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Blog: The Finnish Line

Saturday, 10.03.2009 / 1:42 PM / 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

Chicago Now Leads, 3-0
10.03.2009 / 1:39 PM ET

Chicago took a 2-0 lead at the 5:12 mark of the period when Patrick Kane got his second goal in as many nights.

Defenseman Duncan Keith started Chicago in transition with a adroit head-man pass to Patrick Sharp in the neutral zone. Sharp's slapper was turned away by Tomas Vokoun, but the rebound ended up in the slot and Kane won the race to it before flicking it home.

Kane told me during a second-intermission interview for TV that he just closed his eyes, threw a backhander at the net and hoped it wenT in.

Patrick Sharp added another goal in the period's last minute when he converted a 2-on-1 rush while Michael Frolik was in the box for tripping.

Finnish goalie Antti Niemi, starting for Chicago, was much busier in the second period, including a six shot barrage in the first 73 seconds of the period. Niemi denied Gregory Campbell three times in that sequence, got Rostislav Olesz twice and fronted a slapper from Bryan McCabe to get Hartwall Arena buzzing. Niemi finished the period with eight saves, giving him 11 for the game.

Vokoun, wjho has 20 saves, also did some good work in the second period, especially during a 55-second two-man advantage for Chicago midway through the period. He made six saves during the 5-on-3, including three slap shots off the stick of Cam Barker.

Chicago Leads, 1-0
10.03.2009 / 12:52 PM ET

Antti Niemi, the Chicago goalie, hasn't had to do much work in the first period, asked to parry just three Florida shots -- and the first, off the stick of Stephen Weiss, didn't come until the 13-minute mark of the period.

Even better, Niemi takes a 1-0 lead into intermission.

Brian Campbell scored the game's only goal on the game's first power play. Ville Koistinen, the hero last night, was in the box serving an interference penalty when Chicago's Patrick Kane fed a pass to the blue line. Campbell let rip with a slapper and big Dustin Byfuglien, who got the secondary assist for an earlier pass, was providing the necessary screen to limit Vokoun's vision.

Vokoun, who made 52 saves last night, stopped six of seven shots in the first period.

Niemi Starts
10.03.2009 / 12:10 PM ET


Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has rolled the dice here a bit, starting Antti Niemi in place of Cristobal Huet in goal. Niemi, a Finn, got a huge ovation from the Hartwall crowd when he was announced.

Other than that, the lineups are the same. Jordan Hendry, Radek Smolenak and Aaron Johnson are Chiocago's scratches. Michal Repik, Jason Garrison and Mike Duco are Florida's scratches.

It'll be interesting to see if Niemi can deliver the kind of heroics that the other Finn in this series, Ville Koistinen, delivered in Game 1. Koistinen scored the winning shootout goal, had a goal in regulation and was named Friday's first star.

An Afternoon on the Town
10.03.2009 / 11:02 AM ET

We've been back at the rink for a while now as the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks prepare to put paid to the 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Helsinki series with tonight's Game (12 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2).

A group of Florida Panthers are playing some soccer outside our office and the yells are wafting back here. Clearly, they feel good about last night's win.

After finishing my pregame video analysis at the morning skate, I headed downtown to do some shopping for my family, which is the bedrock that allows me to live this awesome, but sometimes nomadic dream of a job. They are always in my thoughts and this afternoon was the first chance I have really had to shop.

I spent a couple of hours downtown shopping for the wife and daughter. I hit Stockmann department store, just a block or so from the central train station and it was eight floors of controlled chaos. But, it had everything I needed.

Then, it was a light lunch at the Wrong noodle shop. The name is certainly a misnomer as the chicken and noodle with hot and sour sauce was very right.

As soon as I got back to the rink, I hit up the Jokerit pro shop to get some stuff for myself and my son. Jokerit's jester insignia is one of the best in sport.

It's a weird time here as in just a few hours this will be all over.  It is an exciting time, but also tinged with a bit of sadness. Our group, some of us who have been together for eight days now, is breaking up and going home.

Some, like me, will be on one of the team charters. Some are leaving tomorrow afternoon. Others will be here until Tuesday, tying up loose ends and making sure the things that need to get home, get home.

I have spent a lot of time with the NHL Events Department in the eight years I have been with the league, and I never ceased to be amazed at not only the amount of work they do, but in how graciously in competent it is carried out. It has been a pleasure to share their work space and their company on this trip.

The game will be starting in another hour or so, and we'll be back at you then.

Approaching the Finnish Line
10.03.2009 / 5:02 AM ET

It's a quiet morning here at Hartwall Arena, just 14 hours after Florida defeated Chicago in a shootout on Friday night.

Florida, the home team for tonight's game, did not skate at all Saturday morning. Chicago just skated its three scratches -- Aaron Johnson, Jordan Hendry and Radek Smolenak -- and its three goalies, Friday night's starter Cristobal Huet, backup Antti Niemi and inactive goalie Corey Crawford.

The fact that all three goalies were on the ice suggests that Chicago might go with a new goalie in Saturday's game. Coach Joel Quenneville said he was happy with Huet's play (21 saves), but that there was a possibility that Niemi, a Finn, could see some action before the hometown fans.

Chicago also spent much of the game switching lines around, trying to find some chemistry. Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane were separated midway through the first period and each saw action with several different line combinations.

"We talk about starts and we weren’t happy with the way we began the game," Quenneville said. "Sometimes you flip-flop lines and it can work although sometimes you never know. We were trying some things and I didn’t mind the way it played out."

That's all for now. I need to drop off my luggage for my flight back to Chicago after the game and then I hope to head downtown to do a little shopping for the family before heading back to the rink at 5 p.m. local time. We'll see you then.



Koistinen stars in Panthers win
10/02/09    2:55 p.m. ET

The first NHL regular-season game in Finland was so good that the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers made sure it lasted as long as possible.

The NHL made its Finnish debut Friday before 12,056 fans at Hartwall Arena as Florida defeated Chicago, 4-3, in a shootout in the first of two 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Helsinki games.

Fittingly, it was Ville Koistinen, Finland's own, who ended it with the winning goal in the shootout. Going second, Koistinen broke in on Cristobal Huet and went backhand to roof a shot under the crossbar. Steven Reinprecht also scored in the shootout for Florida.

Jonathon Toews scored on Chicago's first attempt, but Tomas Vokoun denied Pat Kane with a brilliant toe save and then Patrick Sharp shot wide.

Koistinen, who scored Florida's second goal in regulation as well, was named the game's first star.
The second game is right back here at Hartwall Saturday night (12 p.m. ET, NHL Network, U.S., TSN2).

Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharpe scored for Chicago in regulation. Florida answered with goals from Michal Frolik, Koistinen and David Booth, who turned a turnover by Chicago into the goal that forced overtime.

Booth stripped the puck from a Chicago defender, took three strides and fired a laser beam that beat Huet to the top far corner.

Goalie Tomas Vokoun was the story of regulation for Florida, making 47 saves, including 22 in the third period. He made five more saves in OT. Huet had 20 saves in regulation and just one in OT
Sharp scored an opportunistic goal a little more than halfway through the third period to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.

Chicago, which asserted far more offensive pressure in this first of two 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Helsinki games at Hartwall Arena, was buzzing around Vokoun, who couldn't freeze the puck. Dave Bolland was digging for the puck at the top of the crease and found a way to shuffle it over to Sharp, who banged it home.

Koistinen, who grew up two hours north of Helsinki in Tampere, had scored the tying goal midway through the third period. Michal Frolik, the scorer of Florida's first goal, then figured in the tying goal.

