NEW YORK – Six NHL teams will open the 2010-11 season in Europe, the fourth straight year the league will begin play overseas.
The NHL announced on Tuesday that the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks will combine to play a total of six games in Europe at the start of next season.
The Hurricanes and Wild will meet in a pair of games in Helsinki on Oct. 7-8; Columbus plays San Jose in Stockholm on Oct. 8-9; and the Bruins and Coyotes face off in Prague on Oct. 9-10.
“We are extremely pleased that six teams – more than ever – will open their season in Europe,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “With these games, nearly half of our clubs will have participated (in overseas openers), a testament to how excited our teams are to be playing before our outstanding fans in Europe.”
The NHL is very popular in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The league’s website gets more traffic from those countries than almost anywhere else outside North America. And the clubs involved next season feature several players from the nations they will visit.
For example, the Blue Jackets’ current roster includes four players from Sweden: Forwards Fredrik Modin, Samuel Pahlsson and Kristian Huselius; and defenceman Anton Stralman.
San Jose has Swedish defenceman Douglas Murray and recently acquired Niclas Wallin.
Modin, Pahlsson and Murray will represent the defending Olympic champions at the upcoming Vancouver Games.
“Having the chance to play these games is going to be special, especially for me and the other Swedish players,” Pahlsson said.
“It is really going to be great for fans in Sweden to be able to watch the NHL in person. They love hockey and games there are always pretty festive with a lot of singing and cheers. It is kind of like football a little bit. I’m looking forward to it and it should be a lot of fun.”
Minnesota and Carolina each have three Finns on the roster.
The Wild feature captain Mikko Koivu, goalie Niklas Backstrom and right wing Antti Miettinen. The Hurricanes have forwards Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, and defenceman Joni Pitkanen.
Plus, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. is the CEO of Compuware Corp., the business software and services provider that is sponsoring the Compuware NHL Premiere in Europe.
“It’s just pretty neat,” Karmanos said, before joking about Carolina’s poor start this season. “Some of the teams last year were complaining about the slow start because they started in Europe, and I thought, ‘We couldn’t do much worse than we did this year.’ So, no, I’m not going to hold any passports.”
Boston’s roster includes Czech players David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka. Phoenix has Zbynek Michalek and Czech countrymen Petr Prucha, Martin Hanzal, Robert Lang and Radim Vrbata.
The Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers opened this season in Europe. The Blackhawks and Panthers played home-and-home games in Helsinki, while the Red Wings and Blues faced off in a home-and-home series in Stockholm.