Playing in Scandinavia can be a good omen for NHL teams

HELSINKI – The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are looking on the bright side at starting the NHL season about 7,000 kilometres from home in the capital of Finland.

The Nordics have been good for NHL teams.

The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their season in Stockholm in 2008 and won the Stanley Cup last year. The Chicago Blackhawks visited Hartwall Arena—the same venue hosting the Hurricanes and Wild on Thursday and Friday—a year ago and ended up winning their first cup in 49 years.

The Wild could do with a positive sign after a winless pre-season against NHL teams. They finally won a warmup game—their last—on Monday against lowly Finnish league side Ilves 5-1.

Being the home team in Helsinki first up might also boost the Wild. They made a disastrous start last year with a heavily road-weighted schedule (0-8 on the road, 3-9 overall). This time, eight of their first 12 games are at home, where they have sold out Xcel Energy Center for an NHL-record 409 consecutive games.

Carolina lost its last pre-season game in St. Petersburg, Russia, 5-3 in a game that was more like the NHL, with a few scuffles.

A little fighting wouldn’t displease Finnish fans, for whose support is yet to be determined.

“People sit quite silent here when they don’t have a team to cheer for,” Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu said.

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Both teams have Finnish players to delight the crowd.

Koivu, a centre and kid brother of former Montreal captain Saku Koivu, plays with forward Antti Miettinen and goalie Nicklas Backstrom.

Hartwall Arena is also familiar to Marek Zidlicky, the Wild defenceman from the Czech Republic who played for Helsinki club IFK in 1999.

“I really like to be in Helsinki again, I like the town,” Zidlicky said. “The time here was a big stepping-stone for me and the hockey played here sent me to the NHL. I have but good memories.”

The Hurricanes feature forward Jussi Jokinen, the tough Tuomo Ruutu, and Joni Pitkanen, who logged the most ice time among NHL defencemen last season.

Ruutu and Jokinen could be joined on their line by 18-year-old Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in the NHL draft.

“Skinner is a skilled player,” Ruutu said. “Amazing that those kind of guys come straight out from the juniors.”

Carolina coach Paul Maurice said on Wednesday his team was ready.

“I’m comfortable with where we’re at,” Maurice, said. “The focus and the communication on the ice and all of the things that we had set out at the start of camp to be good at, we’re still good at.”