When I first started writing
the EuroFocus column for Spectors Hockey, I hoped to provide
North American readers with a view of the European hockey scene
- a scene away from the every day world of the NHL that people
were familiar with.
To me, this past season has been a bitter-sweet one. Being able to write a weekly report on a European scene where the likes of Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vinny LeCavalier were facing off against each other has been fantastic. From my own personal perspective in the UK, I never thought I would get to see a player in their prime such as Nick Boynton actually play 'live' in the Elite League.
I hope that this season has helped open up some eyes to the scene here in Europe, and that people have developed an interest in the leagues and identified themselves with particular teams just like people from Europe do with the NHL, and if I have managed to play some small part in all of that then I know that writing these columns all the more worthwhile.
On the other hand, a European scene with NHL players and NHL interest in it means that there is no NHL hockey. Now the European seasons are over and I've not written EuroFocus for around a month or so now, it has truly hit home to me that there has been no NHL season. Whilst the season was spent reading and researching about the Eliteserien, or SM-liiga or DEL I am now left looking for scraps of information about the lock-out and the are they/aren't they close to a deal saga that is frustrating the hell out of everybody.
I am a little surprised at how big the influence of the NHL on Europe has been this season. I expected that there would be an influx into the league as players looked to keep in shape in anticipation of an end to the lockout, but the scale and quality of the overall number who came over was far in excess of anything I imagined. Sure, money no doubt played it's part but I don't think anyone could have predicted the numbers of (particularly North American) players that came over.
There have already been reports that several European NHL-ers have already decided to remain in Europe regardless of the whether the NHL is back up and running and I think the number of North Americans over here will also increase as well.
I think there was a level of uncertainty and scepticism about playing in Europe for a number of players, but apart from the odd exception most have benefited tremendously and have realised that Europe is not the different planet that they may have thought.
Wages were favourable for many of the stars who came over, particularly in the Swiss and Russian leagues, where millionaire oil barons looked to bankroll teams to championships, although not always successfully (hello, AK Bars Kazan).
Crowds were also up around Europe as fans took advantage of the opportunity to see NHL-ers in action and ticket prices in the main remained at the same level as previous seasons. It will be interesting next season to see what clubs do in regards to ticket prices as they may look to increase revenues as much as possible in order to pay for salaries.
Although I think that this past season has been a tremendous boost all round for European hockey and the various national leagues I am less convinced of the possibility of a European league, regardless of the future of the NHL.
The European Champions tournament contested by the top six countries champions was a great introduction this season, and one that looks to become a permanent fixture in the hockey calendar. The major stumbling block is that the history and passion around the national leagues is something that you could not simply translate into the creation of a European wide league. Fans would not blindly transfer their loyalties to a transplanted franchise into the very city where their current side plays. There is not the acceptance of franchises being created or teams being relocated that there is in North American sports.
In a previous edition EuroFocus I wrote that the success of any future European league would be dependant on the NHL tearing itself apart. Although I don't think a 'superleague' will actually happen, if the lock-out stretches well into a second season, the European leagues will become even stronger on and off the ice and more of an attractive opportunity for players - but this time as a long term option not just a short term fix, and the NHL will realise what a great job it has done of destroying itself in the process.
The playoffs are over and this edition we wrap up the winners and losers from the remaining leagues around Europe.
Karpat Oulu are the champions in Finland for a second successive season following their 3-1 series victory over Jokerit Helsinki. Karpat went into the playoffs as favourites after finishing top seed from the regular season and comfortably made their way through the playoffs to the finals. The finals series was relatively close and low scoring, which was no surprise following the playoff performances from goaltenders Tim Thomas and Niklas Backstrom. Karpat had taken a 2-0 lead in the series winning game one in overtime and game two by a 2-1 margin, before Jokerit staved off the sweep with a 2-1 themselves. However, in game four, goals from Petr Tenkrat and Miko Pyorala sealed the win and the title for Karpat.
In Germany, Adler Mannheim had surprised number one seed Frankfurt Lions in the semi-finals but were no match for Eisbaeren Berlin in the finals as they were swept aside 3-0. Game two saw Oliver Jonas record his third playoff shutout and make twenty-two saves along with a double tally from red hot Steve Walker saw Berlin win 4-0 before having the chance to win the title on home ice in game three. Adler, however, took an early lead through Jochen Hecht before a brace from Erik Cole earned Eisbaeren their first ever title after disappointment last season and in 1998 when they were beaten in the finals despite holding the number one seed. Erik Cole, despite serving a suspension during the playoffs was named MVP with six goals and an assist in just eight games.
In Slovakia, Slovan Bratislava have taken the title with a 3-1 game seven victory over Zvolen, winning their fifth title in the last twelve seasons.
Amsterdam won their fourth consecutive Dutch title and HC Milano Vipers again won the Italian championships. In Belgium, the finals saw high drama as fourth seed Leuven won their first title after a 3-2 series win over Turnhout after being 2-0 down in the series. Game five looked beyond them as they were 3-1 down with a minute left before the extra attacker paid off as they pulled a goal back before dramatically tying the game with only six seconds remaining before triumphing 4-2 in the shoot out.
And finally this edition, the Czech Extra league named it's season awards this week and it was dominated by Tomas Kaberle who won the best defenseman, top player and MVP awards. Ales Hemsky took the playoff MVP award and Milan Hnilicka was named best goaltender.
Karpat Oulu have taken game 1 in the Finnish play off finals with a 3-2 overtime victory over Jokerit Helsinki after Jokerit had twice squared the game up in regulation. Jari Viukhola opened the scoring for Karpat midway through the first period. However, Glen Metropolit tied the game only for Sakari Palsola to put Karpat ahead, and with a 36-23 shot advantage in their favour seemed set for victory only for Juha Lind to level once again late in the third. With an important psychological victory at stake, overtime started out a nervy affair but Jussi Jokinen scored on a pass from Janne Niniimaa to earn Karpat victory in the opening game of the series.
Overtime also settled the playoff final in the UK as the Coventry Blaze took their first playoff title with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Steelers. Although the opening period was scoreless the game opened up with two goals in a minute right at the start of the second period as Neal Martin opened the scoring for Coventry only for Nick Boynton to equalise less than a minute later. The game then calmed down once more and headed for overtime where Ashley Tait won the game for Coventry three minutes into the extra period and earned them their third title win of the season.
Pardubice have won their first title since 1989 with a series sweep over Zlin, largely thanks to the stellar play from goalie Jan Lasak, who posted a stunning 94.7 save % and 12-4 playoff record. Ales Hemsky, Jaroslav Balastik and Martin Erat were the top three scorers in the playoffs.
There was an upset in Germany in game five of the semi-final series between regular season champions Frankfurt and Adler Mannheim. Frankfurt had pulled back from 2-0 down to level the series and had been favourites to take game five but second period goals from Andy Delmore and Rene Corbet, coupled with a shut out from Cristobel Huet saw Stephane Richer's side advanced to the finals to meet Eisbaeren Berlin in the series starting tonight (Friday).
And finally, Zvolen now lead the finals in Slovakia 3-2 thanks to a 5-2 game five victory over Slovan Bratislava and saw impressive points tallies from Miroslav Satan and Richard Zednik, who are positions one and three in the playoff scoring race.
Most of the sporting focus this week over here has been on the Champions League soccer quarter finals, but hockey around Europe has been causing a few headlines as the playoff races begin to hot up.
The season is done in Russia and the team that led throughout the regular season has clinched their first championship in five years. Dynamo Moscow swept Lada Togliatti in the final to take the title losing just one playoff game. Game 1 saw them win 3-1 with goals from Afinogenov, Datsyuk and Frolov, before two goals from Vadim Shakhraichuk took game two. The crucial game three was a tighter affair and was 1-1 at the regulation. The pressure was on Lada in the shoot-out as this was their last hope of keeping the series alive. However, shoot-out goals from Datsyuk, Kharitonov and Frolov sealed their win and took the title back to Moscow.
In Finland, Jokerit and Karpat
unsurprisingly won their semi final matchups against HPK and
Lukko respectively in straight games. It is expected to be a
tight final and the form of goaltender Kristian Backstrom and
Tim Thomas will be key.
In Germany, Eisbaeren Berlin have booked their place in the DEL finals with a 3-1 series victory over ERC Ingolstadt with a 4-2 victory in game 5. Number one seed Frankfurt Lions have tied their series against Adler Mannheim after being two games down. A 2-0 win in game four followed up their 4-3 win in game three and left them with a chance to win the series on home ice in game five.
And finally this edition, Pavel Kubina received a 15 game ban in the Czech Republic for accusing the referee of being bribed during the recent series between his side Vitkovice and HC Zlin. It was a series that saw Vitkovice throw away a 3-1 series lead as Zlin advanced to the finals to meet Pardubice. Zlin will need all of the heroism they showed in the semi-finals as a 2-0 victory in game three saw Pardubice on the brink of the title.
The playoffs here in the UK made headlines this week across Europe and in North America. Unfortunately, it wasn't for the quality of on-ice play but the behaviour of Eric Cairns that put the Elite League in the spotlight. According to reports, Cairns lost his cool after being assessed a slashing penalty and proceeded to skate after the referee which earned him a match penalty, and subsequent one game suspension. He then refused to leave the ice and attempted to get at Coventry forward Andre Payette which resulted in a bench clearing brawl. It has been reported that Cairns could be suspended from the Elite League for the remainder of this season and the whole of next.
