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Eye on Europe: Olympic preparation

Dinamo Moscow forward Jiri Hudler will suit up for the Czechs at the Euro Hockey Tour (Andrey Golubev, Jansons Media)

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Dinamo Moscow forward Jiri Hudler will suit up for the Czechs at the Euro Hockey Tour (Andrey Golubev, Jansons Media)

It’s time for another national team break as the top four European hockey nations – Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic  – play the second phase of the annual Euro Hockey Tour in Helsinki.

With the deadline to set Olympic rosters looming, the fall tournament is considered especially important for European-based players hoping to make the cut for their countries in Vancouver.

Team Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen called his team “the best Euro Hockey Tour team in my time,” when he unveiled the roster featuring such veterans as Ossi Vaananen, Ville Peltonen, Niko Kapanen, Tommi Santala and Lasse Kukkonen.

In Sweden, the roster spot that got most of the attention was the one left vacant, as head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson named only 22 players to the tournament, fueling speculations of a Peter Forsberg comeback. Two years ago, Forsberg was expected to make a comeback in this tournament, but he withdrew after the first practice because of his nagging ankle injury.

The average age of Team Sweden is 30, with 29-year-old Christian Backman coming in as the youngest. The oldest player on the team is Marcus Ragnarsson, at 38.

The Czech team includes former Detroit Red Wing Jiri Hudler, Pavel Brendl, who was the fourth overall selection in the 1999 NHL draft, and Tomas Rolinek. All in all, eight of the players come to the squad from the Kontinental League.

Russia’s head coach Vyacheslav Bykov will rely on his trusted players such as goaltender Alexander Eremenko, defensemen Ilya Nikulin and Dmitri Kalinin, and forwards Alexander Radulov, Viktor Kozlov and Oleg Saprykin.

MEANWHILE IN GERMANY
Peter Laviolette was named head coach of Team USA for this year’s Deutschland Cup, an international tournament that will see his team play against Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany Nov. 6-8. Ten players from the American team will come from the German DEL league, with a few additions from other European leagues.

There are four players on the American squad from the Finnish SM-liiga: Goaltender David Leggio and forward Mike Radja from TPS Turku, and defenseman Charlie Cook and forward Justin Morrison from Lukko Rauma, the team on top of the standings. Morrison is fourth in Finnish league scoring, with 18 points in 16 games.

The only American in the Swedish Elite League, Djurgarden’s defenseman Kyle Klubertanz, also got the call.

TRAVELING MAN
Former first overall NHL draft pick Alexandre Daigle has been investigating the Swiss doghouses recently. First he was traded from Davos to Fribourg (and then back), and now he’s been traded again, this time to Langnau, which is currently 10th in the standings.

Daigle has six points in six games this season.

He’ll debut on his new team Friday, just as the hockey gods would want it, against Davos.

LITHUANIA EYES A KHL TEAM
A couple of weeks ago, KHL teams SKA St. Petersburg and Ak Bars Kazan played a regular season game in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The game prompted interest in the league and a local consortium led by Vetra, a local sports club, is now looking into adding a team in the Baltic country.

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According to the KHL, the Lithuanians have approached the league to see what criteria they would have to meet to get a team and to put together a concrete proposal. Last season, the KHL played two games in Espoo, Finland, but the response was lukewarm at best, attracting less than 3,000 spectators.

LADA IN TROUBLE
The financial crisis has hit the KHL as well. Last week, the league announced it had adopted measures to support Lada Togliatti, a team struggling with its finances, sending $580,000 (US) their way for operating expenses.

THE KID CAN PLAY
Teenage phenom Mikael Granlund played his first SM-liiga game last season. Then he got tangled up in a contract dispute with Oulu Karpat, left the team, and signed with Helsinki IFK, before coming back to Karpat for the junior playoffs. He also, unforgettably, set the Under-18 World Championship on fire with his linemates, Teemu Pulkkinen and Toni Rajala, as the three combined for 45 points in six games.

So, the expectations were high this season for the 17-year-old kid, but Granlund has more than met them. He’s currently fifth in league scoring, leading his team with five goals and 13 assists in 16 games, playing about 16 minutes a game.

HOME SWEET HOME
The last time Farjestad had lost a game in their home rink, Lofbergs Lila Arena in Karlstad, Sweden, was on Dec. 11, 2008 when HV71 beat them 3-2. Farjestad went on to win 24 consecutive games at home, en route to the 2009 SEL championship.

But the streak ended when Lulea robbed Farjestad of a win in overtime on Oct. 24. In their next game at home, Farjestad tied Frolunda Indians 1-1 (and there’s no shootout after an overtime in Sweden).

With one streak broken, the team now hopes to keep another one alive: Farjestad still hasn’t lost a home game in regulation time in almost 11 months.

There’s always something.

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. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

 

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