dies every bit as hard for European fans as it does for North Americans. The rivalries and drama spark intense passion among the team’s supporters.
Over the years, there have been various efforts to create the same type of spirited rivalries between club teams across the European continent that exist within the domestic leagues. The three-year-old IIHF European Champions Cup (ECC) attracts interest with the premise of pitting the defending club team champions from the top leagues around Europe in a battle to determine which championship club team (and, by indirect extension, which domestic elite league) is the best in Europe. The 2007 ECC was held from Jan. 11 to 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The ECC tournament is the descendent of the European Cup, conducted between 1966 and 1997. Although not without controversy and organizational problems, the Red Army team (CSKA Moscow) so thoroughly dominated the tournament, there was no question of the best team in Europe. CSKA won the tournament 19 times in 21 years, sometimes pummeling their opponents by double-digit margins. Finally, the fall of the Soviet Union saw Swedish (Djurgårdens IF Stockholm, Malmö IF Redhawks) and Finnish teams (TPS Turku, Jokerit Helsinki) break through.

In 1997, a larger European Hockey League (EHL) was formed. The EHL featured a wider contingent of top club teams from around Europe. The EHL regular season was conducted simultaneously to the domestic-league seasons, with a condensed schedule of EHL games. While the new league started out with high expectations, the inter-league play concept failed to catch on with the public. Many fans lacked exposure to (and interest in) teams from other Euro leagues and generally preferred their domestic leagues to the EHL.

To make matters worse, some teams played with less intensity and focus in their EHL games. After four seasons, the EHL was disbanded in 2000. Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk won the last two installments.

In 2005, the International Ice Hockey Federation formed the ECC. This time around, the tournament was limited to the champions from the different leagues and the tournament was conducted in whirlwind fashion with a bigger prize budget to reward the championship team.

Participation is determined by the current IIHF national team rankings. The top six European countries were eligible to send their reigning champions to compete in the ECC in St. Petersburg, Russia. The six teams are divided into two divisions of three teams each. After a two-game round robin, the winners of each division face off for the championship. The winners divide 45 percent of the prize money. This year, the total purse was 800,000 Swiss francs (about $640,750 U.S.), with the second-place team splitting 25 percent, the third- and fourth-place finishers getting 10 percent and the fifth- and sixth-place teams dividing 5 percent. The victor also received the Silver Stone Trophy, the prize formerly awarded to the EHL champion.

The ECC divisions are named for two deceased international hockey legends: Alexander Ragulin and former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Ivan Hlinka. This year, the Hlinka Division was comprised of Russian Super League champs Ak Bars Kazan, Sweden Elitserien powerhouse Färjestads BK Karlstad and Swiss Nationalliga monarchs HC Lugano. The Ragulin Division featured HPK Hämeenlinna from Finland’s SM-Liiga, Czech Extraliga champions Sparta Prague and Slovak Extraliga titlists MsHK Zilina.

Ak Bars big line powers through Hlinka Division

One thing that hasn’t changed with the introduction of the ECC has been the dominance of champion Russian clubs. Avangard Omsk won the inaugural tournament in 2005, downing Finnish powerhouse Kärpät Oulu in a 2-1 overtime thriller won on a Jaromir Jagr goal late in OT. Last year, Dynamo Moscow downed Kärpät 5-4 in a shootout finale to capture the Silver Stone Trophy.

Entering the 2007 tournament, RSL champs Ak Bars Kazan were considered the favorites to win the ECC. Not only did the team blitz its way to the Russian championship last year, they are dominating the Russian Super League again this year with 82 points in 36 games (eight ahead of second-place Avangard) and a stellar goals for/goals against ratio of 146 goals for to only 76 against. As dangerous as they are at even strength, the Ak Bars are positively lethal on the power play.

The team from Tartarstan features Europe’s most dominating line, a deep defense and solid goaltending from former NHLer Mika Noronen. Up front, the trio of Danis Zaripov, Sergei Zonoviev and former Pittsburgh Penguins winger Alexei Morozov has run roughshod over their Russian Super League opponents. On the backline, Ray Giroux, Ilya Nikulin and Vitali Proshkin spearhead a mobile, talented unit.