Ironically, this incident came in the week that IIHF president Rene Fasel wrote an editorial which appeared on iihf.com in which he criticised what he perceived as an increase in violent behaviour in the playoffs this season.
The final two teams are set in Sweden and both sides had relatively comfortable passages in their semi-finals. Vastra Frolunda won game five 4-0 with goals from Daniel Alfredsson and Sami Salo, another playoff shutout from Henrik Lundqvist saw them take their series against Djurgardens 4-1. Having won the regular season title they will start as favourites against Farjestads, who swept Sodertalje 4-0 in their semi-final match-up.
In Russia, we are also at the final stage and despite the attempts by some teams to load up on NHL talent down the stretch for a playoff run, it is the top two teams from the regular season who will meet. Dynamo Moscow, who topped the standings in the regular season knocked out the Jaromir Jagr led Avangard Omsk 3-1 in their series, a series in which Dynamo recorded a remarkable 11-0 win in game two. Although Avangard took game three, Dynamo cruised to a 3-0 lead in game four thanks to goals from Afinogenov, Mirnov and Chupin, before Jagr pulled a consolation back. Viktor Kozlov and Dainus Zubrus both scored power play goals as Lada Togliatti took game three 2-1 against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to sweep the series 3-0. Both Dynamo and Togliatti have only dropped one game in the playoffs and it should be a tight match-up, although Dynamo will be concerned that Sergei Samsonov was recently admitted to hospital with 'head related problems'
It is final four time in Germany as ERC Ingolstadt were the last team to book their place in the semi finals with a 4-3 series win over fourth placed Kolner Haie. Cameron Mann scored the go-ahead goal in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie en route to a 5-2 road victory and a trip to face Eisbaeren Berlin.
Doug Weight continues to be a strong acquisition for Frankfurt as they advanced to the semi-finals. His goal nearly fifteen minutes into overtime was the only goal of the game as the Lions defeated Hamburg Freezers 4-2 in their series. They will now face the sixth-seed Nurnberg Ice Tigers who beat Adler Manheim with Rene Corbert and Jochen Hecht getting on the score sheet in their 3-1 game six win to take the series 4-2.
Expansion side Wolfsburg ended Kassel Huskies eleven year DEL stay with a 3-2 game seven victory on home ice. Wolfsburg were 3-2 down in the series but two goals and a assist from Ivan Ciernik earned them another season at least in the top flight.
We are now getting well into the playoffs around the various leagues in Europe as we head towards the end of March and the first major surprise occurred in the last week as Russian side AK Bars Kazan were eliminated 3-1 against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the best of five first round match-up. AK Bars were expected to make a major push for the title in Russia and loaded up with the likes of Heatley, Kovalchuk, LeCavalier, Khabibulin and Kasparitis to capture the crown. However, Yaroslavl - who signed eight NHL-ers themselves, went through partly in thanks to goaltender Marc Lamothe who conceded only five goals during the series.
In the other first round match-ups, Lada Togliatti defeated Metallurg Novukuznetsk 3-1, regular season champions Dynamo Moscow swept Neftekhimik 3-0 whilst Jaromir Jagr continues to step up when it matters this season. His European and defending Russian Champion side Avangard Omsk were trailing 2-0 to Metallurg Magnitorsk in a repeat of last years final before Jagr took control, hauling his side back to 2-2 with a multi point game in the fourth game of the series before scoring the winner in overtime in the fifth and final game to see Omsk advance to the semi-finals.
The semi-finals have got underway and Omsk continued their wiining ways with a 3-2 shoot-out victory over Dynamo. Dynamo were 2-0 down until Pavel Datsyuk and a last second Pavel Rosa strike tied the game up. Overtime was littered with penalties and the tie was decided on a shoot-out with Ovechkin with Prokopiev winning it for Omsk. Lada Togliatti also took game one against Yaroslavl in a shoot-out as Igor Vorobiev beat Marc Lamothe, who had saved fifty-nine shots during regulation.
This years playoffs in Germany are continuing to be tight affairs as three of the four games are locked at 3-2 in the best of seven match-ups with only Eisbaeren Berlin safely through with a 4-1 series win over Augsburg. However, Berlin will be without Eric Cole after he was assessed a six game suspension following his hit on Arvids Rekis which left the Augsburg player with a major concussion.
Following the series defeat, the Panthers 41 year old captain Duanne Moeser announced his retirement after 11 seasons with Augsburg. Frankfurt and ERC Ingolstadt both snapped 2-2 ties in their series with Hamburg and Koelner Haie respectively, whilst Adler Mannheim came from behind to keep themselves alive in their series with Nurnberg. Expansion side Wolfsburg could be heading for a short stay in the DEL as the are staring at the wrong end of a 3-2 series scoreline against Kassel in their relegation play down.
The finals in Switzerland are underway and third placed ZSC Lions have taken game 1 with a 6-4 victory over Davos. Both sides had relatively comfortable passages to the finals, only losing two games during their two series prior to the final.
Coventry Blaze have booked their place in the playoff finals weekend in London after a successive round-robin group performance. Although there are some games still to play, it looks like they may be joined at the finals weekend by Sheffield, Nottingham and Cardiff.
And finally, this edition the semi final match-ups are now decided in Finland and HPK are the final side to get through the quarter finals which in all honestly were not close after their 4-2 series win over TPS. Karpat defeated Tappara 4-1, scoring 11 goals in the final two games, as did Jokerit against Ilves Tampere and Lukko against HIFK. The semi-finals, due to start April 1st see Karpat take on Lukko and Jokerit face HPK.
His team may be on the verge
of the playoff finals in Switzerland, but Joe Thornton will have
to sit out the next two games at least following his suspension
for a two-handed slash on Bern goaltender Marco Buhrer during
game four of their semi-final match-up. Davos, however are on
the cusp of booking their place in the finals as they lead the
defending champions 3-1. Although Bern won last years championship,
they only crept into the playoffs in the eight and final spot.
However, they then upset first placed Lugano in the first round
of the playoff s 4-1. Davos were victorious in the first round
match-up, sweeping Rapperswil. In the other semi-final match-up,
third placed ZSC Lions lead fourth placed Zug 3-1.
The Czech and Slovak leagues are now at semi-final stage and see top seed HC Zlin meet seventh seed Vitkovice and third seed Pardubice face number five ranked Liberec in the Czech Republic. Both Pardubice and Liberec came through tough game sevens in the previous round with Liberec shocking Slavia Prague 5-1 in game seven. Favourites Zvolen face Kosice and Slovan Bratislava meet Dukla Trencin in Slovakia's semi-final stage.
The first round is now under
way in Germany and three of the four first round games are tied
at 1-1. Jimmy Waite recorded a shut-out in game two as ERC Ingolstadt
defeated Kolneir Haie 4-0 to leve their series. Veteran Darren
van Impe scored with 2:50 remaining as eigth seed Hamburg levelled
things up with top ranked Frankfurt. An overtime goal from Lasse
Kopitz gave Nurnberg a 4-3 overtime win and ensured it is all
square between Nurnberg and Adler Mannheim. Even in the DEL play
down series it is tied at 1-1 as Joaquin Gage stopped twenty-one
shots and Kassel Huskies took game two 3-0 over Wolfsburg.
And finally this edition, although they may be facing elimination in the playoffs SC Bern have been crowned European attendance champions for the fourth consecutive year with an average of 15,360 through their twenty-two home games. The top ten sees a varied mix of European nations represented with German sides Kolner Haie and Hamburg Freezers second and third with Swedish side Frolunda setting a new Eliteserien record in fourth place. Jokerit Helsinki are fifth with an average of 9,636 with Russians Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in sixth place. Czech sides Pardubice and Slavia Prague are seventh and tenth, split by Swedish sides Farjestad and Linkopings. Interestingly, the top eight sides are unchanged on last season. The top twenty-five in full can be found at www.iihf.com
Peter Nordstrom has been banned for two games and fined $900US following the hit which forced Peter Forsberg out of game five of the Swedish playoffs between Nordstroms Farjestad and Forsbergs MoDo. The series has also now spouted a war of words between Sheldon Souray and Tommy Salo with various insults and threats being hurled back and forth between the pair. In game six of the series, Salo turned in a strong performance, turning aside twenty-eight shots as MoDo stayed alive by winning 1-0 on a goal from Jesper Damgaard to force game six. Linkoping are now on the brink of an upset as a 2-1 victory over second seed Sodertalje sees them just one game from victory. Timra saved themselves from elimination with Henrik Zetterberg getting on the score sheet in their 3-1 win over Djurgarden, but still trail the series 3-2.
In the Czech Republic, HC Zlin have advanced 4-2 in their series with Litvinov thanks to a 4-3 overtime victory in game six. Jan Caloun struggled to put up numbers during the series but Martin Erat tallied three goals and two assists. Kladno staved off a possible exit for another game as Jan Hrdina scored a goal and two assists in their 6-3 win over Pardubice, who still lead the series 3-2, as do Slavia who had Josef Stumpel and Josef Vasicek lit up the scoreboard in a 7-2 over Liberec.
