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Eye on Europe: The playoff picture

Former Ranger Jarkko Immonen finished second in Finnish League scoring with 23 goals and 41 points. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Former Ranger Jarkko Immonen finished second in Finnish League scoring with 23 goals and 41 points. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It has been a great season for German hockey.

The Eisbären Berlin or Berlin Polar Bears – formerly Dynamo Berlin of the Soviet-era German Democratic Republic – beat both Finnish champions Oulun Kärpät and Russian heavyweight Metallurg Magnitogorsk, winners of the 2008 European Champions Cup in the group stage of the Champions Hockey League. The victories prove a German club team can compete at the highest level in Europe.

Then as the regular season ended and the final figures came in, it was revealed a new Deutschland Elite League attendance record had been set this season.

More than 2.4 million fans attended the 416 DEL games played in 2008-09 for an average of 5,867 per game, a jump of about 350 per game. Seven of the 16 teams increased their attendance figures this season over last.

A big part of the increase can be attributed to Eisbären Berlin. The Anschutz-owned current German hockey dynasty moved from the old Sportforum Hohenschönhausen arena, with a capacity of 4,700, to the ultramodern O2 World, with a capacity of 14,200. The team played in front of capacity crowds - selling out a dozen games and never having fewer than 13,000 spectators. Berlin finished on top of the DEL standings.

“We’re pleased to have stabilized and even improved our attendance figures, even when we know that the difficult economic situation is not going to leave hockey untouched,” said Gernot Tripcke, the league’s CEO.

He added: “We’re confident that the arenas will be very well attended in the most important time of the season as well.”

The DEL playoffs kicked off Thursday with teams finishing seven through 10 battling for the two spots in the quarterfinals.

IMMONEN-T VICTORY
In the 1970s, Finnish school children were taught that Jyväskylä was the center of the country in terms of population distribution. That is no longer the case for the city of approximately 130,000, but it is for the local SM-liiga team, which claimed its first league title in 17 years.

Led by former New York Ranger Jarkko Immonen – the league’s second-leading scorer with 23 goals and 41 points, just two points behind IFK Helsinki’s Kim Hirschovits – Jyväskylä took the lead in October and never relinquished it.

The SM-liiga regular season winner has won 15 titles in the 33 years the Finnish league has had the playoff system in place.

THE SWEDISH F-WORD
There’s no clear definition for what constitutes a dynasty in hockey, but it’s safe to assume any team that makes it to the final eight times in 12 seasons – including six consecutive finals from 2001 to 2006 – and wins it all twice (2002 and 2006), is a force.

When that same team also claimed the regular season title this season and has finished in the top-four 12 of the past 13 seasons, you can be sure it’s a dynasty, meaning Färjestad is the team to hate in Sweden – for those outside Karlstad, that is.

In the end, Färjestad beat second-place Linköping by seven points and rookie coach Ulf Dahlen’s Frölunda club by eight. That’s a reward for a job well done for former Tre Kronor great (and FBK legend) Thomas Rundqvist who took over as Färjestad’s GM this season when Hakan Loob, became the club’s CEO.

“Of course I’m happy, the team finished first,” Rundqvist told THN.com.

He added: “I knew it would take some time for everything to come together, and I think that acquiring (Red Wings prospect) Dick Axelsson and Marcus Paulsson gave us the depth we needed.”
 
The Färjestad family takes care of its members. Loob, Rundqvist and head coach Tommy Samuelsson are three of the four players who have had their sweaters retired by the team. The other is Ulf Sterner.

“We’re all really close and we discuss things a lot, but at the same time we recognize who’s in charge of what,” Rundqvist said. “Sometimes things get a little heated, but we all want to do what’s best for the hockey club.”

Marcus Paulsson scored the game-winning goal in the first quarterfinal on Thursday when FBK beat Brynäs 2-0 on the road.

LIONS SLEEP TONIGHT
The reigning Swiss champions and recent Champions League-winning Zurich Lions won’t be the Swiss champions this year. They were swept out of the playoffs by Fribourg, which won Thursday’s Game 4 in overtime.

The Lions seemed to be getting back on track, nursing a 2-1 lead in the third period, when Fribourg tied the game with just 12 seconds remaining. Julien Sprunger finished his hat trick after nine-and-a-half minutes into the extra frame.

The Kloten Flyers swept Geneve and are through to the semifinal. Geneve rallied from a 5-2 deficit on Thursday, tying the game with six seconds remaining and taking it to a 20-minute extra period, but Kloten finished the series off in a penalty shootout.

SC Bern, the regular season winner, isn’t cruising to the semifinals. Their best-of-seven series against EV Zug is tied at two games each after a 5-2 loss on Thursday.

HC Davos needs just one more win over Lugano to advance. Their next chance is on Saturday.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Finnish SM-liiga CEO Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen published a statement on the league website to remind players of the need to respect each other.

“While hockey is a contact sport, and bodychecking mustn’t be forgotten, every player must also remember and intuitively understand the consequences that hitting without respect may have,” he wrote.

“Management should respect the coaches, the coaches should respect the management and referees, but most of all, players, as the workers in the entertainment business, should respect each other as competitors and professionals.”

The letter was a response to criticism the league has faced regarding the quality of on-ice officiating and its suspension policies.

Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen. 

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