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Eye on Europe: Happy returns

Jan Hlavac (blue) is sixth in scoring in the Swedish Elitserien. (Photo by Lars Andersson/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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Jan Hlavac (blue) is sixth in scoring in the Swedish Elitserien. (Photo by Lars Andersson/Bongarts/Getty Images)

What a difference three months can make. In October, reigning Finnish champions, Jyp, were in a downward spiral. Their start – just one win in their first eight games – was the worst for a champion in the past 25 years.

The team seemed to miss Jarkko Immonen, its star center who finished second in league scoring, before signing with AK Bars Kazan in the Kontinental League. The addition of Steve Kariya helped a little, even if Kariya himself – who won the SM-liiga scoring title in 2005 – has only scored 18 points in 21 games.

“We had bad luck early in the season, we probably deserved to win at least some of those games,” Jyp coach Risto Dufva told Finnish MTV3 after a six-game winning streak in November. “It was important that we didn’t panic, but just kept on working hard.”

The team is playing well above .500 hockey and has climbed to third in the standings, 16 points behind Lukko, which is still holding down second place despite a slump that’s seen the team win just one of its past six games.

With Lukko struggling and a three-point system in place, the SM-liiga is still wide open. Only 10 points separate third-place Jyp and 10th-place Jokerit, holding onto the last post-season berth. Then again, Pelicans, 13th in a 14-team league, is only four points behind Jokerit.

FIVE TIMES THE HERO
Djurgardens IF has been one of the positive surprises this season, thanks to a good mix of young players – such as world junior centers Marcus Kruger and Jacob Josefson, and goaltender Stefan Ridderwall – and, if not old, at least experienced players like Marcus Nilson and Marcus Ragnarsson.

And then there’s the new coach, former Team Sweden bench boss Hardy Nilsson, who’s used to winning. When Nilsson last coached DIF, the team celebrated back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001

Nilsson has also managed to reignite some of his trusted players, such as Jimmie Olvestad, who captained the team in the past two seasons. The grinder, energy player has already surpassed his previous points total record (22 in 2007) with his 15 goals and 23 points. Olvestad’s previous record for goals in a season was 10, in 2006.

And on Thursday, in a game against the Forsberg-less and Naslund-less – out due to a rib injury and a cold, respectively – Modo, Olvestad scored five goals and tied a 22-year-old club record. The league record is six, held by Tomas Forslund (Leksand), from 1994. Only four players have scored five goals in a game in the Elitserien history.

“Even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn every once in a while,” Olvestad said.

CZECH THIS OUT
Linkoping’s Czech forwards Jan Hlavac and Jaroslav Hlinka have been creating havoc in the Elitserien since their arrival in late October. Hlavac is sixth in league scoring with 25 goals and 38 points in 25 games. Hlinka, the playmaker, has 29 assists and 37 points in 25 games, placing him eighth in the league.

Impressive, especially since the players ahead of them in the scoring race have almost 40 games under their belt.

Of course, the first name on the list is Tony Martensson, a Linkoping teammate of the Czechs’. Also, team captain Magnus Johansson – the only European-based defenseman on Sweden’s Olympic roster – is sandwiched between Hlavac and Hlinka in the scoring race, placing seventh.

TAKE ME OUT TO A HOCKEY GAME
The Frolunda Indians are the proud European attendance record-holder in hockey, thanks to the 31,144 spectators who came to see their game against Farjestad at Ullevi soccer stadium.

However, Austrian Klagenfurt is trying to take that record from them on Saturday, when they take their Austrian League game against Villach to the Sportpark soccer stadium in Klagenfurt. The capacity of the arena is 27,500, but with additional stands, the organizers hope to make room for 31,500 spectators.

HAVE STICK, WILL TRAVEL
Defenseman Josef Boumedienne started his season playing for coach Glen Hanlon with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL. When Hanlon was fired, Boumedienne’s status with the team was unclear for a while as management and coaches had different messages.

There’s no guessing about his role with Minsk anymore as Boumedienne signed with EV Zug in the Swiss National League A. He ended up playing 17 games in the KHL, collecting seven assists while being a minus-5.

Counting EV Zug, the 32-year-old defenseman has now played for 14 teams in five countries since 2000.

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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