The quarterfinal playoff series between EV Zug and SC Bern offers so many possible puns and metaphors that it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s one: The way the series went, it looked like the bears were hit by a train. You know, “zug” is German for “train” and the logo of Bern is a bear.
Oh well, maybe it wasn’t the greatest of metaphors. While EV Zug may not have completely run over the Swiss National League A regular season winners, their 4-2 win in the series was a shocker.
After all, Zug had secured their playoff spot in the final game of the regular season, after climbing from last place, where they found themselves in the fall.
“The start of the season was a nightmare, and in October we were dead last,” Zug head coach Doug Shedden told THN.com. “There was a lot of talk about firing the coach, but after Christmas, we were the hottest team in the league.
“In this business, they can make you look like the smartest coach in the world, or the dumbest one. Hockey gods started to give us bounces, and we also got good goaltending, which spread confidence in the group.”
Shedden didn’t get fired in October, but instead, having advanced to the semifinal with EV Zug, signed a two-year contract extension with the club whose home is about half an hour outside Zurich.
“I’ve been fortunate that in my four years in Europe, my team has made the semifinals every year,” said Shedden, who also made the World Championship semifinal with Team Finland last May.
In the semifinal, EV Zug faces the Kloten Flyers, who finished off Geneve in four straight games. With SC Bern and Zurich Lions out of the way, Kloten is now the highest-ranked team in the running.
“Like Bern, Kloten is a great team, they have two, maybe three really skilled lines and we have to stay physical but disciplined,” said Shedden. “Bern was like the Chinese army, you beat five, but there was 10 more coming. But we knocked them down.”
And now SC Bern makes like a tree and sheds leaves. No, wait, “Sheds” stays. SC Bern coach John Van Boxmeer, however, was fired after the loss because it marked the second time the team had won the regular season, but was ousted early in the playoffs.
WHAT A GRAN MESS
Mikael Granlund played his first SM-liiga game a few weeks ago and it happened to be on his 17th birthday. The highly touted young forward has been called the best young Finnish player ever and his debut with Kärpät was further proof of that. However, after two games things turned sour as Granlund and the club got tangled up in a contract dispute and the view from each party varies quite a bit.
According to the club, Granlund had a four-year contract that runs from 2007-2011, but when his “junior system contract” was upgraded to meet the demands of the SM-liiga and the Players’ Association, “mistakes were made.” Granlund and his agent claim the club added dates to the contract afterwards so they terminated the contract immediately, refused to play with Kärpät and subsequently signed a two-year contract with IFK Helsinki for next season.
The SM-liiga executives agree with Kärpät about the validity of the four-year contract.
In another twist, Kärpät and Granlund, initiated by the Finnish hockey federation, agreed this week on the 17-year-old prospect finishing the season with Kärpät’s major junior team, to make sure he’ll be well prepared for the under-18 World Championship in Fargo-Moorhead in the U.S. in April.
HONKEN, HONKEN, BURNING LOVE
Former Dallas Star and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Johan Holmqvist was voted best goalie in the Elitserien by hockey journalists in Sweden. It’s the second time Holmqvist, nicknamed “Honken,” earned the Honken Trophy, named after legendary 1960s Tre Kronor goalkeeper Leif “Honken” Holmqvist. In 2006, Holmqvist was voted the best goaltender both in Elitserien and the World Championship in Riga, Latvia.
This season Holmqvist, who plays for Frölunda, finished the regular season with a .917 save percentage in 49 games, good enough for fifth in the league. His goals-against average (2.17) was second in the league, behind Färjestad’s Jonas Gustavsson.
“It’s a great honor, which is heightened by the fact that it was ‘Honken’ himself who presented the award to me,” said ‘Honken’ the younger.
New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist won the Honken Trophy, established in 2002, three times between 2003 and 2005, while playing for Frölunda as well.
HOCKEY’S SWEDE SPOT
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) released attendance figures for the different European leagues this week. SC Bern tops the list for clubs with its average of 16,172. The top 10 clubs included three from Germany, three from Russia and one from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
On a league level, Sweden’s Elitserien claimed the top spot:
1. Sweden, average 6,260
2. Switzerland, 6,073
3. Germany, 5,867
4. Russia (KHL), 5,097
5. Finland, 4,919
6. Czech Republic, 4,902
7. Slovakia, 2,687
Sami Kapanen, of KalPa, is one of the nominees to receive the Golden Helmet, the Finnish SM-liiga equivalent of the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is given to the most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by members of the Players’ Association. The other two are Jarkko Immonen, of JYP, and Juuso Riksman, the Jokerit goalie.
Riksman already accepted the regular season MVP award, the Lasse Oksanen Trophy - named after the legendary Team Finland player - as voted by the hockey media in Finland.
“Of course it made me happy, the people who voted are people who follow the game closely and know what they’re talking about,” Riksman told THN.com.
Riksman was a clear winner, collecting almost twice as many first-place votes as Kapanen and Daniel Corso, of Kärpät.
“It’s a nice award, but now my focus is on the post-season. Too bad that the awards won’t get you far in the playoffs,” he added, laughing.
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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