Swedish champs Färjestad were the first in line to take on the Ak Bars. Although Elitserien is a highly respected league, Swedish entries in the ECC – much like the EHL before it – have fared poorly. HV71 Jönköping was obliterated 9-0 by Avangard Omsk in the 2005 tournament and finished fourth. Last year, the Frölunda Indians of Gothenburg finished last, including a 6-2 debacle against Switzerland’s HC Davos.

Färjestad, the most consistently successful Swedish team over the last decade, vowed to come out a hungry team against the Ak Bars – not to avenge other Swedish clubs, but to make a statement to the entire tournament field. Unfortunately for FBK, the tournament quickly turned into a nightmare.

Pre-match gamesmanship and postgame finger-pointing marked a hard-fought game. When FBK’s equipment manager brought out the team’s equipment for the game day warm-up, he found the Ak Bars players already on the ice. The times had been changed.

“They sent out some guy who showed us a piece of paper and asked if we had seen it. The only problem was that everything was written in Russian,” complained Färjestad development director Bo Lennartsson in postgame published the team’s website.
 

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World champion Sweden routs Russia 6-2 to win last European Hockey Tour event

Canadian Press
Feb 10, 2007, 3:03 PM EST


STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - Daniel Fernholm and Johan Davidsson scored 50 seconds apart early in the third period as Olympic and world champion Sweden routed Russia 6-2 Saturday to win the Sweden Hockey Games.

The loss stopped Russia's perfect record on the European Hockey Tour after going unbeaten in the three previous tournaments in the Czech Republic, Finland and Russia.

Sweden, which won international hockey's first double last season, will play Russia in a two-leg final for the EHT title on April 19 and 21 before the world championship in Moscow.

Sweden led 3-0 after Fredrik Bremberg's short-handed goal three minutes into the second period. But Russia cut the score to 3-2 on goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Pyotr Schastliviy within 1:12 midway through the session.

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World champion Sweden edges Finland, Jonsson plays record 273rd game

Canadian Press
Feb 11, 2007, 3:43 PM EST


STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - Tony Martensson's power-play goal late in the second period proved to be the winner as Sweden beat Finland 1-0 for its third straight win in the Sweden Hockey Games on Sunday.

Kenny Jonssson, a member of Sweden's Olympic and world championship teams last season, set up the goal at 18:08.

Jorgen Jonsson, another former NHL player who also played on last season's teams, played his record 273rd game for Sweden, one more than Jonas Bergqvist.

In a pre-game ceremony, Bergqvist gave Jonsson a jersey with No. 273 - and a big hug.

"I'll hang the jersey on the wall when I get home," said Jonsson, a 34-year-old forward.

Jonsson made his national team debut against Canada in the 1993 Deutschland Cup in Germany as a late replacement for injured Peter Forsberg.

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Dutch Treat: Netherlands rivals gear up for playoff wars

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 21, 2007, 12:00 PM EST


When it comes to team sports in the Netherlands, there's soccer and then there's everything else. Ice hockey in Holland has also skated in the shadows of speed skating. Nevertheless, the sport has a long history and rich tradition of rivalries. Much like hockey in the United Kingdom, Dutch hockey fans and players may not be great in number, but they are rabid in their devotion to the game.

Like their UK counterparts, clubs in Holland compete for several prizes each season. There is the Challenge Cup, the Beker and the Eredivise championship. The Amstel Tijgers of Amsterdam already have won the first two tournaments and will look to finish off the hat trick as the playoffs for the top league championship kick off in a few days.

The teams with the best chance to thwart the third-place of Geleen and the Destil Trappers of Tilburg. The Eaters have the best regular-season record this season, with the Trappers in second place.

Rounding out the six-team Eredivisie this season are the fourth-place Vadeko Flyers of Heerenveen, the Hatulek Nijmegen Emperors and the Hijs Calco Wolves from The Hague.