The defenseman was used as a forward for much of Friday's game, but was playing defense during a 4-on-4 situation when he ripped a slapper past Cristobal Huet, who was screened By Frolik.

After scoring Chicago's first goal, Kane assisted on the second, which was scored by Byfuglien just 3:52 into the third. Kane tried to beat Vokoun short-side, but the puck instead sailed across the crease and right onto the stick of Byfuglien, who needs to be around the crease to be successful. Byfuglien slammed the puck home before Vokoun could react.
 
Tied After Two
10.02.2009 / 1:58 PM ET

Chicago's Patrick Kane scored the first goal of the season for Chicago just past the five-minute mark of the second period. And, it was a thing of beauty, worthy of the season-opening title.

Kane, who finished serving a penalty just nine seconds earlier, was sent in alone by the head-man pass of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Kane put a shake-and-bake move on Vokoun and once the goalie went to his knees, Kane went backhand and roofed his shot under the crossbar.

Sensing the game was getting away from his young club, Florida coach Peter DeBoer called a rare second-period timeout. His team responded by playing a better game, getting pucks deep and sustaining pressure.

Michael Frolik capitalized on the pressure when he took a Steve Reiprecht pass on a 2-on-1 break and beat Cristobal Huet to the near post just before Frolik was knocked down by a Chicago defender.

I spoke to Frolik between periods for a television interview and he said that DeBoer calmed the team down during the timeout and urged them to get pucks behind the Chicago defense and establish a forecheck.

Vokoun has made 25 saves through two periods, while Huet has stopped 15 shots.

No Score After First
10.02.2009 / 12:59 PM ET


There was no scoring in the first period of the game here, although there were several quality chances. Chicago's Cristobal Huet had to be sharp on several occasions, especially when Gregory Campbell found the puck on his stick right on Huet's doorstep about midway through the first period.

At the other end, Vokoun just got a piece of a one-timer of the stick of Jonathon Toews, who was centering the fourth line at the time. Vokoun also made tough saves on a Colin Fraser slapper and a close-in attempt by Andrew Ladd.

Vokoun finished with 10 saves, while Huet had 8.

I interviewed Patrick Sharp between periods for the television feed and he told me that the speed of the game was faster than anything they encountered in the preseason and, aqs a result, there was still a bit of a feeling-out process for both teams.


Lineups
10.02.2009 / 12:20 PM ET

The game is about to get underway here at Hartwall Arena. There is only one surprise among the scratches and that is Michal Repik for Florida. The youngster was supposed make his NHL debut tonight, but Florida went with seven defensemen instead.

The Panthers likely dressed an extra D to protect the three players that are suffering from the flu, as well as allow the team to have a look at rookie blueliner Dmitry Kulikov. It looks like defenseman Ville Koistenen, Florida's only Finn, is playing the wing on Florida's fourth line. He played some forward last season in Nashville.

Jason Garrison, suffering from the flu, was scratched, as was rookie Mike Duco and third goalie Alexander Salak.

For Chicago, Jordan Hendry, Aaron Johnson and Radek Smolenak were all scratched. Corey Crawford was designated as the third goalie.

Finnish hockey legend Jari Kurri dropped the ceremonial first puck and received a very warm ovation from the fans here at Hartwall Arena.

Weiss To Play?
10.02.2009 / 6:23 AM ET

Both Chicago, the home team for tonight, and Florida skated Friday morning in preparation of tonight's regular-season game, the first NHL game on Finnish soil.

Florida had some good news as the flu bug that has ravaged the team seems to have abated.

All four players -- Stephen Weiss, Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold and Bryan Allen --laid low with flu skated Friday morning and should be able to play tonight, according to coach Pete DeBoer.

Weiss, who is also battling a lingering groin injury, said Friday morning that it felt good to be back on the ice and breaking a sweat. He said he spent all of Thursday cooped up in bed, trying to get in as much fluid as he could into his body.

DeBoer also said that Tomas Vokoun will start in goal tonight, and may well play tomorrow night as well.

On the Chicago side, health is not an issue. Both Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien are good to go after overcoming training-camp injuries. Judging by the morning skate, Byfuglien will play on the top line with Pat Kane and Jonathon Toews.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said that Cristobal Huet will start Friday night's game. But, Finnish goalie Antti Niemi, who beat out Corey Crawford, could start on Saturday night in the rematch.

We'll be back at Hartwell Arena In a few hours for today's game. See you then.

Flu Bug Ravages Panthers
10.01.2009 / 8:10 AM ET

The Panthers just got done with a very long practice here at Hartwall Arena, stretching over two sessions.

"We've got to do some things to compete against this Chicago team," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "We wanted to make sure we understand that."

Practice was made even more difficult Thursday because the team was so shorthanded with four players missing because of the flu bug that is going around the team. 

Stephen Weiss is suffering from a groin injury and was unlikely to skate Thursday. But, now he is also suffering from the flu. Just as bad, three of Florida's defenseman are also in sick bay -- Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen and Jordan Leopold.

"Right now, we just have to keep those (sick) guys away from the other guys," DeBoer said. "It's better that they got it today rather than tomorrow morning."

DeBoer said all four flu-stricken players will be game-time decisions on Friday.

Practices undeway
10.01.2009 / 7:14 AM ET

The Chicago Blackhawks just finished their morning practice here at Hartwall Arena, icing their 23-man team that will go into the regular season.

Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Patrick Kane, Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Patrick Sharp, Radek Smolenak, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg are the 13 forwards. The defensemen are Cam Barker, Brian Campbell, Jordan Hendry, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Aaron Johnson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel. Chicago is also carrying three goalies -- Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford -- for the first two games

That means, Jack Skille was among the most notable cuts, sent to Rockford of the American Hockey League.

"Jack did everything he needed to do," Chicago coach Joel Queeneville told NHL.com. "We like that he took charge and did everything we wanted him to do."

But, in the end, the 22-year-old right wing likely fell victim to a numbers' game with Chicago straddling ever so close to the salary-cap ceiling. Skille, Chicago's first-round pick in 2005, had 20 goals and 45 points in 58 games with Rockford last season. He slary at the NHL level is more than $1 million.

The Blackhawks also assigned forwards Bryan Bickell, Evan Brophey, Jake Dowell and  Rob Klinkhammer to Rockford. Adam Burish and Marian Hossa on Injured Reserve.

Florida is practicing now at Hartwall Arena and Stephen Weiss is not on the ice. He has been suffering from a groin injury, but was expected to play in Friday night's game. But, it seems the flu that has been going through the Florida dressing room has now waylaid Weiss as well. His status for tomorrow is up in the air.

Florida also made its final cut Wednesday night to get down to 24 players, releasing Christian Backman, a former first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, from his professional tryout agreement.

Florida Wins, 4-2
09.30.2009 / 2:52 PM ET

Florida closed its exhibition season here at Hartwall Arena tonight with a much-needed 4-2 victory against local team Jokerit. With the win, the panthers finished a long-and-winding preseason with a 5-4 record.

Wednesday's victory, on the back of Cory Stillman's two-goal performance, washed away the bitter feelings associated with Monday's 3-2 shootout loss to Finnish side Tappara.

Dennis Siedenberg, obtained during the preseason as a free agent, opened the scoring late in the first period with a pretty backhand goal after he joined the rush and received a pass from Nathan Horton. Twenty-nine second Later, Stillman had his first of the night, taking a sweet pass from Steve Reinprecht and beating the Jokerit goalie.