The German regular season is done and the Frankfurt Lions have taken the title and number one seed for the playoffs as they triumphed 4-1 in the final game of the season over Adler Mannheim, with Doug Weight grabbing two assists and Pat Lebeau adding a goal as he easily confirmed himself as back to back scoring champion for the first time in DEL history, way ahead of Mike York and Dwayne Norris. Frankfurt were let in as Eisbaren Berlin were thrashed 7-2 on the final day by DEG Metro Stars and now have to face Augsburg in the first round of the playoffs. Hamburg recovered from their recent slump to win their last two games and secure eighth seed. This was despite Krefeld triumphing over Wolfsburg 6-5 on the last day, which condemned the expansion side to a relegation playout against the Kassel Huskies.
The playoffs and relegation
series commence this Friday and line up as follows:
The playoffs also start this weekend in Finland. Number one seed Karpat Oulu take on eighth placed JYP, Jokerit play Ilves Tampere, HPK play TPS Turku and HIFK Helsinki will face off against Lukko.
And finally this edition, it has been announced that Newcastle Vipers will play in next seasons Elite League in the UK. The former Superleague side will rejoin for the 2005-06 season. The regular season has ended in this seasons competition and in somewhat of a surprise, former National League side the Coventry Blaze have taken the regular season title with a six point gap over second placed Belfast Giants. The top six sides now split into two groups of three before the top two in each group progress to the finals weekend. Coventry, Nottingham and London feature in group A and Belfast, Sheffield and Cardiff make up group B.
There may be no hockey in the NHL this season but the playoffs are under way in Europe. The first country to reach this stage is Sweden and one of the quarter final contests is over no sooner than it began. Lulea played the last few games of the season with a playoff style intensity as they were in a four way battle for the final playoff positions. Any thoughts that this would set them up for the playoffs were quickly dispelled as they were no match for Vastra Frolunda. The regular season champions ran all over Lulea and swept them in style, and wrapped up the fourth and final game with a crushing 8-1 victory with three goals from Daniel Alfredson. Elsewhere in the playoffs, Djurgarden avoided being swept by taking game four 3-2 over Timra. Dark horses MoDo are on the brink of being eliminated as a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Farjestad left them trailing 3-1 in the series. Worryingly, Peter Forsberg suffered a concussion during the game, which was his first since returning from a six week injury level. He was cross checked by Peter Nordstrom, who received a game misconduct. The only tied series is between Linkoping and Sodertalje, who took game four 4-3 in overtime to pull level at 2-2. The relevant game five match-ups take place tonight (Saturday).
In the Czech Republic, first-placed HC Zlin are currently being held 2-2 in their first round series against Litvinov, with Litvinov taking game four 3-1. Sparta Prague are surprisingly facing a first round exit as they are on the brink of elimination and 3-1 down to Vitkovice. Neighbours Slavia Prague dropped game three against Liberec 3-2, despite Ziggy Palfy's best efforts. Kladno took their first game of the series 4-0 against Pardubice but also trail 2-1.
In Slovakia, NHL-ers Marian
Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Branislav Mezei all put up points
as Trencin finally got some offense going to take game three
6-1 and open up a 2-1 series lead of Zilina. Kosice are now on
the verge of taking their series with Nitra in four straight
thanks to a 2-1 game three win. Slovan Bratislava and Zvolen
should also qualify as they currently lead their respective series
And finally, just two games remain in Russia and all the playoff spots have now been earned as Dynamo look to have held off Lada Togliatti in the race for the regular season title. Metallurg Magnitorsk look to have held off AK Bars for third spot thanks to their 5-0 over Salavat Yulaev which ended their two goal scoring drought. Round 60 also saw a new Russian PIM record of 322 minutes as the end as a mass brawl at the end of Lokomotvi Yaroslavls 2-1 victory over Avangard Omsk which saw fourteen players assessed various penalties.
Since the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, attention has now begun to focus towards next season and the possibility of the lockout stretching even further and threatening the long term future of the NHL.
Although the subject has been touched upon at times during the season, the (surprisingly?) vast number of players who have come to Europe this season and the very real prospect of no NHL hockey anytime soon has led to more and more commentators discussing the prospect of a European super league.
The various European leagues are now heading towards the playoffs, and we will see genuine NHL stars (both European and North American) facing off against each - even here in the UK we have been able to see the likes of Nick Boynton this season. Owners, media, fans and players alike have had the pleasure of the NHL presence this season.
However, with following the European scene for spectorshockey throughout this season I am still as convinced that the prospect of a European super league is as far as away and remote a prospect as ever.
Salaries have probably exceeded
expectations this season in Europe and whilst not on NHL levels,
have provided a big incentive for NHL stars to come over. Russia
has seen several clubs backed by wealthy individuals load up
on NHL talent throughout the season and many teams have stocked
up on talent in anticipation of the forthcoming playoffs. However,
without a long term return on their investment many backers would
be reluctant to invest heavily in any such proposed league. It
still remains to be seen exactly what level of revenue such a
league would generate, and this could put off many potential
Golbez also mentioned travel problems with travelling to and from different European countries and dealing with immigration and border controls etc. This is a problem that NFLE has long been frustrated with and could be partly behind the decision to close down franchises in Scotland and Barcelona, relocating teams within Germany.
You also still have the situation that the various European leagues would exist, drawing revenue, support and players away from a new league. The various league federations would not take too kindly to a new hockey league and governing body muscling in on their territory so there could definitely be an element of protectionism involved in dealing with any new league.
The potential for media interest
is certainly there and I would expect any potential league to
have serious financial media backing for a proposed league. The
IIHF already has a media partner and there are many European
networks available who you would think would take a chance on
being involved. There would also then be the possibility of the
North American market to explore as (especially if the lockout
continues) there would be a potential gap in the hockey market.
Back in September, I concluded with the sentence 'ultimately, my own belief is that any chance of success a European league to rival the NHL has is dependent on the NHL tearing itself apart'. Having had virtually a season to reflect on this I also now think that money will have a great part to play. No matter what the NHL does or how successful it becomes in the future, if there is no money to be ploughed into a proposed European league then it will not succeed.
However, if the NHL does tear itself apart (and it has shown no signs of not wanting to do this), the money that is currently in and around the NHL will have to go somewhere - and why not a European league?
And finally this week, at the time of the last EuroFocus, there were four teams locked together on fifty-seven points in the battle for the final two playoff positions. In the end, it was extremely tight between two of the sides for the eighth and final position. Reigning champions HV71 suffered a complete meltdown in the final three games, losing to Malmo, MoDo and Linkpoing, scoring only one goal and conceding fourteen in the process to eliminate themselves from playoff contention. In contrast, Lulea won their final three games, including a win over Sodertalje and an amazing 9-4 win over Brynas as they comfortably booked the seventh seed position. Despite Mora winning on the final day 5-2 and Sodertalje losing to Farjestad and then Lulea on the final day, they missed out on eighth position by virtue of a worse goal differential and notching one less victory than Sodertalje.
The playoffs commence this weekend
and see the following match-ups:
As the playoffs begin to commence around Europe then EuroFocus will provide regular updates on how the playoffs around Europe begin to shape up.
Whilst the NHL season is officially dead in the water (well, barring the outcome of any further secret meetings), perhaps even more eyes will now turn across the pond to the European leagues as the countdown to the playoffs is very much upon us.
There was plenty of activity
in Germany as several DEL sides inked NHL-ers during the recent
all-star break before the 15th February signing deadline.
DEG Metro Stars signed Kevyn Adams and ERC Ingolstadt snapped up Aaron Ward.
Eisbaeren Berlin added an NHL duo in Nathan Dempsey and Olaf Kolzig to go alongside incumbent star Erik Cole and J-S Giguere has linked up with the Hamburg Freezers.
Kolzig was a success on his
debut with a shut-out 2-0 win over Kolner Haie, but Giguere went
down 2-1 to Nurnberg despite making twenty-four saves.
Five sides - Frankfurt, Eisbaeren
Berlin, ERC Ingolstadt, Nurnbeg and Kolner Haie have all officially
qualified for the playoffs and Adler Mannheim and Hamburg Freezers
both secured wins Sunday to all but guarantee playoff hockey.
In Finland, Ilves Tampere won a vital matchup over Lukko on Sunday by a scoreline of 3-1 to move level on points in sixth place with Matti Kaipainen scoring the go ahead goal before game MVP Raimo Helminen add the third. Leaders Jokerit suffered a surprise 5-3 defeat to Espoo Blues and Karpat closed the gap at the top to five points with a 3-2 win over HIFK with two goals from Petr Tenkrat and thirty-two saves from Niklas Backstrom. Third placed HPK lost to Tappara but still hold a fourteen point lead over fourth placed HIFK. Steve Kariya holds a slight lead in the scoring charts with fifty points, ahead of Pasi Saarela on forty-seven and Jarkko Immonen on forty-six. Jussi Jokinen, Glen Metropolit, Ladislav Kohn and Jason Williams also feature in the top ten.