A league in flux

It wasn't all that long ago that Dutch hockey was one of the best-kept secrets in Europe. While it never rivaled countries like Russia, Sweden, Finland or the Czech Republic, the top Dutch league was relatively solvent compared to those in many other "non-hockey countries" and there was a fairly high caliber of play.

"A few years ago, the level of play of the top players was largely comparable to major junior in Canada or lower-level pro hockey in the United States. But as money troubles started, the level decreased and based on my last first-hand experience, I would say it is somewhere between the top Tier II Junior A and mid-level major junior," says Dennis Lennox II, a freelance journalist and former ice hockey official with experience at the international, junior, collegiate and professional levels.

According to Lennox, Dutch hockey actually helped improve the quality of play across the border in Belgium for a couple seasons because the countries had an interlocking competition called the Cup of the Lowlands.

"That series is no longer played, unfortunately, and Belgian hockey in particular has suffered, especially this season when preseason money troubles really hurt the top league. Back in December, 2006, I officiated a few games over in Belgium and found a handful of players having experience at the CHL or UHL levels. But the local player -- the Belgians on the third and fourth lines -- were sub-par and probably at the Junior B or Junior A level in North America. The situation in the Netherlands is a little bit better," says Lennox.

The development of Dutch hockey -- much like that in the UK, Belgium, Spain and other so-called "tertiary" hockey countries -- has not been stalled due to lack of potential.

"The Netherlands and Belgium have a long tradition of hockey programs, and I think people don't realize how popular the sport could be if there is an infrastructure upgrade," says Lennox.

The absence of public-sector support for youth-to-adult training programs has put financial strain on the participants and often left the hockey federation scrambling to provide resources to significantly advance the national team's competitive level. That has also had a spillover effect at the club-team level, where teams have to be creative to maintain stable rosters of quality players.

"The major issue is the lack of funding," he says. "Dutch teams have much better facilities than Belgian clubs, because the national government has invested a lot of money in arenas. But the overall level of play would greatly improve in both countries if there were serious investments and financial support from the government or private foundations like we see in the United States with the building of facilities for teams in new markets for the junior and professional leagues."

One thing that has never suffered in Dutch hockey has been the intensity of the rivalries between certain clubs. Import players who come to Holland expecting a paid European vacation quickly learn that there's a rabid hockey subculture in which fans and coaches expect nothing short of total devotion to winning.

Following is an overview of the rosters and player backgrounds for the top three contending teams for the Dutch championship. As you'll see, there are a handful of players with minor league experience in North America and Europe (and a couple who have suited up in a top European league such as Germany's DEL), as well as a smattering of Dutch-born and trained players with a track record of success in their home league.

Tigers hunting for single-season hat trick

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Kärpät Oulu hunting for fourth Finnish championship

Kärpät Oulu hunting for fourth Finnish championship
Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 28, 2007, 12:00 PM EST


In Finnish, the name Kärpät means "stoats." But there's nothing weasel-like about the way the Kärpät Oulu hockey team has become the most successful club in Finland over the last half decade. The combination of a solid developmental system, good coaching and astute veteran acquisitions has made Kärpät a consistent winner.

This season, coach Kari Jalonen's team has easily sewn up first place in the regular season and is hunting for its third SM-Liiga championship in the last four seasons. Kärpät's rise from troubled times has been dramatic - a model of success for small-market clubs around Europe. With four games left in the 2006-07 regular season, Kärpät has all but sewn up another first-place finish. The club has 107 points, and is eight points ahead of second-place Jokerit Helsinki.

Founded in 1949, Kärpät Oulu first rose to prominence in the late 1970s to late 1980s, winning the Finnish championship in 1980-81. The team's junior program also produced several NHL players ranging from Reijo Ruotsalainen to Janne Niinimaa, but by the mid-1990s sustained financial problems that drove the team into bankruptcy.

Once the club was relegated from the SM-Liiga to the highest Finnish minor league (Mestis) in 1990, a return to the elite level seemed a long way off. After hiring well-known coach Juhani Tamminen, in 1998-99, Kärpät inched its way back close to the SM-Liiga, but lost in the promotional playoffs. The next season, the Oulu club regained an SM-Liiga spot the next year.