Michael Frolik made it 3-1 in the second period when he created a turnover deep in the Jokerit zone and then feathered a low shot through the legs of Mikko Stromberg, the Jokerit goalie.

Stillman finished the scoring for Florida later in the second period when Ville Koistenen, the only Finn on Florida's roster, threaded a sweet pass to Stillman for a virtual tap in.

Tomi Koivistgo, a former St. Louis Blues player, and Ossi Saarinen scored for Jokerit. Saarinen's goal, lifted over a sprawling Vokoun, was perhaps the prettiest of the night.

Florida Takes 4-1 Lead
09.30.2009 / 1:29 PM ET


Former NHLer Tomi Koivisto made things interesting early in the second period when he finished a pretty passing sequence that also included Kari Sihovonen and Tomi Maki, who started the play with a sharp head-man past out of the defensive zone.

But, Cory Stillman answered at 8:22 mark of the period with his second of the game. Stillman banged home a beautiful pass from Ville Koistenen, the only Finn  on the Florida roster.

Then, with 4:49 left, Michal Frolik forced a turnover in the Jokerit end before pivoting and sliding a shot through the legs of the Jokerit goalie to make it 4-1.

Florida Leads After One
09.30.2009 / 12:20 PM ET

Florida is off to a much better start tonight in its second exhibition game her in Finland.

Two nights after losing to Tappara in a shootout, Florida has taken the play to Jokerit in the first period of tonight's game at Hartwall Arena. Things started slowlyh for the Panthers, who took the first two penalties of the period.

But, the Panthers came to life late in the period, scoring two goals in less than 30 seconds. 

Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg opened the ledger by joining the rush and finding himself in perfect position to receive a pass from Nathan Horton. After a few strides, Seidenberg unleashed a backhander that flummoxed Mikko Stromberg, the Jokerit goalie.

Before the home side could even think about recovering from that opening salvo, Florida scored again.

This time, it was Steve Reinprecht keying the play with a strong rush into the Jokerit zone. Reinprecht then found a streaking Cory Stillman and feathered a pass on to his tape. Stillman immediately deked to the outside, drawing the Jokerit goalie with him, and the went inside to slide the puck into the net past an already committed Stromberg.

Underway at Hartwall
09.30.2009 / 12:20 PM ET

The game just started here tonight. The building is a little quiet in the early going, but should pick up as the game moves along.

Florida scratched Stephen Weiss, who has a groin pull, Keith Ballard (minor hip pointer), Bryan Allen, who is coming back from knee surgery. Word in the press box is that Florida coach Pete DeBoer is saying that Weiss will play in Friday's season opener here against Chicago.

Tomas Vokoun is in goal for the Panthers.

Hanging at Hartwall
09.30.2009 / 11:27 AM ET

I've finally arrived at Hartwall Arena. What a trek it was, too. The walk looked simple enough, but it appears you have to get across the train tracks that run past Hartwall from our hotel.

That makes the trek a little trickier. In the end, I went through the train station and then up a hill and then down a hill and finally there was the entrance I needed -- and just as the rain started falling. What timing!

As I walked in, the Florida Panthers were going through some agility drills. It was heavy-duty stuff for a pre-game warm-up. Almost every one of the drills would have ended up with me flat on my face had I tried it. But, agility has never been my strong suit. Some might say I am still trying to find my strong suit, but that is another story for another day.

I'm trying to get a hold of some starting lineups and will get back to you when that happens.

We've Arrived
09.30.2009 / 8:09 AM ET

It is sunny in Finland, a pleasant surprise after forecasts for rain. Unfortunately, it is at least 10 degrees cooler than it was in Zurich. Our driver, Kari, explained that it was because the wind had shifted and was now blowing from the north.

I'll take cool and sunny over cool and rainy any day of the week, though.

I just checked into my hotel, which is a stone's throw from Hartwall Arena. It's a nice place and the location can't be beast, although I guess it is a hike to get downtown. That's OK, as I most likely will only be able to get down there once in the next four nights.

I'll be heading over to Hartwall Arena in a few hours in fact to catch Florida against Jokerit.

The flight over was uneventful -- all two hours and 45 minutes of it. I tried to nap, but was not overly successful. At least the eyes stayed closed and got some rest as The Who (The Ultimate Collection) blared through the headphones. There are worse ways to travel, for sure.

I'll have all the news from Hartwall Arena tonight for you guys. Talk to you then.

Back at it
09.30.2009 / 1:08 AM ET

Now, that is what you call a quick nap. It's 7:15 a.m. local time now and I finished writing from last night's game just five hours ago. I'm not much of a mathematician, but that doesn't seem like quite enough shuteye. Certainly, that is what my body is telling me to be true as I shake out the cobwebs and try to get the piercing whistles of the ZSC Zurich fans throughout their team's 2-1 upset last night of Chicago in the Victoria Cup out of my head.

But, I have to have my luggage downstairs in the next 15 minutes to be put on the team charter as we jet off to Helsinki a little bit later this morning. From what they tell me the flight to Helsinki is about two hours and Helsinki is an hour ahead of us here in Zurich, so I figure we should be on the ground by 1 p.m. local time at the latest.

The hawks have cancelled practice and will have a free day to catch up on their rest.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for me. First of all, today is cut-down day. Both teams have to get down to 24 players (they are allowed an exemption for a third goalie for the games in Europe). Both Chicago and Florida will need to send several players down, so we'll try to get that information to you as soon as possible.

Plus, Florida plays Jokerit in its final preseason game tonight. So, I'll be over at Hartwall Stadium reporting on all the goings-on from there.

Despite being tired, I woke up this morning with Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final on the TV. ESPN America was showing a rebroadcast of the Pittsburgh Penguins' victory against the Red Wings, as well 30 minutes of post-game interviews.

That has to be some sort of good omen, right? To me, it was a reminder that we begin the march toward the 2010 Stanley Cup in less than 48 hours. So, let's go catch that plane. We'll talk to you on the ground in Finland in a few hours.

Lions roar against Hawks
09.29.09   4:26 pm ET

The ZSC Zurich Lions shocked the hockey world Tuesday night at Hallenstadion, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1, to win the Victoria Cup.

Patrik Barschi and Lukas Grauwiler scored  goals against Cristobal Huet to counter a goal by cam Braker of Chicago and deliver the Lions one of the biggest wins in their history.

The Lions used a steadfast commitment to defense and positional play to limit the Hawks' scoring chances throughout the game, often sacrificing their bodies against the bigger, more physically imposing Hawks.

Youngster Blaine Down, called up from the Baby Lions for this game, was a perfect example. At least three times during the game Down blocked a shot and left the ice hobble, only to take his next shift.

Defenseman Daniel Schnyder was another example of Zurich's tenacity. Locked up in a crease battle with the hulking Dustin Byfuglien in the third period, Schnyder never backed down and never gave an inch, frustrating Byfuglien into taking a retaliatory slashing penalty.

And, so it was throughout the Lions roster.

But perhaps nobody stood taller than Finnish legend Ari Sulander in goal. Sulander, known as "The Wall," is on the wrong side of 40, but on this night he recaptured the magic that made him a Finnish national icon almost two decades earlier

Sulander stared down some of the best offensive players in the NHL and never blinked -- allowing nothing more than a first-period goal to Cam Barker on an awkward slapper that hit of the goalie's knee and bounced into the net.

His teammates picked their goaltender up after that mistake, tightening the screws in the defensive zone as a timely offense put the Lions back in the game. First, Patrik Barschi scored on a breakaway just six minutes after Barker's opening goal.