Round 52 in Russia saw theNHL star studded sides all win, whilst longtime league leaders Dynamo lose again. Avangard Omsk won 5-3 at Khimik with Perezhogin both scoring and Jagr, Vishnevsky and Safronov all assisting. Morozov, Kovalchuk and Heatley put AK Bars Kazan 3-0 up before Koltzov pulled one back to no avail for Spartak in their match-up whilst Metallurg won 8-3 over Severstal with Elias and Sykora both having multi-point evenings. Dynamo still lead the regular season standings by six points but the big spenders in Russian hockey are clicking in time for what should a fantastic playoffs.
In Sweden, four teams are now
locked on fifty-seven points in the battle for the final playoff
position with all positions virtually secured. Sodertalje, Lulea,
Mora and reigning champions HV71 all face a tense run in and
there were some interesting results in recent games which saw
HV71 defeat Mora but lose to Lulea, Mora crash to two successive
defeats but Sodertalje win two straight.
European Champions Cup winners
Avangard Omsk have taken their cup winning form back with them
into the Russian Superleague of late as they continue to march
up the standings.
The Frankfurt Lions sent out a message to the rest of the DEL ahead of the all-star break as they demolished the Hamburg Freezers 7-0 to stay atop of the standings, with Ian Gordon - glancing over his shoulder at new signing J-S Giguere, posting his third shut-out of the season. Sean Pronger was again on the score sheet with two goals. Another goaltender recently signed to a DEL side is Olaf Kolzig, who saw Eisbaeren Berlin rally from two goals down to defeat Kassel Husskies by a 3-2 scoreline. The Augsburg Panthers gained a huge victory over rivals Krefeld Pinguine in a battle for the final playoff spot with a power play winner from new signing Rich Brennan. Krefelds lead is now cut to four points. Wildest game of the round saw ERC Ingolstadt throw away a two goal lead with little over eight minutes remaining as they self-destructed to go down 4-2 to Adler Mannheim with Paul Healey and John Tripp both tallying three point nights. The race for the regular season title in Germany is amazingly close and each round of fixtures now will have huge significance both for the title and playoff positions. Frankfurt lead by one point from ERC Ingolstadt, who in turn see Kolner Haie, Nurnberg Ice Tigers and Eisbaeren Berlin just two points behind.
There is no stopping Vastra Frolunda in Sweden as a pair of 5-2 victories over Sodertalje and Malmo has seen them put up a thirteen point lead in the Eliteserien. The most interesting battle in Sweden is the battle for the final playoff positions. With Malmo and Brynas virtually certain of being relegated and Djurgaden relatively comfortable in sixth place, the gap between seventh and tenth is just four points as Mora, last years champions HV71, Lulea and Sodertalje all scrapping to get into the post season.
Slovan Bratislava and Zvolen are still neck and neck out in Slovakia as Slovan are just a point ahead after the latest round of fixtures saw Zvolen close the gap with a 3-2 win over last placed Spartak Dubnica and Slovan crashed 5-1 to Nitra, who improve to fifth place.
It is also still tight at the top between Lugano and Davos in Switzerland as both sides recorded impressive victories in the countdown to the final stages of the season. Lugano hammering Zug 8-2, whilst Davos downed SCL Tigers 3-0. Like most European leagues at this stage of the season, the race for the final playoff positions is tight as only five points now separate fourth placed Zug to ninth-placed Bern in the standings. Stacey Roest has lost his long time top scorer position as Ambri's Jean-Guy Trudel takes over with fifty-eight points, just edging out Randy Robitaille. Roest is now third on fifty-six , slightly ahead of assist king Joe Thornton and Ville Peltonen.
In Finland, Jokerit have a five point lead over HPK Hameenlinna, with Karpat Oulu a further point behind. HPK hammering Ilves Tampere in the last round of games, whilst Jokerit had a decision shoot-out victory Karpat and in the Czech Republic, reigning champions Zlin continue to hold off Prague sides Slavia and Sparta, with Pardubice in fourth place.
And finally, in the UK the countdown to the end of the season is on and it is former BNL side Coventry who have taken over at the top, in what is probably now a three way tie between themselves Belfast and Cardiff. The Nottingham Panthers may still harbour an outside shot, but with new additions Nick Boynton and Ian Moran now on the roster, will be looking at the playoff title as a more realistic opportunity.
With apologies to Matthew Ryder and his 'End-to-End' column, I too am this week going to award a 5 and a game. This one is awarded to Pat MacAdam of the Ottawa Sun for an article which was touched upon in a 'point/counterpoint' section in last weeks Soapbox. As Spector mentioned, MacAdam did address some relevant and salient points in relation to the lockout but for some inexplicable reason decided to pepper the column with an outrageous and xenophobic attack on European players.
With further apologies - this time to Spector, I have addressed his comments in the style of the weekly 'point/counterpoint' articles. Firstly, the comments of Pat MacAdam, followed by my response:
'I began to lose interest when platoons of Europeans, commanding mega-million salaries, swarmed to greedy NHL expansion teams'
At least there is some blame attached to the teams here and not just an assault on the motives of European for coming to the NHL. Admittedly, earning potential is a lot higher in the NHL than in Europe for the vast majority of Europeans, but perhaps the reason European players want to come to the NHL because it is the top league in the world, and they want to test and prove themselves against the best players in the world as opposed to being able to coast through the games in a European domestic league. Money isn't the sole motivator for every player you know.
Take a look at the 'greedy NHL expansion teams' over the past decade. Correct me if I'm mistaken but I don't believe any of the teams followed the New York Rangers guide to building a Cup Winner. Expansion sides are known to be frugal with their expenditure on player salaries and take their time to build the franchise, filling their rosters with solid pro's whilst they bring on young talent through the draft. An increase in European players drafted in recent years has been particularly evident in the latter rounds, but these players tend to be around the mid to late twenties and are drafted because of their proven record in their domestic leagues, proving a fairly safe bet for the drafting teams. However, none of these players or expansion teams would be demanding or paying 'mega-million salaries'.
'If the NHL is hell bent on expansion let it be with a brand new league in Europe. European players would draw European salaries instead of bleeding the North American NHL dry. The winners of the North American and European leagues could meet to play off for the Stanley Cup'
Firstly, I can't see that the NHL will ever expand into Europe. It may set up a strategic partnership with a European league (similarly to the NFLE) or face a rival league someday but I just don't see it. There would be logistical problems involved with areas such as travel and would the NHLPA agree to it's members potentially being drafted by European sides? Also (and playing devils advocate a little here), what would the general reaction be to a European side actually winning the Stanley Cup.
However, I do think an annual exhibition match-up between the Stanley Cup winner and European Champions Cup would be a good idea and raise the profile and awareness of hockey in both continents.
'European players would draw European salaries instead of bleeding the North American NHL dry. Let's see if million-dollar-plus salaries are forthcoming in Europe'
Do European players, earning in North America, not plough a substantial part of their salaries back into the cities and countries economies in which they are playing. I can't see the hoarding up their pay checks for the first chance they can to make a break back across the Atlantic.
Although not on NHL levels, we are seeing some examples of substantial salaries being paid by European teams at the moment (particularly in Russia), and these are being paid to both European and North American players.
Would we not then have the reverse argument though if there was a European division of the NHL, and North American players were then coming over to Europe 'bleeding the European NHL dry'?
If you read the article in full, Pat MacAdam is clearly pining for the days of the Original Six era when there were '120 slots for North America's players (and) a non-Canadian on a team roster was a rarity'. To me, Pat is suggesting that the North American NHL should be for North American players only, and the European NHL solely for European players.
For any of you reading this column, can you honestly say that for all of it's faults and problems, the NHL is worse off for the presence of European players on teams rosters. Yes, there are European players who are clearly not good enough for the NHL, and there are European players who are greedy and lazy and problematic. But, those character flaws do not attach themselves solely to Europeans , and the NHL is littered too with examples of North American players wasting their talent and roster spaces.
It is a tired argument now to tar Europeans with the same old clichés that Don Cherry has spouted dozens of times before. It is a global world these days, and the NHL is a global league and expanding all the time. Do you really want to see a league without the Forsbergs, Koivus and Kovalchuks? Who knows, the next generation could even see players from further afield than Europe gracing the NHL.
Do you agree or disagree with either myself or Pat MacAdam's views?
The inaugural European Champions Cup tournament took place last weekend in St Petersburg, Russia and featured the six champion sides from the top ranked European hockey nations. The format was two groups of three teams, playing each other in a round-robin format before the group winners met in the gold medal game.
Here's how the weekend unfolded.
HC Zlin rallied from a 3-2 deficit at the end of the second period to triumph in the opening game in Group A. Miroslav Okal opened the scoring for Zlin before Frankfurt hit back with goals from Peter Ratchuk and Pat Lebeau before Okal posted his second to leave it tied at the end of the first. Frankfurt held the advantage going into the final period thanks to Chad Bassen's goal four minutes from the end of the period. Frankfurt attempted to hold out in the remaining period but Martin Erat tied the game before Zlins leading scorer Jaroslav Kristek scored the winning goal with little over six minutes remaining on a shot which Frankfurt goaltender Ian Gordon should have handled.