The timing was crucial because the SM-Liiga circuit became a closed league in 2000, meaning the bottom SM-Liiga teams could no longer be relegated to Mestis, nor the top clubs from the lower series promoted to elite league. (That will change somewhat this season, as the Mestis champ will have the opportunity to be promoted to SM-Liiga, but there will be no relegation of an SM-Liiga club to the lower league).

In more recent seasons, Kärpät has flexed its muscles and rapidly risen to the top of the SM-Liiga. After earning a trip to the Finnish finals in 2002-03, Kärpät won the Finnish championship the next two seasons after dominant regular seasons. Last season, Kärpät was once again the top team during the regular season, but a knee injury to goaltender Niklas Bäckström during the playoffs contributed to a shocking upset loss at the hands of Ässät Pori.

Although Kärpät has been buoyed by astute veteran acquisitions, the backbone of its success has typically been the core of young players brought up through its own junior program. In focusing much of its resources on junior development, Kärpät has followed the model set by league rival TPS Turku in the 1990s.

Among the more recent Kärpät junior program alumni to become NHL regulars are Dallas Stars left wing Jussi Jokinen and defensemen Joni Pitkänen and Lasse Kukkonen. Pekka Rinne, a Nashville Predators prospect, is also a Kärpät product. In all, nearly two dozen players affiliated with Kärpät have either played or been drafted into the NHL over the years. This year Kärpät features more of a veteran look in several key spots, especially on defense.

Indicative of it success on the ice, Kärpät apparel has become the hottest hockey merchandise in Finland and the team regularly fills its 6,612-capacity home arena, Oulun Energia Areena (still better known to most fans as the Raksila Ice Hall).

According to a recent Helsingin Sanomat article, Kärpät enjoys the largest share of merchandising sales of any Finnish team, bringing in nearly 700,000 euros (about $895,000) last season. While this may not sound like much by North American standards, HIFK Helsinki was the only other Finnish hockey team to crack 500,000 euros in merchandising in 2005-06. By way of comparison JYP Jyväskylä brought up the rear among Finnish clubs with a shade less than 50,000 euros in merchandise sales last year.

Simply put, hockey in general and Kärpät in particular are like a second religion in the northern Finnish city of Oulu and its neighboring villages such as Jääli. While Oulu is only the sixth-biggest municipality in Finland (with about 130,000 residents), the regional support for Kärpät is tremendous.

When Kärpät won the title in 2004 and 2005, an estimated 30,000 turned out in the Oulu marketplace to celebrate the championship. After the public celebration, fans held several days worth of private parties to toast the reigning champions. The beer and Koskenkorva flowed freely and lakeside bonfires burned several months before the midnight sun arrived for midsummer.

The favorites come through (so far)

Despite their playoff hiccup last season, Kärpät entered the 2006-07 campaign as the favorite to win the SM-Liiga regular season and win the championship. The preseason consensus was that Oulu remained the most balanced squad in Finland, while most of Kärpät's rivals had matchup problems against them.

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Mannheim Eagles Fly into DEL postseason

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Mar 7, 2007, 12:00 PM EST


Among the top seven leagues in Europe, Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) is the most strongly influenced by North Americans. The typical DEL club features a cast of former NHL players and draftees, usually North Americans, European veterans who were former standouts in other European leagues, homegrown players filling out the supporting cast and, often, a North American coach behind the bench.

Adler Mannheim (the Mannheim Eagles) has soared to the top the 2006-07 DEL standings by using this very formula. Under the auspices of American head coach Greg Poss, the team has cruised to 104 points in the regular season, nine points ahead of the DEG Metro Stars. After winning four German championships in five years between 1996-97 and 2000-01, the Adler hope to restore the title to Mannheim.

The Eagles boast 10 former NHL players on the club with 2,209 combined games worth of NHL experience. There are also five former NHL draftees who didn’t reach the top level, but have had notable minor league or European careers. Following is an overview of the team’s top players heading into the 2007 DEL playoffs.

