Steve Kariya signed with JYP after playing with HPK last season. (Miro Pesonen, Jansons Media)
The second-fastest way to get a team going – an early-morning bag skate being the best – is to get some new players. Thanks to the global downturn, and the usual volatility of the hockey managers’ tempers, there are still a lot of players available – and in rotation.
Finnish champions JYP finally found a replacement for Jarkko Immonen, the team’s leading scorer last year, when they signed Steve Kariya to a one-year contract.
The JYP front office can be pretty confident nobody will get fired, or even yelled at, for signing Kariya, who’s now with his fourth team in the Finnish league after three other successful stops.
In his first season, with Ilves Tampere, Kariya scored 24 goals and 59 points in 55 games to claim the scoring title. The season after that, he collected 49 points with Espoo Blues and then bolted for the Swedish Elitserien, signing a rare two-year contract with the Frolunda Indians. Back in Finland last season, he scored 54 points in 58 games with Hameenlinna HPK.
“I don’t know why I’ve changed teams that often,” said Kariya on JYP’s website. “To be honest, I’m proud of my work and money is a part of the sport, but everybody who knows me, also knows that I could have always signed for more somewhere else.
“When you sign a one-year deal, you’re always out of a job in the spring.”
It only took him 11 minutes to score his first SM-liiga goal of the season – in a game against SaiPa – and he added an assist in the second period. Even with Kariya, though, JYP lost the game after SaiPa rallied back from a 3-2 deficit and then scored the game-winner in the last second of the game.
One-time first round draft pick Radek Bonk left the NHL after last season to play with Yaroslavl in the Kontinental League. Things didn’t work out the way Bonk had imagined and he decided to return to his native Czech Republic after just seven games.
In the end, Bonk chose to sign with HC Ocelári Trinec, currently fifth in the standings.
"With hindsight, I regret (going to the KHL) a little bit, of course I'd prefer to play in the NHL,” Bonk told the Czech media. “Now I’m in Trinec, and I want to help the team. This is the only thing I’m focused on now.”
He was expected to play his first game Friday.
They won the Swedish championship in 2008, lost the final in 2009 and early this season, HV71 seems poised to bring the trophy back to Jonkoping. And they’re doing it with style.
In an early-season rematch of the final, HV71, first in the standings, took on Farjestad, second, and routed them 8-0. One of the keys to the HV71’s success is their first line, which is centered by former Anaheim Duck and New York Islander Johan Davidsson. Jonkoping’s hometown boy is currently tied for the lead in league scoring with 13 points in seven games.
In fact, HV71 has four players on its first five-man unit in the top five in league scoring. Jukka Voutilainen has 11 points (six goals) in seven games, tied with HV71 defensemen David Petrasek and Pasi Puistola.
HV71 has scored 35 goals in seven games, 12 more than the second highest-scoring teams, Lulea and Djurgarden. Another Jonkoping native, goaltender Stefan Liv, takes care of the other end of the rink. He’s faced 192 shots, most in the Elitserien, but his 2.43 goals-against average is fourth-lowest.
WHAT’S ZERO IN RUSSIAN?
The KHL elected its stars of the week and while they don’t pick a first star, it would have been easy to choose as Traktor Chelyabinsk goaltender Danila Alistratov was beaten just once in two games, leading his team to two wins.
Along the way, he broke his club’s shutout record, keeping the puck out of the net for 147:20.
Other stars of the week were Metallurg Magnitogorsk defenseman Vitaly Atyushov, Dynamo Riga forward Alexander Nizhivy and Swedish forward Linus Omark of Dynamo Moscow.
The Frolunda Indians, out of Gothenburg, were the favorite to win the Swedish title this season – and probably still are, even if the team currently finds itself in the middle of a four-game losing streak.
Former NHLer and current Frolunda coach Ulf Dahlen has a great roster to work with, starting with goaltender Johan Holmqvist, to defensemen Janne Niskala and Mikko Lehtonen and forwards Riku Hahl, P-J Axelsson and Andreas Karlsson – all former NHLers as well.
The pressure mounts – ironically – on the shoulders of Joel Lundqvist, who signed a six-year contract with the club in the summer and was made captain, but has been unable to play yet, due to a shoulder injury.
The Frolunda front office hopes Lundqvist will be their Steve Kariya.
But better than Kariya was when he played in Frolunda.
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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