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Across the Pond

Trio of young goalies step to the forefront in Sweden

Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 9:00 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

 Joacim Eriksson has performed significantly better (1.80 GAA, .934 save percentage, three shutouts) than his veteran counterpart Andreas Hadelov (2.66 GAA, .891 save percentage, one shutout). (Photo:
Goaltending is hockey's ultimate high-pressure position. No player on the ice carries more weight on his shoulders to play virtually mistake-free hockey than the man behind the mask. That is especially true in Sweden's Elitserien, which has become of one of the lowest-scoring leagues in the hockey world.

This season, the highest-scoring team in the league, AIK Stockholm, has averaged a modest 2.75 goals per game, while the stingiest defensive team, first-place Lulea HC, has allowed just 98 goals through 51 games (1.92 per game). The worst defensive team, last-place Timra IK, has allowed 3.29 goals per game.

With goals being so scarce in Elitserien, the league's goalies bear enormous responsibility to stop everything they can see and have a chance to reach. The team that scores first usually wins and it is tough to recover from a single "soft" goal. While this is true in any league in the world, Elitserien is among the toughest for a team to successfully play comeback hockey.

Czech team breathes sigh of relief after Demel scare

Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 3:54 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Tomas Demel's only injury was a serious concussion; he continues to experience severe headaches and has been declared out for the season. (Photo:
It is the worst nightmare of anyone who has ever played or watched ice hockey: The sight of a player lying unconscious on the ice for a prolonged period of time. Concerned teammates, opponents and fans stand in stunned silence while medical personnel work carefully but quickly to attempt to save the player's life and transport him to the hospital.

That horrific scene unfolded last Friday in a Czech Extraliga game between home team BK Mlada Boleslav and visiting HC Vitkovice Steel. Shortly past the five-minute mark of the opening period, Vitkovice forward Petr Strapac hammered veteran Mlada Boleslav forward Tomas Demel heavily into the boards with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.

It was the type of hit that happens numerous times per game in matches all around the world. Usually the recipient of hit shakes it off and resumes his shift or skates to the bench. But on this occasion, the 5-foot-9 Demel was off-balance and took the impact of the larger Strapac's body check and crashed to the ice, immediately lapsing into unconsciousness.

Outdoor game, shutouts highlight Oddset tourney

Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:41 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

The annual Euro Hockey Tour series of four-team international tournaments provides an opportunity for the national team coaches and general managers of Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic to evaluate non-NHL talent for roster spots at the IIHF World Championship. The teams also compete for prize money. Russia has won three of the last four seasons.

Won by Team Sweden, the recently completed Oddset Hockey Games in Stockholm and Helsinki was the third of four segments of this season's Tour. The Karjala Cup Tournament was held in November in Helsinki and Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, with Team Russia finishing first. In December, the Swedes prevailed at the Channel One Cup, held in Moscow with one game in Chomutov, Czech Republic. The final competition, the Czech Hockey Games, will be held in late April. Five games will take place in Brno, Czech Republic, and one match will be held in Russia.

DEL: Hussey's hot streak has Straubing soaring

Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 12:15 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Matt Hussey's play has gone a long way toward helping Straubing close in on the first DEL playoff berth in team history. (Photo: Getty Images)
Now in his fourth season in Germany's DEL and first year of a return engagement with the Straubing Tigers, former Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings center Matt Hussey has been one of the hottest offensive players in Europe ever since the calendar flipped to 2012. Despite missing 10 games this season, Hussey leads the German league in goals with 22 and his 40 points rank fourth in overall scoring.

The 32-year-old native of New Haven, Connecticut, has been especially productive over the last month. After racking up 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in January, he has kept right on rolling as the regular season reaches the home stretch. Playing on a line with former NHL left winger Karl Stewart (12 goals, 34 points) and Rene Roethke (10 goals, 26 points), Hussey's play has gone a long way toward helping Straubing close in on the first DEL playoff berth in team history.

Hockey finds an unlikely home in Persian Gulf

Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 9:00 AM / Across the Pond

Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

In the Persian Gulf, temperatures regularly measure in the triple digits. That fact alone would make the area a highly unlikely place for ice hockey to find a home. Yet, the sport has become increasingly popular in the region, and the International Ice Hockey Federation is taking note.

"The locals have really improved. They are training six days a week, two to three hours a day. We used to beat them with hockey sense and knowledge. But they're starting to get that now."
-- Hugo Blomfield

While the United Arab Emirates has been an IIHF member for a few years now, their involvement in international ice hockey has accelerated since 2008. Inspired primarily by Sheikh Falah bin Zayed al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family and current president of the UAE Ice Hockey Association, hockey has taken off in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, as well as other Emirates, particularly Dubai.