While the team’s regular-season accomplishments are noteworthy, one of the team’s players has made international news this season for an even more notable reason. Goaltender Robert Müller, drafted by the Washington Capitals in the ninth round of the 2001 Entry draft, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After undergoing brain surgery and chemotherapy, the well-liked goaltender set a lofty ambition of playing again this season. Miraculously, he made his wish come true, returning to the ice in early February to suit up for Team Germany.

Müller’s struggles have been an inspiration for his entire team, which has been able to put hockey into perspective. No on-ice challenge could be as severe as the one Müller so bravely took on with his life.

Balance up front

Balanced scoring has been the key for Adler during the regular season. The club has scored the most goals in the DEL this season (179 through 51 games), but has only one player in the league’s top-20 in scoring. Led by team captain Rene Corbet, the Eagles have one of the most experienced front lines in the DEL.

Center Francois Methot paces the team in scoring. A former Buffalo Sabres draft pick in 1996 (3rd round, 54th overall), the 30-year-old Methot ranks fourth in the DEL in scoring this season with 19 goals and 57 points in 51 games. Now in his third season in Germany, Methot is in his first season with Mannheim. He previously played for the Augsburg Panthers and Nürnberg Ice Tigers.

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Discussion Starter #13
Avangard’s Cherepanov sets RSL rookie goal record

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Mar 14, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT


The Russian Super League that rookie Alexei Cherepanov plays in today is a very different circuit from the Soviet League that Pavel Bure broke into in 1988-89. Against the backdrop of 19 years of massive political and economic change, the quality and veteran talent depth of Europe’s top national league has shifted along with it.

When 17-year-old Pavel Bure cracked the full-time lineup of the Red Army (CSKA Moscow) team in 1988-89, the legendary team won its 13th consecutive league championship and 18th in 20 years. The rookie scored 17 goals in 32 games to establish a record for first-year players in the Soviet League. Cherepanov, a top-rated prospect for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, recently broke Bure’s record. In homage to Bure, who was nicknamed "The Russian Rocket," some pundits have taken to calling Cherepanov "The Siberian Express".

In 1989, the departures for the NHL of CSKA greats Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov and (after initial pronouncements to the contrary) Alexei Kasatonov irrevocably changed Russian and NHL hockey alike. Bure and fellow CSKA prodigies Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Mogilny went on to head the first group of young Russian forwards to enjoy the prime years of their careers in the NHL.

Today, the Russian Super League is a product of the massive on-ice, coaching and non-hockey changes Russia has undergone over the last two decades. The 19-team league of today is uneven in quality and financial stability. But with the major exception of a superstar influx during the NHL lockout season in 2004-05, the talent in the upper one-third of the RSL is as good as it has been in many years.

Investment from Russian oil money has made the richest teams in the RSL circuit able to lure skilled Russian players back home at younger ages while recruiting talent (especially goaltenders) from abroad. The top owners also wield enough clout within the Russian Hockey Federation to have a strong influence over issues pertaining to NHL and IIHF relations.

Financially secure Russian clubs like Ak Bars Kazan are able to ice teams that trump the rosters of even the best club teams elsewhere in Europe, such as Sweden’s Färjestads BK and Finland’s Kärpät Oulu. Observers say the top teams in Russia are comparable to strong American Hockey League clubs in terms of their raw talent depth.

The bottom clubs, like Krylya Sovetov, often have financial problems and are forced to send out a collection of not-ready-for-primetime youngsters and second-rate veterans. In Russian hockey, financial strength is measured in sponsorship money much more than attendance. Among the mid-range to top clubs, young players typically have to prove themselves over several seasons to gain their coaches’ trust and earn regular ice time.

Cherepanov’s Avangard Omsk club is widely considered the second-best club in Russia. Omsk reached the RSL championship final last season, but the Ak Bars swept them in three-straight games. In 2006-07, Avangard finished second in the RSL, nine points behind Kazan.