Then, it was the unsung Grauwiler with one of the most famous goals in the proud history of the reigning European champions. Grauwiler was in the right place at the right time to beat Barker to the rebound of a shot by teammate Cyrill Buhler and give the Lions a lead they would never relinquish.

Upset in the Offing?

09.29.2009 / 3:46 PM ET


The Hallenstadion is an absolute zoo right now. Zurich supporters are bouncing, singing and clapping all at the same time to push on their little team that could.

After two periods of the Victoria Cup, the Lions like comfortable in the role of giant killer, holding a 2-1 lead on Chicago, the prohibitive favorite in this game.

Lukas Grauwiler is nowhere close to the biggest name on the ZSC roster, but he may be the most famous if Zurich can keep Chicago off the board for another 20 minutes. The depth forward, who played a year of hockey with Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League, scored the go-ahead goal at the 14:43 mark of the middle period.

On the play, Grauwiler flashed in from the wing to grab the rebound of a Cyrill Buhler shot and put it past a sprawled Huet before Cam Barker, stationed in front of the net, could react.

After that, the Lions began taking play to the Hawks, believing victory is within their sight. Throughout the second period, Zurich won the majority of the 50-50 puck battles and initiated the physical play.

Chicago's Patrick Sharp was just interviewed at the end of the period, just after ZSC exited the ice to a standing ovation, and laid the blame for being behind squarely at the
Skates of his team.

"We have to move our feet more," Sharp said. "They are outworking us." 

We're Underway
09.29.2009 / 2:58 PM ET

Now, the Blackhawks will have to channel the New York Rangers, who had to engineer a third-period comeback in last year's inaugural Victoria Cup to subdue Russian side Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Ryan Callahan scored a goal in the final minute of that game to bring the rangers all the way back from a 3-0 deficit and deliver a pulsating 4-3 win.

The Chicago Blackhawks should know they are in a game now. Tonight's Victoria Cup game against the Zurich Lions is a far different affair than the 9-2 drubbing handed to Davos a night earlier here at Hallenstadion.

Zurich has more than held its own in the first 20 minutes, playing a patient, sometimes physical, style that is far more North American in nature than the game plan adopted by Davos, which allowed the Blackhawks to gain the zone unimpeded and use its speed to full advantage.

Zurich was much better at taking away time and space against Chicago, hence the 1-1 score after the first.

Cam barker opened the scoring at the 6:12 mark when his awkward slapper from the point crossed up goalie Ari Sulander. The puck bounced off the inside of Sulander's leg and went into the net. The goal was credited to Patrick Sharp, but appeared to be off the stick of Barker.

Zurich tied it when Patrik Bartschi was spung for a breakaway by a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone. Barker couldn't make up the necessary ground, which allowed Bartschi to make a sweet deke that committed Chicago goalie to the ice and opened the net for Bartschi to slide the puck in the net before the hard-charging Barker arrived.

The Lions almost took the lead later in the period when Blaine Down, a Canadian playing for the Lions farm team this season, blocked a Barker slap shot at the point during a penalty kill and blew by the flat-footed defenseman, only to shoot wide.

It should be an interesting second period. We'll be back with an update then.

We're Underway
09.29.2009 / 2:20 PM ET

The pre-game ceremonies are over -- including the sparkler display -- and a ceremonial puck drop by Scotty Bowman, who received a big ovation.

There are at least 4,000 more people here tonight, which makes a huge difference. The Zurich supporters have been chanting the names of their players throughout the introductions.

The Lions have a very cool pre-faceoff thing they do. The players all gather in a semicircle around their goalie and then form a serpentine line where one skates the length of it slapping hands and then becomes the last person in line until everyone has gone. Pretty cool

We'll be back with an update at the end of the first period.

Musical Chairs
09.29.2009 / 1:50 PM ET

It seems the European press here takes their seating assignments seriously. I was in the wrong row, but the right seat as I prepared for the game. That mean's my assigned seat, in the row directly behind me, was empty. Yet, I was asked to move to my proper seat, which, by the way, had a better view. At least three other pairs of reporters have gone through the same process since I was asked to move.

The usher that settled the disputes asked if I worked for NHL.com and then told me he loved the articles on there. It's nice to have a fan.

Speaking of fans, it looks like the Victoria Cup organizers have something special planned for the opening ceremonies tonight. Every fan that has walked past me is holding sparklers. It appears they will dim the lights and let the firework light illuminate the building.

It sounds really cool and I hope they show it on the stream of the game, which starts in just a few minutes and is available on NHL.com and blackhawks.com.

Lineup Juggling for Chicago
09.29.2009 / 1:36 PM ET

Coach Joel Quenneville has adjusted his lineup slightly for the Victoria Cup game, dressing an extra forward. The hawks went with just 20 players in the exhibition Monday, but dressed 21 for the Victoria Cup. Most likely, this was done as insurance for the two injured players being worked back into the lineup -- Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien.

Chicago's first line remains the same as Monday night, with Jonathon Toews centering Pat Kane and Troy Bouwer. Dave Bolland replaces John Madden on the second line, centering Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp.

The third line, however, is brand new, comprised of Byfuglien, Tomas Kopecky and Ben Eager. All three were scratched in Monday's exhibition. Jack Skille and Radek Smolenak, who had two goals Monday night, return for fourth-line duty. They are joined by Colin Fraser and Versteeg is the extra forward.

Quenneville has paired Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together for one defensive pairing. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had a strong game, plays with Brian Campbell in another pairing. Brent Sopel and Cam Barker make the third pairing.

Cristobal Huet is Chicago's starting goalie and is expected to play the whole game.

The Zurich Lions also went with 21 players.

Each of its first two lines is dominated by players with North American connections.

The first line features former NHLers Domenic Pittis and Peter Sejna, joined by Mark Bastl. The second line features three Canadians: Jean-Guy Trudel, Jan Alston and Ryan Gardner. Both Gardner and Alston have Swiss passports. We have a nice feature on Gardner on NHL.com today.

Finnish legend Ari Sulander is the Zurich goalie.

Setting the Scene
09.29.2009 / 1:18 PM ET


I just made the walk back to the Hallenstadion -- man do I have the route down pat, I think I can do it with my eyes closed -- for tonight's Victoria Cup game between the Chicago Blackhawks and ZSC Zurich.

The arena opens more than two hours before game time and the fans are not shy about coming in to the building early. Right now, the Lions are playing a little soccer in the moat behind one of the goals and fans are congregating around the door that Chicago comes out to get on the ice, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite player.

The scene outside is pretty cool, too. Fans mill around in the plaza surrounding Hallenstadion, eating sausages of all types -- including yours truly -- drinking beers (there is no open-container law in Switzerland) and just hanging out.

In a weird twist, there is a petting zoo set up right next to the arena, as well. Nobody seems to know why it is there, but it has been all week. I thought it was around because of the kids' show -- Walking With Dinosaurs" -- that was in the Hallenstadion all weekend. But, the zoo is still there now. Colleague Risto Pakarinen is staying across the street from the arena in the Holiday Inn and he says that the mooing of the cows has woken him up each of the past two mornings.

I'll be back in a few minutes with the starting lineups.

Ready To Go
09.29.2009 / 8:21 AM ET


Chicago's morning skate finished just a few minutes ago. Surprisingly, most of the team took part in the 45-minute session. Patrick Kane was among the handful that passed on the option to take the ice.

