Peter Forsberg has ruled out a return to the NHL this season, but could find his way back on the ice in Sweden. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Few players exemplify hockey’s progress as a true international sport as well as Sebastién Bordeleau and Ryan Gardner, two second-generation Canadian-born pro players who now play under different flags. Bordeleau plays for France and Gardner - who got his Swiss citizenship last year – plays for Switzerland.
Bordeleau, the son of Paulin Bordeleau - also a French national team player - will be wearing the tricolors this weekend when France takes on Kazakhstan, Denmark, and Norway in the Olympic qualification tournament in Oslo, Norway.
Gardner on the other hand, is eyeing a spot in the World Championship on Swiss home ice in April, and then the Olympics on, well, another home ice in Vancouver in 2010.
Gardner has a lot of former NHLers in his family, including father Dave Gardner, grandfather Cal, and uncle Paul. Ryan is in his 12th season in Switzerland, where he also started his career during the years his father played with Ambri-Piotta.
Gardner, a key player on the Zurich Lions that claimed the first Champions Hockey League title last week, was earlier this season named to Canadian-born coach Ralph Krueger’s 40-man Swiss roster. From this pool of players, he he will choose his team for the tournament.
"Ryan's unique, in the obvious way, as he's the tallest player in Switzerland," Krueger said about the 6-foot-6 forward earlier this season.
"He's worked so hard to get where he is today. He's been a 10-year non-stop improvement project and he's made it through hard work and persistence. He's a Tomas Holmstrom kind of a player, who loves to go to where it hurts, and he's got good hands. Also, he's a very respected player in the locker room.”
Gardner gets to skip this week’s national team tournament - with games against Slovakia and Belarus - to get some rest after a grueling first half of the season where National League A games were scheduled around eight Champions Hockey League tilts. In the NLA, he’s collected 49 points in 43 games, tenth most in the league, and leads his team in scoring.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Gardner said. “First there’s the World Championship in Switzerland and in 2010, the Olympics in Canada. That would be a dream.”
And if Bordeleau’s dreams come true that’s where they’ll meet.
As European leagues take their last break for international tournaments, the break also serves as the perfect cliffhanger in several leagues.
In Finland, with about 10 games to go, the top five teams are within five points. And if that’s not enough suspense, teams between seven and 12 are within seven points, a difference between heaven and hell.
In Finland, the first six teams qualify for playoffs, seven to 10 play a pre-playoff series in a best-of-three format, and the remaining four teams continue their season in “playouts” where the losing team will face the winner of Mestis, the second-tier league in Finland.
In Sweden, Linköping has a five-point lead over Farjestad at the top, but teams placed between six and 11 are within six points of each other. The first eight qualify for the playoffs and, similar to Finland, the 11th-placed team has to play a relegation series with the 12th-placed team and four teams from the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan.
In Czech Republic, the playoff race is just as close. Vitkovice sit sixth with 72 points (in 47 games), Plzen 10th with 67 points.
Anything is possible.
Modo Hockey in the Swedish Elitserien signed three new players just before the transfer window closed on Jan. 31: Finnish forward Sami Torkki, Czech defenseman Josef Hrabal, and Swedish veteran forward Peter Forsberg, who was registered on Modo roster on the last possible day.
“My foot’s not in perfect shape, but the development seems to be going in the right direction, which is nice,” Forsberg said after his return was announced.
“There’s not as much pressure here, even if I will have all eyes on me, but still. Just look at ‘Sudden’ (Mats Sundin) and what a circus it is around him there. His decision didn’t affect me, though, this is a longer process and has more to do with what happened last season (with a failed NHL comeback attempt).
“I had to announce this now, because this is the deadline for transfers, but it’s not guaranteed that I will play.”
However, the team’s trainer Ulf “Lonken” Lundgren already put No. 21 aside for him.
“I always have one of those available for him,” Lundgren said.
The Finnish federation has recruited two legends to its coaching staff. Five-time Stanley Cup winner Esa Tikkanen will be sharing his hockey wisdom to the under-17 Team Finland players in a tournament between the Finns, Swedes, Russians and Czechs in Finland.
Raimo Helminen - former NHLer and the world record holder for games with a national team with 331 - is behind the bench in the under-20 team’s tournament.
Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday. 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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