While playoff upsets are always possible, most people expect another meeting between Avangard and the Ak Bars in the final. The only teams with a realistic shot at changing this outlook are third-place Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Metallurg Magnitogorsk. But Lokomotiv Yaroslavl typically ices a strong team and could surprise, as could this season’s Cinderella squad Sibir Novosibirsk and possibly CSKA.

Quality teammates

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Discussion Starter #14
Swiss Playoffs: SC Bern prowling for gold

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Mar 21, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT


The sold-out Bern Arena is rocking before the opening faceoff of a semifinal playoff game between SC Bern and EV Zug. A throng of 16,789 flag-waving, singing and chanting zealots are making ear-splitting noise even before the home team takes to the ice, looking to forge a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with Zug.

So far, the local favorites have frustrated Zug in the first two games. Bern, which finished second during the Nationalliga A regular season, had the stingiest defense in the Swiss league, allowing just 115 goals during the 44-game season. Head coach John Van Boxmeer’s team was also the second-highest scoring club in the circuit, with 163 goals.

The team has clamped down defensively even more in the playoffs, behind its solid defense and the goaltending of veteran Marco Bührer. After downing Servette in five games in the quarterfinals (losing a 2-1 decision in Game 4, and winning the others by 2-1, 3-2, 4-2 and 7-3 scores), Bern has thrown up a wall in Zug’s way.

Bührer has recorded back-to-back shutouts against Zug, making a skinny 1-0 lead stand up on the road in Game 2 after winning 4-0 in the series opener. A deafening roar goes up as the Bern players are introduced and skate around before the opening faceoff.

Seventy-six years of tradition

The love affair between the SC Bern club and its local fans goes back many years, but has reached a fever pitch in the new millennium. For six-straight seasons, SC Bern has enjoyed the highest home attendance of any hockey team in Europe.

In 2006-07, the team played to over 94 percent capacity in 22 home dates during the regular season -- an average of 15,815 fans per game. Last season, SC Bern set an all-time European attendance record with an average 15,994 spectators per game. They have accomplished the feat while playing in an arena built in 1970.

"There's a very strong hockey tradition in Switzerland, especially here in Bern," says club representative Rolf Bachmann. "The ticket prices are very attractive and there's a large cult following that would never miss a match."

Bern’s phenomenal fan support is a product of 76 years of hockey tradition. Established in 1931, the team has won the Swiss championship 11 times, most recently in 2003-04.

Through the team’s history, a number of former NHL players have made their way through Bern. For instance, during the NHL lockout in 2004-05, top NHL players like Dany Heatley, Daniel Briere, Marc Savard and notables such as J.P. Dumont and Henrik Tallinder suited up for Bern.

At various junctures, the club has also featured the likes of current Los Angeles Kings center Derek Armstrong, Tampa Bay Lightning center Eric Perrin, Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark and retired former Washington Capitals standout Alan Haworth. European-born NHL alumni to play for Bern include defenseman Fredrik Olausson, offensive defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen, former Buffalo Sabres and longtime Team Finland blueliner Timo Jutila, and one-time Edmonton Oilers forward and Team Finland head coach Raimo Summanen.

The most famous Swiss-born players to play for Bern include high-scoring right winger Ivo Rüthemann (still an active member of the team), goaltender Renato “The Sorcerer” Tosio, defenseman Sven Leuenberger and defenseman Martin Rauch.

Tosio was a frequent national team goalie who suited up for an extraordinary 713 Nationalliga games in a row, without missing a single match due to illness or injury. Leunenberger was a longtime Swiss national defenseman who played on four championship teams for Bern before retiring in 2003 and later becoming the team’s sports director. The 41-year-old Rauch, who is still active in the lower Swiss league (Nationalliga B), is the only player in Swiss hockey history to play 1,000 games in the two circuits.

A large banner, bearing the retired numbers of Tosio (31), Leunberger (16), Rauch (7), 1970s and early 1980s scoring star Roland Dellsperger (12) and 1958-59 championship goaltender René Kiener (0) hangs from the rafters of Bern Arena.