"When I moved to Abu Dhabi, all I brought was my work clothes, warm-weather clothes, and my hockey gear," said Hugo Blomfield, a Canadian expat who moved to Abu Dhabi for work in 2005 and currently plays defense for the Abu Dhabi Scorpions of the Emirates Ice Hockey League. "[At first] we had maybe 20-30 guys. We kind of just did a few drills, practiced a little bit and then scrimmaged. The rink itself was Olympic size but kind of run down. It didn't have any proper benches or boards. It was mediocre quality."

Stifling defense key to dramatic Sparta turnaround

Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 9:00 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Through their first 44 games of the 52-game regular season, Sparta has held opponents to 91 goals (an average of 2.07 per game). (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI)
The age-old hockey axiom that scoring wins fans but defense wins championships translates just as easily into Czech as it does to the game's other languages. It is no coincidence that the team which has by far allowed the fewest goals in the Extraliga this season is the same one that has opened up a six-point lead atop the standings with eight games remaining: HC Sparta Prague.

Coming off a disastrous 2011-12 regular season that saw the team finish 12th in the 14-team league, a retooled Sparta roster has rededicated itself to team defense this season under the direction of new head coach Josef Jandac. Previously the head coach of HC Pardubice and an assistant coach on the Czech Republic's gold medal-winning squad at the 2010 World Championships, Jandec focused primarily on improving on last season's 2.73 goals-against average (eighth in the league) and minus-27 goal differential (11th).

Slovak Zaborsky is Finland's top scoring 'Ace'

Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 10:55 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Things may not have worked out for him in North America, but Assat Pori (Pori Aces) left wing Tomas Zaborsky has become a hot commodity in European hockey. The 24-year-old Slovak entered the season as one of the better young goal-scorers in Finland's SM-liiga, and has taken his game to the next level this season.

Zaborsky had 23 goals and 33 points last season, but he's already surpassed those totals with 18 games still remaining in the 2011-12 regular season. This season, he has 30 goals and 49 points to lead the league in both categories. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward has registered points in seven of his last nine games, and produced multi-point games in three of Assat's last four games.

Rosen, Gynge form 1-2 punch for AIK Stockholm

Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 10:41 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

During the course of the past two years, AIK Stockholm's professional hockey team has gone from a barely surviving relic of past glories to one of European hockey's most compelling Cinderella stories.

As the stretch drive of the Elitserien's 2011-12 regular season approaches, AIK is in the thick of the chase for its second playoff berth in as many seasons since returning from nearly a decade-long relegation from the Eliteserien.

Merely competing for the playoffs may not sound like much for a once-storied franchise that has won the LeMat Trophy seven times as Swedish champions (both before and after the creation of Elitserien) and were runner-up six additional times.  But AIK Stockholm is a team that was in financial ruin not that long ago.

Flyers' Backlund trying to revive career in Finland

Wednesday, 01.11.2012 / 11:26 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Former Flyers goalie Johan Backlund is auditioning not only for Kärpät but for other potential suitors in leagues around Europe. (Photo: Getty Images)
In order for a player to establish himself in the National Hockey League, it sometimes takes more than talent, dedication and perseverance. There is a degree of luck involved in avoiding injuries. This is especially true for goaltenders, as there are only 60 starting and backup jobs available League-wide.

Johan Backlund is one of the goalies who has fallen victim both to injuries and the numbers' game. Two seasons ago at this time, the veteran Swedish netminder was in the midst of a strong North American debut season in the American Hockey League and had worked his way into the mix to compete for an NHL job with the Philadelphia Flyers. It has been nothing but injuries and frustration for him ever since.

Now 30 years of age, Backlund's NHL dreams may have come to an end.

Hip problems curtailed his effectiveness this past season and have limited him to two minor-league games this season. Finally healthy now, there is no longer a spot for him in the Philadelphia organization. As a result, the Flyers loaned Backlund for the rest of the season to Sm-Liiga team Kärpät Oulu.

Sweden's Friberg opening eyes at World Juniors

Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 12:55 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Max Friberg leads the WJC in scoring with nine goals in five games. (Photo: Getty Images)
There are a select few hockey players in the world who are blessed with the rare combination of imposing size, explosive first stride and exceptionally soft hands that it takes become a top-end selection in the NHL Entry Draft. Anaheim Ducks draftee Max Friberg is not among those lucky ones, but he is nevertheless an intriguing NHL prospect.

Although strong on his skates, Friberg has average size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) and only slightly above-average natural skill. He was not initially considered a fast-track player to the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) level. That is why the now 19-year-old winger was still available when Anaheim chose him in the fifth round (No. 143) of the 2011 Draft.

However, as he has shown during his eye-opening performance at the 2012 World Junior Championships, Friberg compensates for any perceived shortcomings with work ethic and desire. Once Friberg gets his feet moving, he has above-average quickness, which makes his all-around skating ability an asset in actual game settings.
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