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Rantanen and Laine Showed the Value of the NHL Global Series

It's not quite feasible to have permanent NHL teams in Europe, but Adam Proteau says the Global Series has been inspirational for fans overseas.
Mikko Rantanen

Sometimes, North American hockey fans don’t realize how good they’ve got it. Imagine if the best athletes on the continent had to play virtually all of their games in Europe. The time change would make it harder to be a fan. The athletes would be operating in a situation where English isn’t the first language, and they’d be heavily encouraged to speak in a different tongue to express themselves off the ice. And maybe once a season if they were fortunate, they’d be able to perform in front of their friends and family.

That’s exactly what we ask of European NHLers. And we take for granted that they’re going to easily acclimatize themselves to a foreign land. But when you see their joy at playing back home – the way Finnish natives have been enjoying themselves in the past few days, during the NHL’s Global Series between the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets – you see why the development of the European market is important to the league and the sport, and why it’s important to develop the individual personas of players.

In the two games that the Blue Jackets and Avs played in Finland Friday and Saturday, an entire new generation of young Finnish players will have inspiration for their hockey dreams right in front of them. And when they see Finnish stars being real difference-makers at the highest competitive level, they could have enough dream fuel to make themselves the next elite NHLer from their part of the planet.

Without question, Avalanche star winger Mikko Rantanen’s hat trick Friday – the difference between a win and a loss in Colorado’s 6-3 victory – put the Nousianinen, Finland native front and center for Finnish fans and media. The 26-year-old has been a star long before this weekend, but his motivation to do something special was clear, and the game’s top players always seem to find a way to rise to the occasion the way he did against Columbus.

Meanwhile, at the other end of this international affair, the Blue Jackets got a one-goal, two-point night out of star winger Patrik Laine. The 24-year-old was born and raised in the city of Tampere, Finland, which is hosting this current Global Series, and he also looked as if he shifted into a different gear on Friday. Laine’s personality is a little more exuberant than Rantanen, but both of the NHL veterans are terrific examples for Finnish youth to model their games after. It’s fine and dandy for NHLers to revert to their “aw-shucks, I’m just part of the team” typical hockey player mode, but at some level, the sport needs individuals to be in the spotlight.

The notion of an expansion team for Europe remains a far-fetched one. The NHL has North American markets that they can turn to if team owners choose to grow the league to 34 franchises. And the logistics that would involve travel, practices and 41 games in Finland or Sweden each year aren’t easily addressed. There’s also the fact that professional leagues in Scandinavia would have a portion of their revenues lost to the NHL that’s keeping a team from operating there full-time.

That said, there’s no reason why the NHL can’t have a handful of games played in Europe each and every year. The league was headed that way prior to the worldwide pandemic, but now that things are starting to settle down, the NHL can schedule games in places like Sweden, Czechia and Finland annually.

The best ambassadors for hockey are its players, and the NHL is fortunate to have so many first-rate people involved with its entertainment product. Tapping the personalities of people like Laine and Rantanen can only help the marketing of the league. If the Global Series is teaching us anything, it’s that hockey can grow far beyond its current boundaries and continue reaping the rewards of its international appeal. 

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