Day two in Group A saw my predicted tournament winners eliminated as Karpat Oulu opened their tournament in style with a 4-1 victory.
Jussi Jokinen put Karpat ahead with a power play goal early in the first and they held the lead until sniper Jaroslav Balastik levelled matters at the beginning of the second. Karpat all but killed the game off by the end of the second as Juha-Pekka Haataja and Czech Petr Tenkrat put the Finns 3-1 up. Josef Boumedienne posted a fourth at the mid point of the final period to set up a crucial final game with Frankfurt.
Karpat went into the final knowing
they could afford a two goal defeat and still proceed to the
final by virtue of their superior goal differential. This did
not affect Karpats approach to the game as they opened up a 3-1
lead at the end of the first thanks to two goals from Jari Viuhkola.
Lasse Kukkonen added a fourth early into the second period and
Eero Somervuori made it 5-1 with their fourth power play goal
of the game. The German champions struck twice early in the third
to give them a glimmer of hope but Jussi Jokinen made it 6-3
and booked the Finnish sides place in the final.
Avangard Omsk laid a marker down in the opening Group B game by putting four power play goals past Slovakian champions Dukla Trencin in a 6-1 victory. There was a strong NHL connection which helped the Russian champions as Jaromir Jagr, Maxim Sushinsky, Oleg Tverdovsky, Andrei Kovalneko and Jaroslav Bednar all scored in a contest which saw Trencin's goalie Miroslav Hala pulled midway through the second period. Norm Maracle enjoyed a quiet game between the pipes for Avangard, only being beaten by Jan Zlocha which briefly threatened to see Trencin claw their way back into the game before Avangard turned the screw.
Game two in Group B saw Trencin eliminated as HV71 set up a winner takes all contest with Avangard by easing past the Slovaks 4-1. The contest was all but over early in the first period as they jumped to an 3-0 lead with seven minutes thanks to goals from Peter Ekelund, Per Age Skroder and Simon Skoog. The second period was goalless before Anders Eriksson put the Swedes 4-0 up with a power play tally early in the third before Peter Fabus tallied little more than a consolation.
Avangard made light work of progressing to the final as they crushed HV71's hopes with a devasting display in the crucial third game. Maxim Sushinsky was in a sensational form with three goals and two assists and Alexander Perezhogin had two goals and a assist en route to a 9-0 hammering of the Swedes. It was a quiet opening ten minutes before Omsk exploded with four goals by the end of the first. Sushinsky and Anton Kurianov made it 6-0 by the end of the second. Norm Maracle made some impressive saves in the third and Jaromir Jagr added the final goal of the game to set up a gold medal game clash with Finnish champions Karpat Oulu.
Gold medal game:
Avangard entered the game as favourites thanks to their red hot play in their two group games. Karpat themselves though had put up an impressive performance in their group games scoring ten goals in the process, but perhaps wary of the offensive threat of the Russians, opened with a defensive mindset to prevent Avangard gaining an early advantage. Avanagard started the more brighter of the two sides but Karpat silenced the 10,000 crowd in St Petersburg with a shot from Ilkka Mikkola which made its way past a screened Norm Maracle. Karpat grew in confidence following their goal but it remained scoreless at the end of the first period. The second period was as tense as the first as Karpat strived to hold their lead and Avangard not overly committing themselves, perhaps wary of falling further behind. This period also saw Jaromir Jagr receive three minor penalties. Karpat goalie Niklas Backstrom was in inspired form for the Finns as Avangard began to turn up the heat and their pressure paid off with little under nine minutes remaining as Alexei Kalyuzhny tied the contest with Jagr on the assist. Both sides then appeared content to let time run out and head to overtime. Avangard had invested heavily in current and former NHL players this season and it was the biggest name of all who saw the Russians crowned as inaugural European champions. With a fine assist from Maxim Sushinsky, Jaromir Jagr scored the game winner at 14.38 in overtime to send the crowd wild and see Avangard Omsk deservedly take the title.
It was a tournament which saw
a final match-up between the two most impressive sides from the
group stages and set a very high benchmark for future tournaments.
The Czech and Slovak representatives will be the most disappointed
as both Dukla Trencin and HC Zlin were eliminated by the end
of day two.
Unsurprisingly, Sushinsky was named best forward, whilst Josef Boumedienne took defensive honours and Norm Maracle the best goaltender award. The media all-star team was named as follows:
Norm Maracle (Avangard)
One final thought from this weekend - when the format of the tournament was first announced and the spectre of an NHL lockout was possible, I speculated on how strong a tournament this could potentially be. Although 2006 is a long time away, could next years tournament be even stronger?
When the first European Champions Cup line-up was announced, it was billed as the strongest and most high profile European club hockey tournament. This was before the NHL lock-out gave European hockey arguably it's strongest ever profile in North America. Coupled with this is the fact that the tournament will also feature several NHL players (both North American and European) taking part and will likely be the strongest club tournament this year in hockey.
The tournament is contested by last seasons European champions from the top six IIHF ranked European nations and is split into two groups of three sides and played on a round robin basis Jan 13-15 before the Gold Medal game takes place on Sunday January 16th.
Looking at the contesting teams, most are expected to mount a serious challenge at retaining their domestic titles and the games are expected to be highly competitive.
I have broken down the two groups
to look at the teams and also included my predictions for the
group winners and overall champions.
Jan 13 - HC Zlin - Frankfurt
Karpat Oulu (Finland): Won their
first championship since 1981 last year and head into the Champions
Cup having recently regained the lead in the SM Liga standings.
Unfortunately for them, recent signing Janne Niinimaa will not
be eligible to play after his January 3rd signing missed the
Frankfurt Lions (Germany): Went from worst to first last season to take the DEL title. Are fifth in a competitive league this season. Have veteran Canadian Pat LeBeau in their line-up and he leads the DEL in scoring with fifty-eight points.
NHL connection: Robidas, Ratchuk, Pronger.
HC Zlin (Czech Republic): Surprise winners of the 2004 Czech championship but are five points clear of Sparta Prague in this years standings. They have a strong defense led by Roman Hamrlik and the team has posted nine shutouts so far this season and they boast the Extraliga top scorer in Jaroslav Balastik.
NHL connection - Hamrlik, Cajanek, Erat.
Predicted group winner - HC Zlin.
Jan 13 - Trencin - Avangard
Dukla Trencin (Slovakia): Currently
third in the Slovak standings but some way off leaders Slovan
Bratislava. The team had a coaching change in December with Vladimir
Hiadlovsky and Robert Svehla taking the reigns. The top scoring
line of Demitra, Gaborik and Hossa has been broken up following
Marian Hossas move to Sweden. Had the most representatives from
any club side (five players) in the recent WJC.
Avangard Omsk (Russia): They
are struggling to match last years Championship winning season
and at present are way back in eleventh position and out of the
playoff positions. However, Jaromir Jagr has had an immediate
impact with the side and his eighteen points by the end of 2004
helped them climb the table with a ten game unbeaten streak.
HV71 (Sweden): Have struggled in the Eliteserien for much of the season, and only a recent good run has hauled them away from the relegation positions towards the fringes of the playoffs. They saw both Bryan McCabe and Brian Boucher leave the team shortly before Christmas. Will be without recent NHL signings Manny Malhotra and Jonathan Cheechoo.
NHL connection - Eriksson, Karlsson, Davidsson.
Predicted group winner - Avangard Omsk
Gold medal game - HC Zlin to take the inaugral European Champions Cup over Avangard Omsk.
Next weeks EuroFocus will be a review of the tournament, looking at how the players and teams performed and who walked away with both the plaudits and the trophy.
Here's hoping that all of you enjoyed the Christmas and New Year festivities wherever you are and that you are ready for another fix of the news and events from the European Hockey scene.
With the NHL season heading towards being locked out for the whole season, there has been another influx of NHL-ers signing with European teams. Miroslav Satan signed for Slovan Bratislava in his native Slovakia, Steve Rucchin signed for SG Cortina in Italy whilst Jeff Halpern moved across to Swiss outfit Kloten Flyers. The turn of the year also saw Finnish duo Kimmo Timonen and Janne Ninimaa move home from their Swedish sides to KaiPa and Karpat respectively.
DEL side Iserlohn Roosters sought
to boost their playoff aspirations by signing Jean Michael Liles
from Colorado and Brian Gionta from New Jersey. They will both
be needed as the Roosters saw their three game winning streak
ended this week as they fell to play-off rivals DEG Metro Stars
3-1, with Matt Herr grabbing a goal and a assist. Expansion outfit
Wolfsburg recorded their highest ever win in their short time
in the league with an impressive 7-0 rout of Hannover Scorpions,
with Todd Simon notching four points and leading scorer Ivan
Ciernik two goals.
In Russia, the NHL connection of Jagr, Guskov and Perezhogin helped Avangard Omsk to a 4-1 victory Salavat Yulayev. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hammered SKA St Petersburg 7-2 to move into the playoff positions but elsewhere it was close as Metallurg Magnitorsk and Lada Togliatti could only register 1-0 victories. The top four seem to have all but secured their playoff positions, but there are only five points separating fifth placed Severstal Cherepovets down to SKA in eleventh spot.