Afterward, coach Joel Quenneville said that both Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien would play in Tuesday night's game against ZSC Zurich. Byfuglien, who has been battling a groin injury, was expected to play in this game, but the inclusion of Versteeg, out for the past nine days with an upper-body injury, is a little surprising.

Cristobal Huet, who will get the start in net tonight, said that he expects Zurich to play a far different game than Davos, who suffered a 9-2 defeat.

"Zurich is more of a North American team, more patient," Huet told us. "Davos is more run-and-gun like us."

Duly Impressed
09.29.2009 / 6:21 AM ET

I just spoke to Zurich coach Sean Simpson after the Lions' Tuesday morning practice. Simpson, who served as a commentator for part of the stream of Monday night's game that pitted Chicago against Davos, was more than a little impressed -- but not surprised by Chicago's thorough dismantling of the Swiss champions.

"Chicago showed their class last night," Simpson told The Finnish Line. "The Swiss league is good and getter better, but having said that, it is not the NHL level. But, it was a great experience for the guys and measure themselves against NHL guys. We hope to play a little better than Davos did; I thought that was a little disappointing. We're up for a big test, but, like I said from Day One, we're looking to put our best foot forward. We've earned the right to be here and at the end of the day, we'd like to say we did our best. I'm not sure what that means as far as the score."

Simpson said he didn't really learn anything he didn't know about Chicago from Monday night's game. Simpson still watches the NHL on a regular basis and had a good idea of what Chicago was all about.

"I knew how they played a little bit. It's just the execution that is a little quicker, a little better. Surprises? No. Just to see live exactly the way they do it. I love the way the Blackhawks are built. They have the superstars, the Kanes, the Toews, the Keiths and those guys, and the guys behind them are all real solid. The defense is mobile, moves the puck well, can stretch the defense with a pass. I think NHL teams are going to have problems with them all year, too."We're back at the Hallenstadion for the end of Zurich's pre-game skate. The Blackhawks will take the ice soon for their skate, in preparation for tonight's Victoria Cup showdown.


A New Day
09.29.2009 / 5:45 AM ET

While the hockey was great last night, I personally am happy to see a new sunrise. Monday was a rugged work day for myself. Pretty much anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

I won't bore my loyal readers with all the gruesome details. But, the highlights were that I came to the game without my wallet or any money. Not an ideal situation when the only way to get online in the Hallenstadion is to buy internet access. Fortunately, one of my colleagues bailed me out there. But, the lack of money also meant no dinner. Certainly, I can afford to miss a meal here and there -- although the bratwurst at the stadium is phenomenal -- but it is not ideal during a very long work day.

Oh yeah, did I mention I almost got run over walking back to the hotel after Chicago's 9-2 win against HC Davos? Well, I did. As usual I was in my own world as I trudged through the empty streets of Zurich at midnight, listening to some old-school Metallica on the Ipod when I started to cross a steet against the light. No harm there, as there wasn't a car in sight -- at least that is what I thought. Next thing I know, there is a red subcompact whizzing by me within inches. Good times.

I have my wallet and cash today and didn't cross against any lights on the way here this morning -- thanks to Bill Miller from our crack Events staff -- so today is already exponentially better.

I'll have more observations from last night, as well as the news from today, after the skates are over.

Blackhawks prevail, 9-2
09.28.2009 / 2:52 PM ET

Chicago certainly enjoyed the wider Olympic ice surface Monday night in the Victoria Cup exhibition against Davos here at Hallenstadion. Chicago used its young legs and team speed to batter Davos, the Swiss champion, into submission by a 9-2 score before 7,252 fans.
 
Duncan Keith opened the third-period scoring with a blistering one-timer on the power play to make it 7-1. Then, Pat Kane scored the goal of the game. Taking the puck along the half board, Kane got a step on defenseman Robin Grossman and powered through a couple stick checks to get the inside shoulder for his cut to the net. There, he beat the Swiss goalie to the far post and tucked home his shot before falling on his back. Radek Smolenak scored his second of the game, by putting away his own rebound, late in the period to give Chicago a 9-1 lead.

For Davos, Peter Guggisberg scored a pretty goal in the dying moments to give the loud, supportive Davos crowd something to cheer about. Guggisberg used his raved-about speed to get behind the Chicago defense and elude a diving attempt by Brent Sopel to get in alone on Corey Crawford before flipping the puck into the upper half of the net.

One of the big storylines in this game was the battle for the backup goalie position for Chicago and both Antti Niemi and Crawford played half the game to state their cases. It's unclear if anything was decided between the two, however, because both goalies saw sporadic work and each allowed one goal.

Chicago is right back at it tomorrow, playing ZSC Lions in the Victoria Cup.

Second Period Complete
09.28.2009 / 3:26 PM ET

It was more of the same for Chicago in the second period as it continued to dominate Davos, which did get a pretty goal from Daniel Widing, who scored a one-timer on the power play. Dano Burgler made a quick pass that busted up Chicago's penalty-kill formation and allowed Widing, a former Nashville Predators prospect, to snipe at a half-open net.

That was the only goal Chicago's Antti Niemi allowed before being replaced midway through the second by Corey Crawford, the other goalie looking to earn the backup job with the Hawks.

Niemi made one of the saves of the game, powering across his crease to get another Widing one-timer with his blocker. Niemi also made a pretty glove save on defenseman Marc Gianola..

Chicago forward Evan Brophey had a big period, scoring a rebound goal to give Chicago a 4-1 lead. He punctuated his goal by tripping over the goalie and flying through the air, Bobby Orr style. Brophey almost had another goal late in the period, but was denied by a brilliant save from the Swiss goalie.

Patrick Sharp got the fifth Chicago goal, showing no hesitation about his finishing move when he was sprung behind the Davos D by a pretty head-man pass through the neutral zone.

First-period Highlights
09.28.2009 / 2:52 PM ET

Troy Brouwer sure is enjoying Switzerland.

Chicago leads HC Davos, 3-0, after the first period and Brouwer figured in the first two tallies. He scored the game-opening goal with a shorthanded strike that capped a pretty give-and-go rush with Jonathon Toews. Goalie Leonardo Genoni had no chance.

Then, four minutes later, Brouwer got the first assist on a goal from Brian Campbell that trickled through the Swiss goalie's legs. Patrick Kane added No. 3 when he pushed home a gimme set up by a pretty pass from Campbell with 2:26 remaining.

The line of Kane-Toews-Brouwer was the most dominat of Chicago's lines in the first 20 minutes.

Chicago received a scare late in the period when Brent Sopel was momentarily stung while blocking a shot. But, the veteran defenseman shook off the injury and got to the bench under his own power.

Chicago goalie Antti Niemi, playing for his job, only had to make one save of consequence in the first, stoning Mathias Joggi on a backhander from the slot during the period's only power play.

The Davos supporters, who have packed the upper bowl on both sides of the rink, have been amazing. The singing has been constant throughout the first 20 minutes and whole sections were bouncing up and down and clapping to encourage their boys, even after it was 3-0.

First Impressions
09.28.2009 / 2:15 PM ET

Hallenstadion is a cool little building for hockey. It is a multi-purpose arena, so when it is configured for hockey, it seats about 11,000 people, but there is a huge moat between the seats and the boards. But the sightlines are very good.

The crowd began arriving early -- some as early as two hours before the game -- and has been filing in ever since. There are a ton of Davos fans here, many of whom made the three-hour trek to the north. They are all in bright yellow jerseys, and many are wearing scarves and some are wearing flags. The hard-core supporters are in the upper deck and have started singing and waving their flags as the players come on the ice for introductions.

