Like Patrick Kane in the corner, the deadline for reviving the Champions Hockey League is a constantly moving target. From last summer, to the fall, to November, to the end of the year, to before the Olympics, to during the Olympics, until this week, when the deadline finally died.
According to International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel, four out of the seven major European leagues that have organized themselves around Hockey Europe – Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic – didn’t want to accept the IIHF’s proposal, leaving the European club competition lifeless.
“We deeply regret that we had to take the decision to discontinue our efforts for a CHL re-launch due to a lack of a clear long-term commitment from the leagues and clubs, which has always been a pre-condition for the success of this league,” Fasel said. “It is impossible to build an international league in an economically sustainable way without stable backing.”
Both the Swedish and Finnish league CEOs said the IIHF’s proposed agreement –which would have run for three to six years – was too long of a time frame to commit to.
With the exception of this season and the period of 2001-2004, there’s been a competition for the European club championship every year since 1966, when the Czechoslovakian Brno team beat Germany’s EV Füssen in the final – and the fans have never been more thirsty for international club hockey than now.
Only a few minutes after the IIHF’s announcement, the Finnish SM-liiga sent out a press release which said they suggested to the Swedes the two leagues play for a new Nordic Cup: a cup competition for all 12 Swedish and 14 Finnish teams, with intra-league preliminary rounds and inter-league playoffs.
There’s also been talk of Germany’s Eisbären Berlin and the Hamburg Freezers, as well as Sparta Praha from the Czech Republic, joining the Finnish-Swedish pre-season league, the Nordic Trophy.
But no Champions League.
The fate of the Victoria Cup, a challenge between the winner of the CHL and an NHL team, is still up in the air, but according to an interview Mr. Fasel gave to a Swiss website, the IIHF still wants to keep the Victoria Cup alive.
OH, NO, MODO
They had last season’s Swedish Elitserien leading scorer, Norwegian Per-Age Skroder. They had this season’s leading scorer Mats Zuccarello Aasen – also Norwegian, whose 62 points in 54 games topped the league with one game remaining. They had Markus Naslund and they had Peter Forsberg, but one thing Modo won’t have is post-season games.
At best, Modo will finish ninth, just outside the playoffs, thanks to Thursday’s 3-2 loss against Sodertalje, the team in 11th place. Modo will finish off their season with a game against Rogle, the last-place team in the Elitserien.
Forsberg will most likely not play in that game, so his career may have ended with a stinging loss.
“This may have been my last game, I don’t see any future for this season, or anything,” he told Swedish newspaper Expressen. “I’m not at all pleased with myself. I don’t think I’ve contributed with anything. We’ll see what happens.”
Saturday’s game will also be the end of the line for Naslund.
Zuccarello Aasen is reportedly in talks with a couple of NHL clubs. The quick forward caught the attention of several experts at the Olympics where he represented Team Norway. But he was trying not to get carried away.
“I’ve thought about the NHL, but it’s not only up to me,” Zuccarello Aasen said.
Known as ‘The Hobbit,’ to some fans because of his slight 5-foot-7 stature and resemblance to actor Elijah Wood, was never drafted to the NHL.
THE KID CAN PLAY
JYP’s Sami Vatanen, 18, recently broke the Finnish SM-liiga rookie defenseman points record when he scored his sixth goal and 28th point of the season, one more than Tero Konttinen amassed playing for Pori Ässät in 2006-07.
Vatanen, an Anaheim Ducks fourth-rounder (106th overall) in 2009, is averaging 19:44 of ice time per game and has emerged as an offensive force on the squad; he’s currently ranked fifth in team scoring with 29 points in 51 games – 14 points ahead of the next JYP defenseman.
“The whole season’s been a surprise,” he said. “I didn’t think that I’d be playing a regular shift in the SM-liiga, I thought I’d play a couple of games and then go back to juniors or the Mestis (Finnish Div. 1) farm team. I’ve been playing in a much bigger role than I expected.
“I don’t know what really happened a few years ago, all of a sudden my development was just off the charts, or straight up. Not sure why, but I hope I’ll keep developing like this.”
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.
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