In Swedens Eliteserien, reigning champions HV71 continue their revival and their 5-2 victory over Linkoping this week lifted them into the eighth and final playoff position. 5-2 was the same scoreline which saw league leaders Frolunda dispatch bottom placed side Malmo Redhawks. MoDo registered an impressive victory over third placed Timra, but fourth seed is probably the highest they can now aim for this season.
In Belgium and the Netherlands, the preliminary rounds are complete and the sem-final stages are set. The Dutch league will see preliminary round winners Heerenveen face of against Nijmegen whilst defending champions and preliminary league runners-up Amsterdam will play Tilburg in the semi-finals on January 15th. In Belgium, Leuven and Canadien Sport Phantoms topped the two preliminary round groups. The two sides then finished 1-2 in the next four team stage and will rightly face off against each other on January 8th.
The remainder of the leagues in Europe are generally returning back to action following the new year break but now there is just over a week to go before the inaugral European Champions Cup in St. Petersburg featuring the champions from the six top leagues in Europe. The tournament is expected to be close and will feature the likes of Brian Boucher, Janne Ninimaa, Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander.
But finally this week, here in the UK a new world record has been set as the Sheffield Steelers have beaten the Edmonton Oilers record for consecutive overtime games with a 3-2 overtime victory over Coventry. Their record so far during the run is 5-1-2.
Many thanks to Steven from www.mightyducks.nl for additional information on the Dutch and Belgian leagues.
Many of the NHL stars who first headed over to Europe at the beginning of the lockout went to some of so-called more glamorous and certainly highly paid leagues such as in Switzerland or Russia, but as the lockout continues then more and more players are heading over to play in lesser profile leagues such as the Elite League here in the UK.
The NHL contingent playing here now includes Steve McKenna, Rob Davison, Eric Cairns and Wade Belak (and also Scott Nichol before he unfortunately returned home). It is intriguing to see why these players decided to come over to the UK - was it the hockey, the money, or simply a chance to keep in shape and experience the culture and life in a different country? It was these questions and more that I got a chance recently to put to Rob Davison, the young San Jose Sharks defenseman who is suiting up during the lockout for the Cardiff Devils - the current Elite League leaders.
Davison was selected 98th overall by the Sharks in the 1998 entry draft, and played for three seasons in the AHL with Kentucky and Cleveland posting 2 goals, 5 assists and 518 PIM in 184 games. During 2002-03 he also saw action in fifteen games for the Sharks and scored his first NHL goal against Anaheim. When the Sharks went into rebuilding mode last season Davison got his opportunity and played in 55 games, tallying three assists and finishing second on the team with 92 PIM.
Any frustrations Davison may have had about (so far) missing out on building on last season were not evident as he clearly threw his weight behind the union stance. "I'm definitely for the lockout" he explained, "I'm behind the union and I think they're doing a great job handling the negotiation". Interestingly, he also gave an insight into the prospect of agreement between the two sides and end to the lockout - "I don't see it happening, I hope it will be resolved but we're making one last offer then it's upto the NHL to move the negotiation". In view of the this weeks 'progress' then it appears as though the league and the union remain as far apart as they have ever done.
Money is not a factor for NHL players coming over as the Elite League works on a strict salary cap so the salary earned by Davison and his fellow NHL-ers will be small change compared to their NHL pay checks. So why did he come over? "I came to Cardiff because it was an opportunity to see a different part of the world and to see places I've never been to before. Usually in October we've been skating around a month and have the exhibition games coming up and I wanted to stay in shape. The coach gave me call, we hooked up and Cardiff gave me the opportunity to play".
Any suggestion that Davison may be going through the motions in what is obviously a lesser standard of hockey were quickly refuted. "I prepare in the same way I've always done. If I become laid back I won't be ready if I have to go back so I keep everything the same as I always have done'.
Davison is plainly enjoying life over here and this was echoed in a recent TV interview by Wade Belak who said he was enjoying playing in the UK as there were no language problems to encounter as there would maybe elsewhere in Europe and that in some ways it took him back to when he first played hockey and he could enjoy the anonymity that he has in the UK, where the sport is fairly low profile and he can go around day to day without being a 'famous hockey player'. Davison is taken with the history of the UK and is keen to explore further. "I'm having a good time, (it's) different from back home. There's more history for sure". So far he has enjoyed road trips which have allowed him to visit Belfast, and he has even been to explore around Stonehenge with plenty more sight seeing trips planned should he be over here for some time.
The chance to play in Cardiff has also allowed him the opportunity to be more involved in the whole game. With the Sharks his role is very much a defensive defenseman but with the Devils he has been asked to take a greater lead and play more of a two-way game. "Back home I don't get to play on the power play , here I'm on every penalty kill and also power plays". Echoing comments of other North Americans in Europe, he clearly does see an attraction with the European style of play and the challenge it brings, believing it will make him a better player. "It's a lot different, obviously it's more international - a running gun type of play. There's no red line which opens up the game, meaning a lot more breakaways. The NHL is the top league in the world (and) the guys are a lot faster but in some ways it's a lot more exciting".
Davison has brought his style of play over from the NHL and has notched up 77 PIM's this season, and his relish at being involved in a more offensive style of game has brought him 3 goals and 2 assists so far in 18 games as Cardiff head towards the festive period in first place. He certainly hasn't ruled out the prospect of returning to Europe or Cardiff in the future. "Why not. I'd love to come back to Cardiff. I'd like a long career in the NHL and I hope to get back because the longer the lock out stays the more it will hurt hockey (but) I know a lot of guys who play for a number of years in the NHL and then decide to come to Europe to play".
Whilst the lockout continues to frustrate all fans of hockey, it has allowed a rare opportunity for European fans to be able to see and follow NHL players in their own leagues and attendances generally throughout Europe are on the increase this season. In some ways, the lockout could even benefit the long term global profile and popularity of the NHL as there will be many new fans of European hockey this season who have taken an interest in the game because of the NHL presence and are likely to continue their interest once the NHL resumes operations and the players they have watched go back to their NHL teams.
Many thanks to Rob Davison and to Anne Hall at Cardiff for arranging the interview.
The following links provide more information on both Cardiff www.thecardiffdevils.com and the Elite League www.eliteleague.co.uk.
The German DEL this weekend saw defending champions Frankfurt continue their impressive streak as they came out on top against league leaders Kolner Haie by a margin of 5-3, thanks in part to a three point return from Martin Reichel. This was their fifth consecutive win, following on from a 2-1 success against expansion side Wolfsburg in midweek. Wolfsburg themselves have posted an impressive last couple of weeks and have now won four of five with Friday's 2-0 win over Berlin with Peter Smrek scoring both goals. Kassel Husskies have announced that interim coach Milan Mokros has been appointed on a permanent basis, but they collapsed this weekend in the final period conceding three times in a 6-3 reverse to Augsburg. The Krefeld Pinguine bid farewell to the Rheinlandhalle on Friday and Adrian Grygiel's tally midway through the second ensured it was a winning send off as they defeated Krefeld 3-2 in their last game before moving to the new Konig Palast in two weeks time.
Mike York was again impressive as he notched a goal and two assists for Iserlohn as they defeated Hannover 6-3, snapping a long winless streak on the road. Cameron Mann also had a multiple point night as ERC Ingolstadt moved upto third place with a 3-1 win over the DEG Metro Stars.
In the UK, the London Racers were shut out for the second game in succession as they were hammered 5-0 by the Cardiff Devils, in which they were outshot 35-12. Sheffield Steelers edged out Basingstoke 3-2 with an overtime winner from Gerard Adams giving them the win and ensuring Shawn Maltby's two goal night was to no avail.
In Sweden, defending champions HV71 continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table but gained a crucial victory against Lulea on Saturday night. After a 4-3 loss previously to second placed Linkoping, they hammered their relegation rivals 5-1 to move into a tie in the final relegation position. Frolunda still head the table five points clear of Linkoping. Realistically, there are only three teams chasing the regular season crown with Timra in third place on 52 points, well ahead of Farjestad on 44 back in fourth spot. MoDo are way back in seventh place on 37 points, having lost more games than they have won but should be safe for a playoff position and will look to improve their ranking as the season continues.
Dynamo Moscow were upset this week in Russia as they suffered only their second loss of the season, and for only second time at home in 2004. Alexander Ovechkin had put the Moscow side 2-0 before Novokuznetsk Metallurg hit back immediately before shocking the league leaders with two further late goals to make it 3-2 at the end of the third. Lada Togliatti continue to make a move up the table thanks to strong defensive play and goaltending. In their 3-1 win over Lokomotiv, they only allowed 14 shots on goal and Jussi Markkanen was beaten for the first time in four games. Dainus Zubrus and Alexander Semin tallied in the win. Sergei Gonchar is announcing himself back in Russian hockey as he increased his consecutive point per game tally to eleven during Metallurgs' 7-1 victory over Siber. Another side who won 7-1 this week were Severstal, who ended their month long winless streak by beating up on hapless bottom side Molot. Game of round 34 though was probably Avangaard Omsk's 5-4 victory over AK Bars Kazan. Prior to the game AK Bars also announced that Alez Zhitnik would be joining the side. The game was tied at 3-3 at the end of the second after AK Bars had thrown away a three goal lead to allow Omsk back in the game with Jaromir Jagr getting on the score sheet. AK Bars edged ahead again early in the third only Alezander Perzoghin to tie the game before Guskov won the game late on in the game. Nikolai Khabibulin has impressed in his short time in Russia and is currently fourth in save % with a figure of 93.40%. Pavel Rosa leads the goals scored with 17 and Valdimir Antipov leads the assists with 16.
