Avangard's Jaromir Jagr could be part of a much bigger Euro league if reports are true. (Andrey Golubev, Jansons Media)
According to a report in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, KHL president and IIHF council member Alexander Medvedev has presented the IIHF council his new plan for a pan-European league, going under the working title “United Hockey Europe.”
The new league would have 16 teams from the Nordic countries, 16 from central Europe and 24 from the current KHL, split into four divisions in two conferences, with the conference winners playing in the UHE finals.
“It’s a little too early to start such an ambitious league in the current situation,” said Christer Englund, the chairman of the Swedish hockey federation. “Maybe we’ll get there in (a few) years.”
An official KHL statement added: “The KHL has been unwavering in its commitment to grow the sport of hockey and this is a concept we feel is worth exploring. We look forward to additional discussions with all potential partners as this idea is reviewed and debated.”
The KHL’s plans are similar to the one that surfaced earlier this fall from Sweden.
All that’s needed is a lot of money.
MAKING HIS MARKKANEN
Last season, EV Zug secured its playoff spot with a win in the last game of the Swiss Nationalliga A regular season, despite being dead last in the standings in October.
“There was a lot of talk about firing the coach, but after Christmas we were the hottest team in the league,” coach Doug Shedden told THN.com in March.
EV Zug went on to beat regular season winner SC Bern in the first round, but then the team ran out of gas in the semifinal series against the Kloten Flyers.
This season, the team picked up where they left off last spring and 13 games into the 50-game season, EV Zug sits atop the standings, tied with SC Bern.
“Last season, we didn’t have a goalie that I felt could have helped us and given us a chance to win,” Shedden said. “Now we have (former Oiler and Ranger) Jussi Markkanen, who’s playing fantastic and gives us the opportunity so that we can believe in a win every night. We have the attitude where defense wins and the guys have bought into it.”
But a good goalie alone can’t win games; probably not even a good defense alone.
“Our power play and penalty killing are the best in the league,” Shedden said. â€¨
The bench boss is into his fifth season coaching in Europe and has yet to fall short of a semifinal finish in either league play or tournaments. This includes the Finnish national team’s bronze medal at the 2008 World Championship. That said, he’s still chasing his first European title, having made the final only once, with Finland’s Jokerit in 2007, and losing.
“I’ve learned so much since I first came to Finland in 2005,” said Shedden, who got lost in the shuffle when the NHL’s Maple Leafs moved their farm team from St. John’s, Nfld., to Toronto.
“My practice habits have changed and I do things in a different way, (but) I think I’m still the same guy, with the same personality,” Shedden noted. “Coaching is also about how you treat people and I believe in being honest and telling the guys exactly what I think.”
And that’s why Shedden still builds his teams in the same way.
“We had to build it from the goaltender on out,” he said. “I build the team through character. We don’t need the most popular guys here, but we want the ones with heart and who play hard. That’s where I see most mistakes usually made.”
Christian Bäckman returned home after 302 NHL games, six seasons and a failed tryout with the Florida Panthers under his belt. The 29-year-old defenseman signed a three-year contract with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elitserien on Oct. 8.
“This is like coming home,” said the 2006 Olympic gold medal winner, who spent four years with the Gothenburg-based team between 1998 and 2002 and again during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. “I’ve always wanted to play with Frolunda again.”
“I practised with the team this fall, so I know it’s a great group of guys and a lot of talented players who can play at a high level,” Backman said. “This is going to be interesting.”
Coach Ulf Dahlén welcomed Bäckman with open arms. Frolunda was in the middle of a four-game losing streak, but managed to get a point in Backman’s first game.
“He was one of the giants out there tonight, it was fun to see,” Dahlén said after the Indians’ 2-2 tie with Södertälje on Tuesday.
Canadian-born Ralph Krueger has been at the helm of the Swiss national team since 1998, but the saga is coming to the end, as his contract was not extended beyond the World Championship in May 2010.
But the new boss is like the old boss in one sense: he’s Canadian.
Sean Simpson has had a great career in Europe, having won both Swiss and German championships as coach – with Zug and the Munich Barons – and last season helmed the Zurich Lions to the Champions League title, even if his team then got ousted from the Swiss playoffs in the first round.
The Brampton, Ont., native also signed a four-year contract with the Swiss hockey federation, where he will also serve as the director of player personnel for the under-20 national team.
But first, Simpson will join Craig MacTavish behind Team Canada’s bench at the 2009 Spengler Cup in Davos. The other assistant? Doug Shedden.
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.