Bern Arena is scheduled to play host to the 2009 IIHF World Championships. Between now and then, the 37-year-old venue will undergo renovations to update the facilities. But it has rarely been the building itself that has been the main lure for SCB fans to come to games. It’s all about the hockey on the ice and the raucous atmosphere in the stands.

“Our league emphasizes speed. It's high-gear hockey, very tactical and very technical," says Bachmann.

Veteran squad

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This is a bit off topic, but did the NHL play the preseason games against the European teams this year?

I don't remember reading anything about it.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
cdoty said:
This is a bit off topic, but did the NHL play the preseason games against the European teams this year?

I don't remember reading anything about it.
No they didn't, it's only starting next season.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
cdoty said:
They did it during the 2003-2004 preseason, and had done it before that.

It was called the NHL Challenge series:
NHL Challenge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sorry, I was thinking NHL teams playing each other in Europe.

They still didn't do it this year. :D

But as far as I know, that was the last time the NHL played pre-season games with European teams.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Sweden: Linköping looking at date with destiny

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Mar 28, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT


Since the dawn of the new millennium, there has been one constant in Swedish hockey. Färjestads BK Karlstad has reached the championship round of the playoffs in each of the last six seasons. After finishing first during the 2006-07 Elitserien regular season, defending champion FBK seemed poised to make it seven years in a row.

What a difference a week makes. Färjestad has run into a into a hungry, hardworking Linköpings HC team in the semifinals. Leading one game to none in the series and protecting a 2-0 lead on home ice with barely over two minutes left in the third period of Game 2, Färjestad saw LHC storm back to tie the game and then win in overtime.

Two convincing Linköping wins later and fourth-place LHC now stands on the brink of its first trip to the finals with a commanding three games to one lead in the best-of-seven series.

Amazing turnaround

Linköping has made a remarkable turnaround in just a few short months. Back in late January, the team was sputtering and faced a goaltending crisis. Linköping was in danger of missing the playoffs if things continued to spiral down the same path.

Veteran goaltender Roman Cechmanek, formerly the starting goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings, fell into a deep slump. In mid-December, he led the Elitserien in both goals-against average and save percentage. But the unorthodox, volatile keeper blew a gasket by New Years.

Cechmanek suddenly had trouble stopping much of anything and was pulled with alarming frequency in favor of backup Jonas Fransson, while chafing at the suggestions offered by LHC goaltending instructor Mattias Elm and head coach Jan Karlsson.

Finally, on Jan. 25, LHC made a bold move. They released Cechmanek (who returned home to the Czech Republic and played very well after signing with HC Trinec) and replaced him with Slovakian goaltender Rastislav Stana.

A former member of the Washington Capitals who enjoyed a stellar season for the AHL’s Portland Pirates in 2003-04, the 27-year-old Stana has played in Sweden the last three seasons. Mired on the worst team in Elitserien (Malmö IF Redhawks) earlier this season, Stana has played like a man possessed since Linköping acquired him.

In 11 starts down the regular-season stretch, Stana recorded three shutouts, while allowing just 21 goals for a stellar 1.88 GAA and .931 save percentage. By comparison, Cechmanek had a 2.70 goals against, no shutouts, a .905 save percentage and 24 penalty minutes in his 26 starts. Fransson had a 3.18 goals against and .895 save percentage in 21 appearances.

So far in the playoffs, Stana has been even better, posting a 1.68 goals against in eight playoff starts, with a .945 save percentage. An early candidate for playoff MVP, he has won seven times so far.

The hottest team in Sweden

Of course, goaltending wasn’t the lone issue Linköping had to fix quickly. The team had a negative goal differential for the season, despite its 22-19-14 record (Färjestad finished 17 points ahead with a 26-13-16 record). As a club, LHC ranked sixth in the league in goals scored and had just one player in the top-25 in scoring.

Former Anaheim Ducks right wing Tony Mårtensson paced LHC in scoring this season with 18 goals and 54 points in 55 regular season games. But the team got balanced scoring, with seven players hitting double-digit goals by the end of the season. Linköping receives regular offensive contributions from several defenseman and the forward corps has presented matchup problems for both Luleå HF and Färjestad in the playoffs. Fifteen different LHC players have scored at least once in the playoffs.