And finally this week, EuroFocus can announce an early Christmas present to readers of Spectors Hockey as the next edition of the column will a special edition featuring an interview with Rob Davison of the San Jose Sharks who is playing over here in the UK with the Cardiff Devils.
The return to domestic hockey in Europe following the recent international break saw the bottom sides in the German DEL fire their coaches. Kassel Huskies coach Mike McParland was axed and replaced by interim coach Milan Mokros following their 5-14 start which left the bottom of the standings. Swede Gunnar Leidborg was next to go as five consecutive losses for the Hannover Scorpions saw him receive his marching orders. Leidborg has been replaced by a familiar name in Kevin Gandel.
At the top of the standings Kolner Haie remain clear despite falling to a weekend 3-0 loss to Augsburg Panthers behind the goaltending of J-F Labbe. Big result of the weekend though was the sixth placed Frankfurt Lions thrashing ERC Ingolstadt by a score of 9-1on the back of Pete Rachunek's four assists and another tally from league leading scorer Pat Lebeau.
Despite reports of criticism towards the NHL-ers playing in Slovakia, reported in a recent issue of The Hockey News, the Trencin trio of Pavol Demitra (39 points), Marian Gaborik (33 points) and Marian Hossa (30 points) continue to dominate all before them in Slovakia. Despite this, Trencin are only third in the standings with 51 points, trailing second placed Slovan Bratislava (55 points) and league leaders Zvolen who have 58 points, with all three sides having played 27 games.
In Russia, AK Bars Kazan saw their four debutants Kovalev, Kasparitis, Salei and Antropov register ice time in a 2-1 victory over Lokomotiv, although game reports state that their influence on the result was fairly minimal. Elsewhere in the recent round of fixtures, Severstal are now winless and drop to sixth place after a 3-3 tie with Metallurg, but Dinamo Moscow go from strength to strength, notching a 2-0 win over SKA and now have an 11 point lead over Metallurg and AK Bars Kazan.
In the Czech Republic it is a two horse race for the regular season title with Sparta Prague having built a commanding eight point lead over second placed HC Zlin, with third placed Slavia Prague well adrift by a further ten points, whilst it is much closer here in the UK as the Elite League sees the top four sides separated by only two points with Cardiff currently out in front.
There have been rebuttals on a couple of the columns on this site recently to comments made by Corey Hirsch in response to the ever-growing number of NHL-ers coming over to play in Europe as the lockout grows longer with each passing day.
I agree entirely with all of the assessments of Hirsch's somewhat hypocritical comments where he bemoaned the fact that Martin Gerber had come in and 'stolen' his job over here in Europe. Whilst I agree slightly with Hirsch's argument that the NHL contracted players will bolt back over the Atlantic Ocean quicker than you can say 'lockout is over', he is forgetting that sports run pretty much on the principle of a free market economy.
An honest assessment of Hirsch's abilities are that he is not upto scratch as an NHL goaltender, and he has seen a growing number of European goalies making their mark in the NHL over the past few years. Knowing this, Hirsch then decides to ply his trade over in Europe, and in doing this does he not realise that he has in effect taken the place of a home grown European goaltender? This seems to be conveniently forgotten when he made his rant over the fact that he has lost his starting job. I was however disappointed in comments made by Chris Pronger who weighed in with a clumsy opinion along the lines of 'those Europeans have been taking our jobs for the best part of a decade or so, so who are they to argue now that we are going over?'. It seems very much a case of sour grapes from Hirsch and a pretty uninformed opinion from Pronger but it could it be the first signs of frustration from players regarding the lock-out and the fact they are not currently playing, or in the case of Hirsch, losing a starting position as a result of NHL-ers seeking some playing time.
There was some interesting comments from an agent whose client bank is predominantly drawn from the AHL calibre of player, typical of the sort of player Europe generally attracts may support this. He expressed concern for the home grown younger players who may be pushed down a level in their domestic leagues, having lost a roster spot or ice time to an NHL player only here on a short term basis. This is a similar argument that has been used in soccer here in the UK as more and more foreign players are signed by Premier League teams at the expense of British players.
This is an argument I have always disputed, and believe that if a player is good enough they will rise to the fore wherever they are. If a young player in the Czech Republic or Sweden is good enough, then they will make the roster regardless of whoever is signed.
Surely their long term development can only be enhanced by playing with the likes of the Forsbergs' or Jagrs', a view shared by Finnish center Jukka Voutilainen of HPK, who was recently voted European player of the month by one website.
There was a coup recently here
in the UK for the London Racers who announced the signing of
Florida defenseman Eric Cairns, surely the most high-profile
player to come to the UK for a number of years. It is a shame
his signing barely generated a ripple in the press in the UK.
One hope for me personally is that if the lock-out does continue
throughout the season then more NHL players may head for the
UK (rumours persist that Kirk Maltby may be heading over at some
stage) and give the game here a much needed boost and increase
With the dozen mark of games gone in Sweden, the many NHL-ers are beginning to make an impact on the league. The Linkoping duo of Brendan Morrisson and Kristian Huselius are current at the top of the standings, with Huselius in particular on fire scoring fourteen points in only eight games. Mike Knuble also posted two goals in this weeks win against new boys Mora. Henrik Zetterberg is in third place with thirteen points whilst Djurgaden pair Daniel Tjarnqvist and Nils Ekman are both on twelve points.
No surprise that the top two goaltenders are Frolunda netminder Henrik Lundqvist (.946 save%) and Mikka Kiprussoff (1.63 GAA) of Timra who see their sides one-two respectively in the standings with a five point gap down to Linkoping in third place.
Kiprussoff has helped Timra close the gap on Frolunda with a fantastic past week, posting two shut-outs as they notched a 100% record as Frolunda dropped their last game 3-2 to HV71 who are struggling down in ninth position with only fourteen points through the first dozen games of the season.
Dynamo Moscow have taken over
the top spot in Russia after Vitaly Eremeev posted a shutout
in a 2-0 win over rivals Spartak this week and are now unbeaten
in six games. The game saw an assist from Alexander Ovechkin
and they earned the win despite Maxim Afinogenov being ejected
from the game for abusing referee. He was then suspended for
their 0-0 tie against Lokomotiv, a round of fixtures that also
saw another 0-0 match-up between SKA and Neftekhimik. Severstal
are now in second place following a 4-3 defeat at the hands of
Neftekhimik, which concede three consecutive powerplay goals
to throw away a 2-0 lead. Dynamo now hold a three-point lead
of Severstal after twenty games with Metallurg Magnitorsk and
Neftekhimik just behind. Vladimir Antipov has a four-point lead
at the top of the scoring charts with ten goals and eight assists.
Elsewhere in Europe, It is looking like a two-horse race in the Czech Republic as Sparta Prague and HC Zlin are currently tied on forty points, eleven clear of their nearest rivals Slavia Prague with Jaromir Jagr leading the scoring race .Slovan Bratislava are still top of the pile in Slovakia but Trencin are well placed just behind them with the line of Hossa, Demitra and Gaborik on fire at the moment .There is a three-way tie at the top between Milano Vipers, HC Fassa and SG Cortina .Jokerit and HPK are tied for second in Finland but are still behind Karpat Oulu who remain at the top of the standings. Espoo Blues slip to the bottom of the standings having won only once through fifteen games .Rouen are on top in France but only one point separates the top four sides.
And finally, this week sees the 50th edition of EuroFocus that I have done for the site. Whilst everyone hopes that the NHL lockout is ended as quickly as possible, one consolation is that it does put European hockey in the spotlight for a while and hopefully it will open some eyes and generate a lasting interest in hockey here in Europe even when the NHL does resume operations.
I would like to thank everyone who has read the column and to keep the questions and comments coming, and finally to thank Spectors Hockey for allowing me the opportunity to continue writing and being part of a great site with some excellent and varied columnists.
An undefeated week for Adler Mannheim ensured that they are the hottest team around Europe at the moment. Last night they chalked up their eighth consecutive victory with a 4-1 home win over Wolfsburg, riding the form of goaltender Cristobal Huet despite being outshout 36-33. They were indebted to goals from former NHL-ers Derek Plante and Andy Delmore as they stayed top of the standings ahead of Kolner Haie and ERC Ingolstadt. This followed on from their 7-2 demolition of bottom side Hannover at the weekend on the back of a Jochen Hecht hat-trick. Frankfurt's Pat Lebeau still leads the scoring race with eighteen points but Marco Sturm is storming his way up the leader board and now has thirteen points. Elsewhere in Germany, Matt Herr's game winner gave new DEG Metro Stars coach Butch Goring his first win in a 5-3 win over Augsburg Panthers and Mike York tallied with a goal and two assists to end the Iserlohn Roosters' three game losing streak.