But there are also a ton of Chicago jerseys in the crowd. I have seen several Patrick Kane jerseys and a few Jonathan Toews jerseys as well. Right in front of me is a man wearing a John Klemm Blackhawks jersey. A few seats down, another man is wearing an old-school white Bob Probert jersey.

There is no press box, so to speak, but we have table top seats in the lower bowl at center ice and it is a great place from which to watch a game.

They just played the national anthems and it always strikes me how much better the American anthem sounds when you are away from home. It was just the instrumental version, but it still gave me goosebumps.

Game should start momentarily. I will have updates after every period.


A Conversation with Guggisberg
09.28.2009 / 1:35 PM ET

As I mentioned earlier, I spoke with Peter Guggisberg for a few minutes before the game tonight. Guggisberg, for those that have not been faithfully reading The Finnish Line, is one of the marquee players from Davos in this game. Many of the North Americans playing over here have raved about Guggisberg's skill set and suggested the 24-year-old might be ready for North American competition. Guggisberg is property of the Washington Capitals, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2004 Entry Draft. Guggisberg is playing with former NHL forwards Petr Taticek and Josef Marha in Monday night's game.

Here is my short, pre-game conversation with Guggisberg:

NHL.com: Is it prett exciting for you to be playing in front of an NHL staff and against NHL players?

PG:  It's great to play against a NHL team. This is a chance that maybe you only have at World Championship or something like that, biut now we can play against Chicago, so that's great.

NHL.com: Is this game more important for players on your team like you, who have been drafted by NHL teams?

PG: Of course, it's a bit different than when you play a regular game in the middle of the season. It's a game that everyone wants to play.

NHL.com: Do you want to play in the NHL?

PG: Yeah, when I think I have a chance.

NHL.com: Have you talked a lot with Washington?

PG: No, maybe one time.

NHL.com: Do you feel ready for the NHL?

PG: I feel ready, yeah, I feel very ready.

NHL.com: Is it something you would consider next year? Are you out of contract?

PG: I have two years left on my contract, but it can be cancelled if I have interest in a club from the NHL

NHL.com: So, will you consider coming over to North America after this season?

PG: I don't know. I have no idea if it is next year or sometime later.


Daigle Out for Davos
09.28.2009 / 1:20 PM ET


I just arrived at Hallenstadion for tonight's game and stopped by the Davos dressing room, hoping to speak with Alexander Daigle.

Unfortunately, Daigle did not make the trip after being ruled out with injury.

I did have a few minutes with Peter Guggisberg, the team's star right wing. I will have details of that conversation here on The Finnish Line.

Chicago is already in the building as well and some of the boys are rinkside playing soccer to get loose. Some early arriving fans are clustered around, getting an unexpected treat.

Mystery Man of Davos
09.28.2009 / 10:20 AM ET

If you take a look at the Davos roster for the Victoria Cup, which can be found here (http://blackhawks.nhl.com/v2/ext/hcdavosroster.pdf), a few names jump out because of their North American connections.

Everyone knows Alexander Daigle, The No. 1 overall pick by Ottawa that never panned out. Forward Petr Taticek was recently a big-time prospect with the Florida Panthers. The von Arx brothers -- Jan, the defenseman, and Reto, the forward -- are pretty famous in Swiss hockey circles and Dennis Widding, the Swedish defenseman, has some cachet with hard-core NHL fans.

But, it is none of those players that are dominating the conversation around the Hallenstadion on Monday as game time approaches.

In fact, Daigle, a star for so long, is an afterthought on this team. He hasn't been playing regularly so far this season, although he is expected to play Monday night because there is no restriction on the number of imports that can be in the Swiss team's lineup. The Swiss League allows four imports per game and Daigle has often been the odd import out in Davos' first seven games.

No, the man everyone is talking about is Peter Guggisberg, a 24-year-old right wing, who was drafted late, No. 166, in the 2004 Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals.

Domenic Pittis, who plays for ZSC Zurich, says that Guggisberg is one of the fastest players he has ever played against. That is saying something, considering Pittis had cups of coffee with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers, perennially among the best skating teams in the NHL.

Ryan Gardner, another North American on the Lions roster, also has raved about Guggisberg's talents, especially his skill level around the net..

At just 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Guggisberg is on the small side for NHL dury. But, he has the scoring chops to make an impact, as evidenced by the fact that he scored 20 goals in 48 games last season as Davos took the Swiss league championship

It will be interesting to see what Guggisberg can do Monday night against Chicago.

Interesting lineup decisions for Chicago
09.28.2009 / 07:39 AM ET


The Blackhawks just finished their morning skate at Hallenstadion in preparation for tonight's Victoria Cup exhibition game against HC Davos (2:15 p.m. ET, NHL.com, blackhawks.com).

Despite being allowed to dress 22 players under the blended rules used in the Victoria Cup competition, Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate that he will go with the traditional 20-man roster used in NHL competition.

"We want the guys that are playing to feel like they get in the game more," Quenneville told NHL.com. "You have 22 guys and you have 5 lines in the rotation, eight D, you're sitting there too long. When you have 18 skaters, those guys all want to play more in the game, too. So, we wanted to keep a similar rotation and the guys that are playing to get in regularly."

Although the Hawks did not announce their lineup, their were nine players that stayed on the ice for extra work Monday morning. Extract those players from consideration and you have a 20-man roster.

Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland, Tomas Kopecky and Colin Frasor appear to be the healthy scratches, joined by starting goalie Cristobal Huet, who will sit while Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford split the duties in Monday night's game. We'll have more on this battle in a story on NHL.com later this morning.

Dustin Byfuglien looked good in practice as he comes back from a groin injury in practice and Quenneville said the bruising winger will get a look in Tuesday's game against ZSC Zurich. Kris Versteeg, meanwhile, will be held out until the games in Finland later this week.

Jack Skille, who has been fighting an injury too, will play Monday night and is looking to look down a fourth-line spot in the absence of Adam Burish, who is out with a knee injury. His biggest competition might come from waiver claim Radek Smolenak.

Quenneville said Monday morning that he is looking forward to seeing what the big-bodied Smolenak can do in his first game action with the Hawks.

"I like how he looks on the ice," Quenneville said. "He's got some size, handles the puck and moves alright, so we'll see him in game action."

And, Smolenak will be seen at his best, as he finally got his skates and sticks from North America. Smolenak's equipment did not make Chicago's charter after he was claimed on waivers from Tampa Bay. In stead, it arrived Sunday evening, meaning that Smolenak practiced for two days in skates that didn't quite fit and with equipment that had yet to be broken in to the player's specifications.

Victoria Cup Celebration 2009
09.27.2009 / 01:25 PM ET


We  just finished here at the Victoria Cup Celebration 2009, which is Chicago's only public appearance here in Helsinki.

The Hawks were warmly received upon arrival in Sihlcity for an hour-long social with VIPs, the Zurich Lions, Lions' supporters and officials from both the International Ice Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League.

After the meet and greet, the team attended a formal presentation at the local theater. The program featured comments by Rene Fasel of the IIHF, Ken Yaffe of the NHL, Tyler Currie of the NHL's Players' Association, as well as various dignataries from the city of Zurich.

Former ZSC Lions champions were warmly received as they presented plagues to the NHL dinataries in a classy part of the program. Heinz Hinterkircher from the 1949 Swiss Champions made the first presentation, followed by Peter Meier of the 1961 championship team and, finally, Claudio Micheli of the 2000 championship side. 

