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Eye On Europe: Hedman head of the class

Victor Hedman is expected to go No. 1 or No. 2 in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Mark Wilson)

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Victor Hedman is expected to go No. 1 or No. 2 in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Mark Wilson)

Modo’s Victor Hedman was elected rookie of the year in the Swedish Elitserien. The 18-year-old defenseman “was decisive and consistent all season. He has a good hockey sense, takes initiatives, and is expected to have a great future,” the jury said.

Hedman played 43 games, collected 21 points and was plus-21, good for third in the league.

“Of course I’m pleased with my own season, even if everything turned into crap when Modo didn’t make the playoffs,” Hedman told the Elitserien’s website.

After Modo was ousted from the playoffs, Hedman played with the club’s under-20 team in their post-season before reporting to the Team Sweden world championship training camp.

“It’s fantastic to be at the camp,” he said. “I’ll do my best here and in the exhibition games to make the team, but the competition for the spots is fierce.”

Even if Hedman makes the team, his season won’t really end until the NHL draft in June where he’s expected to go…well, as high as first.

“I think about the draft every once in a while now that it’s approaching,” Hedman said. “We’ll see how it goes, but I know that if I play in the Elitserien next season, there’s only one team for me and that’s Modo.”

In addition to the honor, the rookie of the year also gets 50,000 Swedish kronor ($7,500) to donate to the junior organization of his club. Also, the parents of the rookie get 10,000 kronor ($1,500).

Victor Hedman started his career as a goalie – just like his father Olle – but was convinced to leave the crease by his mother.

“She didn’t want me to be a goalie,” he said. “So I said I’d be a skater if I got a new helmet, and I got it for Christmas.”

Other nominees were Hedman’s good friend and favorite to win, Jacob Markström of Brynas, as well as Kristofer Berglund of Lulea and Tom Wandell from Timra. 


NO LAUGHING, PLEASE, WE’RE FINNISH
Even though the Finnish SM-liiga playoffs are underway with the final starting next week, another high-stakes game has got a lot of media attention: the qualification series where the loser of the SM-liiga playouts takes on the winner of Mestis – the division below SM-liiga.

In the qualification series, the biggest stars are the coaches.

Pori Ässät has former NHL coach Alpo Suhonen behind the bench as it tries to defend its spot in the SM-liiga. Vaasa Sport is led by Juhani Tamminen, former Team Finland captain and WHA player, who, during his tenure as Team France coach, was given the nickname ‘The Sun King’ by Finnish media.

Sport upset Ässät in the first game, but the SM-liiga team then took two straight wins to tilt the best-of-seven series to its advantage.

In the post-game press conference after Game 3, Tamminen told a reporter to leave the room after he had smiled at the coach’s comments about the refereeing. After he asked the reporter how many SM-liiga games he had played and got the answer, “zero,” he went on.

“That’s right,” Tamminen said. “Everybody who’s smiling here now can leave the room. I can’t stand one smiling reporter now. This is not a laughing matter, this is serious.”

LIV IT UP
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is nicknamed ‘The Monster.’ And while his stats supported that after the first two rounds of the Swedish Elitserien playoffs – a save percentage of .979, five shutouts in eight games – he didn’t scare the HV71 players in the first game of the final, which HV71 won 4-1.

Instead, the big hero was the goalie at the end of the rink. Stefan Liv stopped 34 shots and improved his save percentage to .942 in the post-season.

In 2004, when HV71 won the Swedish title, Liv had four shutouts in the seven final games. Last season, when HV71 won the title for the third time in franchise history, Liv led all goaltenders in save percentage (.937) and was the only goalie with a goals-against average under 2.00.

In short: Liv knows what it takes. He’s been to the final twice and won both times. (HV71 has never lost an Elitserien final and has three titles.)

In November, the 28-year-old sustained a groin injury that limited him to only 35 appearances, but also gave him a chance to rebuild his game and restart a season that had gotten off to a shaky start.

“I think I tried to do too much,” Liv told THN earlier this year. “That may also have caused the injury, too. Maybe I was overdoing things, trying to do others’ jobs as well.

“I worked on my lateral movements, skating, and worked out, and it was nice to be able to do that without being rushed. I got to start the season all over again, so maybe the injury saved my season.”
   
Maybe the groin saved HV71’s season.

DOUBLE OR NOTHING
Czech Extraliga fans will see a rematch of last year’s final as Slavia Prague and Karlovy Vary get ready to kick off the best-of-seven series for the title.

Last season, Slavia Prague won the championship by beating Karlovy Vary 4-2 in Game 7. Roman Cervenka scored the game-winning goal.

This post-season, Cervenka has been just as hot, notching 17 points in 12 games, identical numbers to Jaroslav Bednar. Both men have scored nine goals in the 12 games, tied for third in the league.

Marek Melenovský is Karlovy Vary’s leading scorer with 11 points in 10 games.

Regular season winner Slavia starts the series on the road due to a scheduling conflict at their O2 Arena in Prague. Volleyball’s Final Four Champions League takes over the arena, so the Extraliga changed its playoff schedule to 2-3-1-1 instead of the usual 2-2-1-1-1. The series kicked off Friday.

Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. 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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