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Eye on Europe: High Marks

Jacob Markstrom was taken in the second round (31st overall) by Florida in 2008. (Getty Images)

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Jacob Markstrom was taken in the second round (31st overall) by Florida in 2008. (Getty Images)

What a season it’s been for Jacob Markström. He topped the goaltending statistics in the Swedish Elitserien and this week he was named both the Rookie of the Year – even though he’s playing in his third Elitserien season, he’s still under 20 and therefore eligible – and Goalie of the Year.

“It was really easy to name the goalie of the year,” said Leif ‘Honken’ Holmqvist, legendary Team Sweden goalie and namesake of the Honken Trophy. “He’s been in a league of his own all season and has taken his team, Brynäs, to the post-season two years in a row and was very close to making the Olympic team.”

Markström’s 2.01 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 43 games were the best in the Elitserien. He also led the league in shutouts, with five. Brynäs finished sixth in the regular season and takes on Djurgården in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s an honor to get these awards,” Markstrom said. “It’s proof that I’ve done at least something right.”

The 20-year-old goalie is expected to sign with the Florida Panthers for next season. 

“That would be a dream come true,” he said.

SHAKE ON IT
In the wake of the swine flu epidemic in the fall, the Finnish SM-liiga advised teams that they should stop shaking hands after the games. In Finland, the players usually shake hands after each regular season game.
The hands came back out on Friday, on the eve of the last regular season games in the league, and will then be kept in the gloves – hopefully – until the end of each playoff series.

HUDLER CZECHS OUT
With the Olympics just a few weeks behind us, the national team coaches are already looking forward to the World Championship in Germany. As teams get ousted from the playoffs, the coaches try to put their pieces together, but for the players, it means a good six to seven weeks of training camp, trying to stay in shape until the puck drops in Cologne and Mannheim on May 8.

One player who didn’t want to take that challenge was former Detroit Red Wings center Jiri Hudler, who informed Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka he will not be available.

“A lot of things are a matter of communication,” Ruzicka told hokej.cz. “But it’s always been true that I like to work with only those players who wish to represent their country. I can’t make them. And do not want to.”

SWEDEN NO HUB FOR KHL
Last fall, it was announced the Russian Kontinental League had invested in HUB, a Swedish hockey development company busy at work with a feasibility study on a European hockey league. Early this year, though, HUB CEO Hakan Loob left his post and returned to his position as the CEO of Farjestad BK. Frolunda chairman Per-Anders Ortendahl took over as the CEO of HUB, with the task of overseeing Phase 2 of the study.

Things have changed, though. Originally a project driven by the five big teams in Sweden – Djurgarden, Frolunda, Farjestad, HV71 and Linkoping – it has now cast a wider net, with the entire Elitserien having seats on the HUB board. Also, the vision and timetable for a possible new league has changed.

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“The KHL is no longer involved in HUB, we’re driving it on our own now, within Swedish hockey,” Loob said. “We had an agreement, but some things weren’t fully followed so it was terminated. The five Nordic Trophy clubs will finance it further, but the KHL did invest a certain amount in Phase 1.

“Our goal is to create a major dialogue with clubs in Europe, to create something that builds on the existing structures and that won’t strain the clubs’ economies too much. We need to increase the international contacts between the professional hockey leagues in Europe.”

Loob didn’t shut any doors on working together with the KHL.

“We’re more than keen on discussing inter-league play with the KHL,” he said. “One thing that has changed is that the clubs have signed a contract to play within the Elitserien until 2012, so the time frame is different now.”

…BUT KHL INTENDS TO EXPAND
The KHL announced Friday it had signed a letter of intent with Ukrainian hockey club Budivelnyk in Kiev for the club to play in the KHL, starting next season, provided it meets the appropriate rules, regulations and bylaws necessary. 
 
According to the KHL, the deadline was set for April 1, 2010.
 
Last week, the Russian league announced a similar signing of a letter of intent with Hradec Kralove Lions in the Czech Republic’s second-tier league. It had also signed a similar agreement with Stockholm AIK, but the Swedish Federation turned down the team’s request to play in the KHL.

“We’ll honor that decision,” AIK’s chairman Peter Mellqvist said, prior to the announcement. “We’d never go against the federation’s wishes in this question.”

KHL president Alexander Medvedev didn’t mince words when talking about Swedish hockey in a recent story published in Russian Sport-Express.

“Everything that has happened once again shows that the federations of several European countries have strange views on European hockey,” he said. “First, I have in mind the Swedes who stopped the KHL’s expansion, blocking AIK Stockholm’s entry in our league, even if the club now plays in the second division and is doomed to stagnation financially, commercially, and hockey-wise.”

Referring to the death of the Champions Hockey League, Medvedev added: “I do not understand what the Swedes want and what they seek. I would like to ask: How do you see the development of European hockey? You want to vegetate on the margins of the NHL?”

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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