Last week the major European leagues took a breather for the season’s third international break, which is kind of like the TV timeouts in NHL games. Annoying to those looking to get back to the action, but giving more exposure to star players.
Before the LG Hockey Games - the third tournament in the Euro Hockey Tour between Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic - kicked off in Stockholm, another final got a lot of attention in Sweden.
The media was interested in the game between KB-65 and Modo Hockey because Swedish-born former NHLer and Hart Trophy winner Peter Forsberg played his first public game in a year – in preparation for his first Elitserien game Wednesday – with the district championship on the line.
Not all of the 23 local districts in Sweden attend the tournament, but it’s a good old-fashioned cup style where the lower division teams battle it out to meet the district giant, Modo, Swedish champion 2007 and the alma mater of dozens of NHLers.
KB-65, a Division I team – two tiers below Elitserien – from Bjasta, just outside Ornskoldsvik, beat the Division II team ÖSK HK in overtime, then clinched a spot in the final by beating another Division II team, Kramfors, 6-3.
As the only Elitserien team in the district, Modo has been awarded a spot in the final since 2001 and the club has won the title 41 times.
To make it interesting, there was a handicap. For once, the game didn’t start 0-0, but instead KB-65 was given a 6-0 lead, three goals for each tier separating the teams. Modo beat KB-65 7-1, so the handicapped game ended 7-7 and went into overtime.
KB-65’s 21-year-old Marcus Edlund grabbed his 15 minutes of fame by faking a shot, which sent Modo goaltender Mike Morrison to the ice and allowed Edlund to put the puck in the net on a wraparound, to the enjoyment of the capacity crowd of 1,056 (the rest was standing room only).
THE NO. 1 HOCKEY NATION IN THE WORLD?
According to a survey by the Finnish Broadcasting Company last summer, 29 percent of Finns consider winning the World Championship of Hockey as the most valuable sports accomplishment. It was followed by winning an Olympic gold medal, which 26 percent of the people surveyed said was the greatest accomplishment.
In fact, 60 percent of 18- to 24-year-old Finns consider the World Championship of Hockey the biggest event you can win in sports, according to the same study.
This week, the results of another survey were announced and hockey topped the list again.
This time, 4,000 Finns aged 15 to 79 were asked to rate different sports on a scale from four to 10 – a classic Finnish school grading scale – based to the general image they held of the sport. Hockey averaged 7.89, leaving Formula 1 racing, ski jumping, athletics, downhill skiing, soccer, and figure skating to eat the ice chips.
“I CAN’T GET NO RESPECT”
Former NHL coach, Team Finland head coach, theater executive, broadcasting analyst and best-selling author Alpo Suhonen returned to coaching last season when he took over Assat Pori in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Suhonen is not one to mince words, as he quickly recognized the poor state of the team and began his clean-up operation.
While Assat has improved its record from last season’s dismal 10-38-8 to 17-24-7 this season and is still vying for a playoff spot, many other things have not pleased Suhonen.
In October, he was fined 2,500 Euros (US$3,200) after he criticized the officiating in the league and a couple of weeks ago, Suhonen was fined again, this time 5,000 Euros, for accusing Karpat coach Matti Alatalo of sending a player out to hurt an Assat player and for telling Alatalo to “stop smiling like a frigging Buddha” in the post-game press conference.
“The point is that the league executives won’t take a stand against violence and deliberate attempts to injure other players,” Suhonen said. “The talk and the fines are just smoke and mirrors.
“Our player was hit in the head with a stick, he got a concussion, but I’m the criminal here?” he added. “I don’t approve the fine at all”
Suhonen hired a lawyer to see whether the SM-Liiga has a right to fine individuals and a private citizen reporter made an inquiry to the chancellor of justice in Finland to see whether the fines were unconstitutional or restricted freedom of speech – even though league fines are always given to the clubs who have agreed to the system.
The chancellor will give his statement later in the spring.
HOME SWEDE HOME
Team Sweden head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson faced heavy criticism in the media the week before the LG Hockey Games in Stockholm. Six days, and three wins – over Russia (4-3), the Czech Republic (6-4), and Finland (4-0) – later, Gustafsson sits safe again.
Each of the four nations participating in the Euro Hockey Tour naturally focus most on its home tournament and Sweden was no exception.
Gustafsson picked the best team available in Europe, including goaltender Johan Holmqvist who returned to Sweden from the NHL this season, and Marcus Ragnarsson, 37, who made a Team Sweden comeback after a four-year absence and three seasons in the Allsvenskan, the league below Elitserien.
This season, Ragnarsson is back in Elitserien, where he averages more than 36 minutes a game on the Djurgården blueline, which is most in the league.
In fact, Gustafsson relied on experience in defense this time around. In their first game against Russia, Dick Tärnström, 34, was the youngest defenseman on the ice, while Victor Hedman, 18, observed the game from the bench.
The LG Hockey Games All-Stars, as voted by the media:
Goaltender: Johan Holmqvist, Sweden
Defensemen: Janne Niinimaa, Finland; Kenny Jönsson, Sweden
Forwards: Niko Kapanen, Finland; Mattias Weinhandl, Sweden; Maxim Rybin, Russia
Russia has already secured the Euro Hockey Tour victory with one tournament left to play in the Czech Republic in April.
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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