Finally, just before the Hawks were brought on stage, Switzerland's best blues band, the Philipp Fankhouser Band, joined by saxophonist Sam Burkhardt, played a rousing rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago."

Up on stage both Jonathon Toews and Pat Kane spoke to the crowd before the whole team received a loud ovation.

Right after that the team left, returning to the hotel for a free night before Monday's morning skate.

I also returned to the hotel with a ride through downtown Zurich. It looks like a beautiful city and I'm headed back to explore it a little bit more.

I'll be back at you all tomorrow.

A special guest at practice

09.27.2009 / 10:04 AM ET


Curtis Brown, the former Blackhawk, took in Sunday afternoon's practice. Brown, who played 736 regular-season games in the NHL, including 71 with Chicago in 2005-06, is now playing in Switzerland.

This season, Brown is playing with Biel, where he is an offensive threat again after years of being deployed as a defensive center. Last year, he played for the Kloten Flyers, scoring 23 points while once again focusing on the defensive side of the puck.

"It's great having Chicago here," Brown told the Finnish Line. "Switzerland is already a pretty multi-cultural place, but it is nice to see some familar faces. It's great. It seems like old times. I don't know if it is my comfort level with Switzerland, but it feels like we could be anywhere watching this practice. It seems like. We could be in Chicago. It's nice to see a lot of guys I played with in Chicago and against throughout my career."

Brown joked that he served as a baby-sitter for many of the young guns in the Chgicago lineup during his one year in Chicago, "but now those guys are leading the team." As a result of all of the ties, he said that there were a lot of people he was looking forward to see after practice.

Defenseman Brian Campbell played with Brown for several years when the two were in Buffalo, so they planned to have a little lunch, according to Campbell, before the Sunday night Victoria Cup Celebration downtown.

Brown also said that he expects both Davos and the Lions to give the hawks a run for their money. He has played extensively against both clubs in the past year and knows the talent is there for the Swiss teams. Plus, he points to the fact that Bern played the New York Rangers to a 1-1 tie for two periods before penalty trouble on their part allowed the Rangers to pull away in last year's exhibition. And, Metallurg Magnitogorsk only lost by a goal in a back-and-forth Victoria Cup game. Zurich beat Metallurg in the Champions Hockey League final this past spring to earn the right to play in this game.

"I would anticipate good hockey, partly because the hockey is good and also because the reality is that you have one team in training camp and you have other teams in the middle of their season," Brown told the Finnish Line. "Would it be the same two months from now? I don't know. I guess we will never know. The other thing is it is a bigger ice surface over here and that is playing into the Swiss teams' hands, if you will.

"Davos won the league last year and they are very fast. The skill level over here is very high. Obviously, the guys aren't very big, but they don't have to be because they have more room. Zurich last year  won the Champions League, which maybe didn't hit a radar in the NHL, but definitely hit a radar in the rest of Europe as far as giving the Swiss league credibility. So, I expect good games."

Chicago Practice
09.27.2009 / 9:40 AM ET

Chicago ran through a crisp 75-minute practice today, a session watched enthusiasitically by some local junior-aged players.

Joel Quenneville ran the team through some game preparations as the Blackhawks start preparing for Monday's game against Davos. He still has some roster decisions, as well, including whom will be his backup.

Quenneville said that Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford will split the game against Davos and that Cristobal huet, the team's No. 1 will play aginst Zurich in the Victoria Cup game.

I also spoke to Kris Versteeg, who is back on the ice after suffering an upper-body injury earlier in the postseason. He says he is feeling much better, but has yet to test the injury in full-contact drills. He says he is close to returning, but won't even entertain such notions until he passes that test. The start of the 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Series on Friday is his goal, but he is unsure if he will meet that deadline.

I will have more on the roster issues facing the Hawks later today in my story on NHL.com.

The Blackhawks are making an appearance tonight at the Victoria Cupo Celebration 2009 in the Sihlcity section of Zurich. The Lions will be there as well, as will members of the International Ice Hockey Federation. I hope to have a blog entry from there tonight as well.

Zurich Practices
09.27.2009 / 9:13 AM ET

(This was written 7 a.m. ET, but couldn't be posted at that time because of wireless issues)

The Lions practiced Sunday morning before Chicago took the ice. I wandered over to the Eisbahn Oerlikon to check it out. I picked up a wonderfully fresh roll from a cart along the way and it was so good -- crusty on the outside and soft but dense on the inside -- it didn't even need butter.
'
The Lions' practice was a crisp affair, heavy on drills that stressed skating and stickhandling. A number of people here have already told me that the Swiss League is a very technical league without a great deal of hitting. There is certainly plenty of skill on display here this morning to suggest that scouting report isn't very far off the mark.

The Blackhawks insisted after Saturday's practice that they knew nothing about either ZSC Zurich or HC Davos, which they play in an exhibition Monday. But, they began filling in that knowledge gap a little Sunday morning as the team's assistant coaches wandered over early to check out Zurich's practice and see the team firsthand.

The Hawks are scheduled to practice after the Lions finish up here at the team's practice facility. Monday, the Lions will again practice here, but the Blackhawks will move to the Hallenstadion, which will be turned back into an ice rink late Sunday night after the "Walking With Dinosaurs" show finishes its run.

After practice, I spoke briefly with Zurich coach Sean Simpson and he told me that Ari Sulander, the great Finnish goalie, will be in the nets for the Lions. He also mentioned that forwards Alexej Krutov and Adrian Wichser could possibly return from injuries.

Good Morning!
09.27.2009 / 4:10 AM ET

Sorry for abrupt end to the posts last night, but I absolutely hit the wall after I finished a pair of stories -- one on the first practice in Zurich and another on Radek Smolenak's weird and wild adventure after being claimed on waivers less than 48 hours earlier.

I planned to blog more, but needed to get something to eat first, so, as George Thorogood would say, out the door I went. After some wandering, I hit up a kebabb house near the hotel and had a wonderful chicken roll that was nice and spicy. Reminded me a little of the offering from my favorite street cart outside the office, in fact. Then, I took a little walk around the suburb we are in, which is pretty bustling.

Our hotel is right across the street from the Oerlikon train station, so the area is pretty hopping. They tell me downtown Zurich is just two stops away via train and I may check that out tonight after work is done for the day. But, there was a lot of foot traffic around the hotel on Saturday night and I joined the crowds, wandering for close to an hour to get the lay of the land.

It was quite brisk here once the sun set and I was just on the right side of comfortable in a long- sleeve shirt. Still their were plenty of people dining outside at the area restaurants, including the pizza place across the street, Mamma Mia's, which was absolutely jammed.

When I got back to the hotel around 11 p.m. local time, I was done for. The bed's siren song proved to be too much and all intentions of a good-night blog went right out the window. Thoroughly exhausted, I was asleep within 10 minutes. I woke up once during the night, at 3 a.m. local time, and had no idea where I was for a good 10 seconds -- very weird! But, I was back asleep until 9 a.m. and, after 10 hours of decent sleep, I feel like a million bucks. Hopefully, I have beaten jet lag. Only time will tell, though.

I'm going to grab a quick breakfast downstairs and then head to practice. Both ZSC Zurich and the Hawks are practicing today and I want to see both. I'll keep you posted throughout the day. The hawks website is doing a great job here, too. They had all the video from yesterday's practice, as well as a photo gallery.

Talk to you soon.

Good afternoon, Zurich
09.26.2009 / 12:41 PM ET

Well, we are finally here in Zurich. What a pretty country. We landed at about 4 pm local time and headed straight for our downtown hotel.