Vastra Frolunda has seen their lead cut in the Swedish Eliteserien to four points following a 3-2 overtime defeat against Timra, who are now second on eighteen points level with Lulea. Star studded MoDo have climbed to fifth place in the standings but Farjestads have dropped out of the top three.
In Finland, there were big wins this week for Karpat and HIFK to make it a three-way tie at the top between themselves and Jokerit. Lukko Rauma have bolstered their roster with the addition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson. In Slovakia, a poor week for Zvolen saw an undefeated Slovan Bratislava take top spot.
Another team who have posted an unbeaten record this week are Dynamo Moscow whose four consecutive wins take them to the top of the Russian Superleague at the expense of Severstal Cherepovets who drop to second place.
Joe Thornton is tied for third place in the Swiss scoring charts, but trails former NHL-ers Stacey Roest and Hnat Domenichelli who have eight goals and fifteen assists apiece. Domenichelli, also sees his Ambri Piotta side lead the charts through twelve games with nineteen points, slightly ahead of Lugano with Thornton's and Rick Nash's Davos side in third place.
Three teams advanced last weekend from round 2 of the IIHF Continental Cup to take their place in the semi-finals of the competition. Kazzinc Torpedo, Milano Vipers and Sokol Kiev all advance to join Norwegian Champions Storhamar Dragons in the next stage of the competition in mid-November. Torpedo went through winning all three of their games, as did Kiev who disappointed Polish hosts Unia Oswiecim. Not so easy for Milano who tied 2-2 with British side Nottingham Panthers in game one of their group, a game in which the Panthers were twice ahead. It was to be a tie that would prove costly for them as although they defeated Ljubljana and Amiens in their remaining games, the Italian side matched their efforts but scored more goals to advance through on goal differential.
The past few months have seen
a succession of both European and North American players head
over to Europe to sign contracts for teams in Europe following
the lockout in the NHL. This week though, there was a deal which
reversed that trend and saw a European head over to North America.
In the first instance of a player transfer since the expiry of
the IIHF-NHL agreement on player compensation expired, Russian
prospect Andrei Kostitsyn is on his way to Montreal for a transfer
fee of $300,000. Just eighteen years old and a former first round
pick in 2003, Kostitsyn is highly regarded within the Canadiens
What is interesting regarding some of the recent signings is that players are not only focusing on the major hockey playing nations but also 'second tier' countries such as France, Italy and the UK. It is going to be interesting to hear the feedback from North American players once the lockout has ended regarding how they have found the hockey and the lifestyle. Personally, I would think most of the players will look back on their time fondly and will take a great deal of experience back home with them.
In Germany, Pat Lebeau of Frankfurt ties the scoring charts at this early stage with four goals and six assists, along with Pascal Trepanier who has tallied nine assists so far. Mannheim Adler are the hottest team in the DEL currently and are unbeaten in six games following Jochen Hecht's four point night in Sunday's 5-2 win over Iserlohn Roosters. ERC Ingolstadt are also hot and big nights from Marco Sturm and Cameron Mann saw them thrash expansion side Grizzy Adams Wolfsburg, who at least have the consolation of owning the worst nickname in pro-sports.
Powerhouses Severstal Cherepovets and Metallurg Magnitorsk lead the way in Russia after the fifteen game mark and the NHL connection of Pavel Rosa, Dmitry Yushkevich and Alexei Morozov feature in the top ten scorers but they are all behind Vladimir Antipov of Lokomotiv who has fifteen points so far. Fred Braithwaite struggled and was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals for his side AK Bars Kazan against Magintorsk.
Elsewhere, the early standings in Europe have seen Sparta Prague and HC Zlin pull clear with an eight point lead in the Czech Republic,Vastra Frolunda take an early lead in Sweden after siz games and Jokerit Helsinki allow only six goals in nine games as the post a 7-2 record at the top in Finlands SM-Liga.
There was a recent article written by Al Strachan in the Toronto Sun- which was touched upon in a recent 'Soapbox' column, where he examined the possibility of a European-wide league being able to rival the NHL should there be a prolonged lockout.
The idea is something that should not totally dismissed and there are some interesting points that he raised which the NHL should concern itself with. In fact, Europe will see a continent wide tournament this season featuring the Champions of the top six ranked European countries according to the IIHF rankings and this could well be a precursor to a future 'Super league'
Perhaps the biggest advantage the NHL has over the creation of a European league would be the salary levels its' teams can offer, but with the NHL seemingly hell bent on imposing a salary cap on NHL teams this would change the pay structure in the NHL. Players would be offered lower salaries which may not be substantially higher than they could command in Europe. This could certainly tempt European players (especially at the latter stage of their careers) who feel that for a comparable salary they would prefer to see out the remainder of their careers in their homeland, and this is something the likes of Peter Forsberg and Niklas Lindstrom have often expressed a desire to do.
Fan support would not be a problem in the major hockey playing countries, and teams in Germany and Switzerland also feature highly in the annual European attendance charts. An advantage here is the fact that in most European countries hockey is the second biggest sport played after soccer, and in some countries there is not much difference in popularity between the two at all so hockey will not be competing for fans and TV revenues against other bigger profile sports. As Strachan also mentioned, many cities across Europe can now boast newly built arenas with the capacity to generate large amounts of revenue. Even in less established hockey markets such as here in the UK, they can boast a passionate and knowledgeable support which would turn out to support such a franchise that featured quality former NHL-ers.
Establishing a TV deal should be straightforward as the IIHF already has a media partner in place for existing competitions and fans will certainly tune in for games as they already currently do in the early hours across Europe for their fix of NHL action.
Broadcasting companies and networks would all be keen to secure a deal for the rights for any tournament, and there should be no problem in then selling the rights on to networks in the various European countries.
However, whilst valid, I think all of the points that were mentioned are a touch simplistic.
Whilst the possibilities are certainly in place for any league to be created, I believe it will be extremely difficult for any league to become successful quickly enough to have any impact on the NHL. Don't forget, although quality players have come across to Europe in droves, they will all be heading back across the Atlantic should the NHL season start up again. Players are only here on a temporary basis, and each individual country is still playing their own domestic league (some of which have recently gotten underway). For any European league to be created, the NHL lockout would have to stretch well into a second season and even then any league would be set up with the spectre of the NHL resuming operations at any time.
Perhaps more crucially, a change in hockey culture will also have to take place. Over the last twenty years, any kid growing up playing hockey, be it in Edmonton, Moscow, New York or Helsinki has the aim and ambition of playing in the NHL. This is because it is the highest profile league and the best players from around the world come to play in it. There would have to be a tremendous shift in this culture for European players to still not look first and foremost across to the North America to achieve their dreams, and again this is not something that could be achieved overnight.
Attracting North American players to any league would also be a challenge, as whilst it may be attractive to European players to play in their home countries, will high profile North Americans really come to play in Europe if a similar league (whether this is the NHL or not) is operational in North America?
Ultimately, my own belief is that the any chance of success a European league to rival the NHL has is dependent on the NHL tearing itself apart. Any league which sets itself up as a rival to a strong, established, existing league generally ends up failing (as in the case of the WHA, and in football the USFL and XFL in more recent times) as an existing league is simply too strong to be overtaken.
Assuming compromise is met between the two sides in the current dispute then this will have been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides (with some give and take involved of course) which will leave the NHL still in a position of power, with players ready to play and the public and TV companies with an appetite for the game the NHL has to offer.
However, if the league refuses to compromise to settle the dispute and the union and players end up being forced back to play and a public and TV companies disenchanted with the game then maybe Europe will be in a far stronger position to offer an alternative for hockey's future.
Hockey here in the UK, and in
particular Manchester, has been dealt a huge blow this past month
with the news that the Manchester Phoenix have reluctantly announced
they will not ice a team to compete in the 2004-05 Elite League
season. The side who were born out of the ashes of the Manchester
Storm franchise were blighted by financial problems last season
and could not find a viable agreement to continue to play at
the M.E.N. Arena this season. Other avenues were investigated
but the management and directors have decided that it was far
better to secure the long term future of the side by taking a
The club admits it is disappointing
to take this decision, particular with the support the new franchise
received last season with the side reaching the playoff semi-finals,
and including several locally born and trained players on the
The summer has seen several NHL-ers sign preliminary contracts with European sides in the event of any lock out next season, but amongst all of the high-profile names set to come over to Europe are several NHL players who have decided to sign for European sides regardless of any stoppage. With the potential make-up of rosters still very much up in the air, it does look the German DEL is shaping up to be one of the strongest leagues based on signings so far.
The Nurnberg Ice Tigers have been active in snapping up Drew Bannister from Espoo Blues in addition to Mike Green and Brad Tapper, whilst Adler Mannheim have picked up the duo of Andy Delmore and Eric Healey. Other former NHL-ers to commit to the DEL for next season so far are Shawn Heins, Brandon Reid and Steve Brule.
As the deadline to the CBA expiry
looms ever nearer, more and more players are rumoured to being
both approached or searching for sides over in Europe. With the
seasons in Europe also starting earlier than the provisional
date for the NHL season, many more players on the periphery with
NHL teams could still take the safety first decision to come
over to Europe for the forthcoming season.
|The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Eurofocus copyright (C) 2005 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.|