Veteran offensive defenseman Magnus Johansson contributed eight goals (five on the power play) and 36 points while center Joakim Eriksson kicked in 12 goals, 25 helpers and 37 points. A dominant faceoff man, Eriksson won nearly 60 percent of the draws he took during the regular season and has won 87 of 144 draws (60 percent) in the playoffs to date. He also leads the club in playoff scoring to date.

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Discussion Starter #20
Goaltenders take center stage in Finnish finals

Bill Meltzer | NHL.com correspondent
Apr 4, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT


It’s an old hockey saying that translates into any language: Scoring wins fans, but goaltending wins championships. The matchup in this season’s SM-Liiga finals in Finland proves once again that there’s no substitute for strong goaltending in the playoffs. The best-of-five series pitting Kärpät Oulu against Jokerit Helsinki will commence Saturday at Oulun Energia Areena in Oulu.

Kärpät Oulu will send out 27-year-old goaltender Tuomas Tarkki, while Jokerit will counter with 30-year-old Juuso Riksman. Both keepers have been virtually flawless in the postseason, winning all seven of their respective starts to date. Tarkki and Riksman have each turned aside nearly 97 percent of the shots they’ve faced, while allowing fewer than one goal per game (Riksman boasts an extraordinary 0.88 goals-against average, while Tarkki has let up a mere 0.96 goals per match). Tarkki has three postseason shutouts to one for Riksman.

Kärpät, which cruised to another first-place finish during the 56-game regular season, hopes to win its third Finnish championship in four years and fourth in its history. Jokerit, winners of six SM-Liiga crowns, rebounded this season from a disastrous 2005-06 campaign that saw the team miss the playoffs, finishing second during the regular season. The two clubs met in the 2005 finals, with Kärpät prevailing for the gold. Jokerit’s most recent championship came in 2001-02.

Playing the hot (or healthy) hand

During the regular season, Jokerit coach Doug Shedden divided playing time fairly evenly between Riksman and former New Jersey Devils first-round pick Ari Ahonen over the course of the season. Riksman got the nod 29 times, while Ahonen played in 20 games. Twenty-one-year-old Joonas Hallikainen appeared in five matches.

It wasn’t by choice. Injuries caused a confusing game of musical goaltenders all season. Riksman was signed before the season to be Jokerit’s starter, with Hallikainen (Team Finland’s starting goaltender at the 2007 Winter Universiade in Turin) edged out Minnesota Wild prospect Niko Hovinen for the backup job. Ahonen started the season with the Espoo Blues.

Last season, Riksman won the Urpo Ylönen Trophy (the SM-Liiga equivalent of the Vezina Trophy) as the starting goalie for Ässät Pori. He led the fifth-seeded club to the finals, fashioning a huge upset of top-ranked Kärpät in the semi-finals. Previously, Riksman played for HIFK Helsinki and Modo Hockey Örnsköldsvik of Sweden’s Elitserien.

Jokerit came out of the gate like gangbusters early in the 2006-07 regular season before leveling off for several months. Riksman was sidelined for several weeks with a back injury, so Jokerit signed former New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Andy Chiodo to a one-month tryout contract. Ironically, Chiodo had been signed to start for Kärpät this season, but was injured and then beaten out for the job by Tarkki. Oulu released Chiodo in November, who was scooped up by Jokerit.

After just two starts for Jokerit, the injury bug bit Chiodo again. Jokerit General Manager Matti Virmanen had to look for yet another experienced goaltender, landing Ahonen. Incredibly, Ahonen soon went down to injury, too, forcing Shedden to press Hallikainen into service.

In yet another odd twist of fate, the youngster played his first game in Oulu against Kärpät, making 44 saves and allowing only one goal. The following day, Hallikainen shut out Ilves Tampere. The goaltending situation stabilized a bit when Ahonen and Riksman eventually returned to the lineup. Jokerit let Chiodo go, and he signed with 2005-06 champions HPK Hämeenlinna.

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