But, there was no rest for the weary as the Hawks had a 6 pm practice at ZSC Zurich's practice rink. So, as soon as I dropped my bag off, I took a much-needed 10-minute walk to the Eisbarn Oerlikon behind the Hallenstadion, where Tuesday and Wednesday's games will be played.

The Chicago players clearly feel a little better than I do as they are having a spirited 12-on-12 scrimmage. Coach Quenneville is encouraging the boys, who are hooting and hollering after every goal. The pace is pretty good, considering we have been traveling for the better part of we hours.

Things are very different here already. The Hawks are practicing here because their is a children's show at the main arena, something called "Walking With Dinosaurs."

However, there are not adequate dressing rooms in this building, so the team dressed in the ZSC clubhouse, which is across the street. So, the players put on all their equipment and then walked across the street in shower shoes and then put the skates on downstairs before climbing a flight of stairs to the rink, which has a glass ceiling for natural light -- reminiscent of a New England prep school rink.

I'll have more later after I get back to the hotel.

Time for takeoff
09.25.2009 / 11:11 PM ET

We're at the charter branch of the O'Hare Airport, waiting for the Blackhawks to arrive. The game has just finished at the United Center, with the home team squeaking out a 4-3 victory on a late goal by call-up Robert Klinkhammer.

We'll be off soon after the players arrive and we all clear security.

They tell me the flight is a little less than 9 hours (it seems we have a pretty good headwind in our favor) and we should land in Zurich a little before 3 p.m. local time.

I'm hoping to sleep on this flight, which is a 50-50 proposition. Usually, I have trouble sleeping on flights, but I have been up since 5:30 a.m. New York time. That's a 18-hour day by the time we hit our cruising altitude.

We're hitting the rink right after we land in Zurich and I hope to have an update here in the Finnish Line as soon as we arrive at the Hallenstadion. See you then.

A friendly rivalry
09.25.2009 / 12:42 PM ET

The Finnish Line has spoken to both Domenic Pittis, a star for the Zurich team that will play Chicago in Wednesday's Victoria Cup, and Zurich coach Sean Simpson in the past two days.

Both have said that they hope to win the game against the Blackhawks, but neither has exhibited the hard-line stance the Russians took heading into last season's inaugural game between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and the New York Rangers.

In the buildup to that game, the Russian side talked about how important it was to beat the Rangers. For the Russians, it was a chance to prove that they belonged on equal footing with the NHL.

In the end, however, the Rangers won, 4-3, in the game, which was played in Bern, Switzerland. Simpson was one of the interested observers in the crowd that night.

"It was a heck of a game," Simpson told us. "I think there was a lot more on the line in that game."

Simpson says his team is just happy to be in this year's game as European club champ. He still has trouble believing that his little team for the underappreciated Swiss league went on a giant-killing run that culminated with a defeat of Magnitogorsk in the finals.

"It was just one of those magical runs that teams go on in sports," Simpson said. We said, 'look, let's just present ourselves the best we can.' And, everything worked out. It was just crazy."

And, as a reward for that craziness, Simpson's Lions now get to play the Blackhawks. He insists, however, that there will be no trash talk coming out of his camp in the days leading up to Wednesday's game.

"Normally, you would think this would be a big team from Sweden or Russia playing Chicago in this game," Simpson said. "For them to be playing the European champion from Switzerland, that's kind of funny."


Europe, here we come
09.25.2009 / 12:29 PM ET

Well, the adventure has finally begun. An obscenely early 5:30 a.m. alarm set in motion what will be one of the longest travel days of my 15-year career covering hockey. Not that I am complaining, as I am chuffed to bits to get started with this adventure.

I arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport at 6:30 a.m. for my flight two hours later to Chicago. In a good omen, we took off on time (a rarity of rarities there) and actually landed at O'Hare a few minutes early.

Still, there was enough time to listen to most of the Allman Brothers live at the Fillmore, which is one of the many new nuggets of music I have laid on to my Ipod for this trip.

Now, I am at an airport hotel, hoping to catch a short power nap before I meet the team later tonight for the overnight flight to Zurich. That plane, however, won't take off until sometime after 10 p.m. local time because the Hawks have an exhibition game tonight at the United Center.

We won't arrive in Zurich until early in the afternoon Saturday. But, there will be little time to rest, as Chicago has a practice scheduled for later that afternoon.

There's no doubt that this will be a hectic first 48 hours, but that is part and parcel of trips like this. I survived a similar experience on the way to Stockholm for last season's Premiere games there and I plan to do the same this time around.

You'll likely hear from me with a few more posts here today and then I will hit the ground running in Zurich, posting all the sights and sounds from Switzerland.

Chicago alumni plan games
09.23.2009 / 3:58 PM ET


There's a ton of cool stuff that will be going on in relation to the 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Games next weekend in both Helsinki and Stockholm.

One of the coolest things, however, is a tour of Scandinavia being undertaking by the Chicago Blackhawks alumni.

Spearheaded by Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association President Cliff Korroll, the alumni plans to take a full team over to play three games in five days, with stops in Stockholm (to play the old-timers from Swedish club Byrnas) and Helsinki to play a celebrity all-star team comprised of retired Finnish players, as well as famous Finnish musicians.

The marquee game on Saturday pits the Chicago alumni, coached by Stan Mikita, against the Finnish Master's League NHL Legends, a team put together by former NHL star Jyrki Lumme. Esa Tikkanen, Reimo Helminen and Christian Ruutu are among the Finnish legends that will play in the game.

Brian Noonan, Steve Poapst, Al Secord and Reid Simpson are among the players set to represent the Blackhawks in the game.

We'll have more details on the Chicago alumni trip as the week progresses.

Off we go!
09.21.2009 / 1:45 PM ET

The 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere Series will be here before you know it.

Here at the Finnish Line, we will cover the excellent adventures of the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers as they head to Europe. My colleague, Dan Rosen, has the Swedish side of the story, involving the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, in the Taking Stockholm blog, which will debut soon, as well.

I leave Friday night for Zurich, Switzerland to begin what I anticipate will be an unforgettable experience. I plan to hit the ground Saturday morning with coverage about the Victoria Cup, which pits the Hawks against the ZSC Zurich, the reigning Champions' League holders. Chicago also plays an exhibition game against HC Davos, the current undefeated leaders in the Swiss top league.

Chicago plays Davos, which features former No. 1 pick Alexandre Daigle, on Monday. The next day is the Victoria Cup game against ZSC Zurich, who beat Metallurg Magnitogorsk, last year's Victoria Cup participant, in the spring's Champions Hockey League title game.

Then, it is on to Helsinki for NHL regular-season games against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 2 and 3.

The Panthers, meanwhile, will be in Helsinki from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. They will play exhibitions against Tappara and Jokerit before taking on the Hawks in the two regular-season games.

Of course, we will have all the hockey news that is fit to print here at NHL.com, much of it here on this blog. But, this blog will also be about the experience of going to Europe and the atmosphere in both Switzerland and Finland.

I am lucky enough to have covered the NHL abroad on three other occasions -- Japan in 2000, London in 2007 and Stockholm last fall -- and I am always amazed about the universal appeal of the game we love. Hockey fans may speak different languages, but, for the most part, they think and act the same as you and me.

I hope you will enjoy reading this blog as much as I know I will have witnessing the events that will be captured here. Come back often for updates, as I will be posting all this week to hype the games -- and the start of the regular season, which is right around the corner.



Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis