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Across the Pond

Granlund continues his dominating ways in SM-liiga

Wednesday, 10.12.2011 / 9:26 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Mikael Granlund has posted at least one point in every game he's played this season. (Getty Images)
When last seen by most North American fans, top Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund had just scored one of the most spectacular goals in international hockey history. The 19-year-old center scored a lacrosse-style goal under the crossbar against Team Russia to open the scoring in the semifinal game of the 2011 World Championships. Coming off a championship season in Finland for HIFK Helsinki, Granlund subsequently added a World Championship gold medal – just the second in Finnish hockey history and first since 1995 – to his collection.

Apart from a concussion that sidelined him last fall and kept him out of the World Junior Championships, the 2010-11 season as a whole was a triumph for the No. 9 pick of the 2010 Entry Draft. Granlund averaged nearly a point-per-game during the SM-liiga regular season (36 points in 39 games), and fared even better in the playoffs (16 points in 15 matches) and the Worlds (9 points in 9 games).

Forsberg, Sakic namesakes look to carve own niches

Wednesday, 10.05.2011 / 1:20 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

"Filip is a young player but he is very mature in a lot of aspects of his game. In terms of the way that he reads and reacts to plays, he is advanced. He has size and skills, but it's more important to know how to use those talents. Of course, he also still has to gain more experience." -- Leksand coach Christer Olsson

They are of no relation to their namesakes, each of whom enjoyed Hall of Fame-worthy careers as teammates with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche, but 2012 Entry Draft prospects Filip Forsberg and Marko Sakic both very much are aware of the curiosity their surnames create among hockey aficionados. The two 17-year-old forwards are trying to find their own places in the hockey world while avoiding the unfair pressure of being compared to Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

Of the two, Forsberg is more likely to play in the NHL someday. The left wing for Leksands IF is projected as a first-round pick in this year's draft. Sakic, meanwhile, could be a late-round selection. The ceiling of Sakic's potential may be lower, but his dreams equally are lofty for a player of his hockey background.

Premiere's European teams have storied traditions

Wednesday, 09.28.2011 / 11:27 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Sparta Praha's David Vyborny scores behind Jokerit goalie Mika Jarvinen. (Getty Images)
Over the course of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge, which will be played in various European locales leading up to the regular season Premiere Games in Stockholm, Helsinki and Berlin, the four participating NHL teams will face seven European clubs, each with its own unique story.

Following is a primer to get know a little more about the European teams the the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres will play in the week to come.

HC Sparta Prague: A century of excellence

HC Sparta Prague will oppose the Rangers in Prague on Thursday. Founded in 1903 by Canadian expatriate Lyle O'Connor, HC Sparta Prague is one of the most enduring and famous teams in the modern-day Czech Republic from a domestic and international standpoint.

The team has won eight championships in the former Czechoslovakian and current Czech Extraliga, including four championships since the start of the new millennium. The franchise is perhaps best known for its spirited "derbies" -- in its soccer and hockey divisions -- against intra-city archrival Slavia.

Soderberg doesn't regret rebuffing NHL for Sweden

Wednesday, 09.21.2011 / 12:18 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Even among many devoted hockey followers in Sweden, Carl Soderberg has been a player they've heard much about over the years but scarcely -- if ever -- seen play. That's because the former St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins prospect willingly chose to remain tucked away in the Allsvenskan minor-league circuit for four years, playing for his hometown Malmo Redhawks after the team was relegated from the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) in 2007.

Soderberg not only turned down repeated requests to report to the NHL clubs that held his rights, he also declined several contract proposals from Elitserien clubs. Soderberg, who will turn 26 on Oct. 12, has finally chosen this season to sever his career-long ties with Malmo in order to sign with Elitserien team Linkopings HC.

Towering Hovinen faces a tall order

Wednesday, 09.14.2011 / 9:00 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Philadelphia's Finnish goalie prospect Niko Hovinen. (Courtesy: Lahti Pelicans)
Of all six positions on the ice, goaltenders deal with the greatest pressure on a game-by-game basis.

A single mistake can overshadow an otherwise strong performance, which is why conquering the game's mental challenges sometimes can prove even tougher than achieving consistently solid physical mechanics. As his team's last line of defense, a goalie always draws scrutiny.

It is especially hard for a goaltender not to stand out from the rest of the players on the ice when he is 6-foot-7, like Lahti Pelicans goaltender Niko Hovinen. The 23-year-old Philadelphia Flyers prospect has been subjected to lofty expectations for years, but it was not until recently that he truly began to embrace the challenges that come with playing one of sports' most difficult positions.

Liv lived an extraordinary life

Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 10:58 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

In Swedish, the word liv means life. Although Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goaltender Stefan Liv died Wednesday in the catastrophic plane crash in Yaroslavl, Russia, that has left the entire hockey world stunned and devastated, he accomplished -- and enjoyed -- more in his 30 years of life than most people experience in much longer lifetimes.

Known for his fun-loving and free-spirit personality, Liv was an immensely popular player among teammates and supporters of the clubs on which he played. Most notably, the former Swedish national team netminder was considered an iconic player for Swedish Elite League team HV71 Jonkoping, with whom he spent 10 of his first 11 professional campaigns before signing to play in the KHL after the 2009-10 season.

Toskala looks to bounce back with hometown club

Wednesday, 08.31.2011 / 10:06 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

"The last few seasons haven't been what I hoped for. It will be nice to return to play for Ilves. I'm feeling strong, and I think we have a good team that can definitely go further than last year."
-- Vesa Toskala

In the world of professional hockey, a player's career fortunes can change in a hurry. This is especially true for goaltenders. When Vesa Toskala first broke into the NHL with the San Jose Sharks after a successful early career in Europe, his play was a revelation. Not much has gone his way ever since.

The 34-year-old netminder, who signed a one-year contract this summer with Ilves Tampere of Finland's SM-Liiga, is hoping a return to his hometown team will help reverse his fortunes.

"The last few seasons haven't been what I hoped for," he said. "It will be nice to return to play for Ilves. I'm feeling strong, and I think we have a good team that can definitely go further than last year."

Croatia's top team adds ex-Flyer Delmore

Thursday, 08.25.2011 / 9:00 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

"I felt like I already knew the team, so I concluded that coming to Zagreb would be good for my career and life, as well as the lives of my wife and daughter."
-- Andy Delmore

Among the various secondary leagues in Europe, the best and most successful is the 11-team Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (EBEL), which is based in Austria but has expanded in recent years to add already established teams from Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and most recently -- the Czech Republic.

One of the most colorful entries in EBEL –- or any European league -– is KHL Medvescak Zagreb.

The Croatian team, which will celebrate its golden anniversary this season, will play its third year in the EBEL in 2011-12. By far the most accomplished club in Croatian hockey, KHL Medvescak (KHL stands for Klub Hokeja na Ledu, and has nothing to do with the Russian-based hockey league) was founded in 1961 and has won 14 Croatian domestic league championships along with several titles during the existence of the former Yugoslav Ice Hockey League.

A quartet of Brynas youngsters face bright futures

Thursday, 08.18.2011 / 10:00 AM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

In European hockey, the teams at the top of the elite-league standings are not necessarily the ones that draw the most attention from NHL scouts.

Take Sweden's Brynas IF Gavle, for example. The team finished in seventh place this past season in Sweden's 12-team Elitserien and has not finished in the top three since the 2000-01 season. Brynas may be a 12-time Swedish champion, but is now a dozen years removed from its most recent championship season.

Nevertheless, Gavle remains a hub of NHL scouting activity. Why? The organization boasts a strong junior hockey program and has graduated many of its young Elitserien players to the National Hockey League. 

European Trophy pits Swedish, German champs

Wednesday, 08.10.2011 / 7:20 PM / Across the Pond

Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

European hockey has always been packed with preseason tournaments with various trophies or monetary prizes at stake. The idea is to give these late summer games a little more meaning than standard tuneups for the regular season -- and add incentive for the teams to prioritize winning. Such events have had a mixed history of success, with a few becoming enduring traditions and many others quickly falling by the wayside.

Started in 2006 as the Nordic Trophy tournament, the European Trophy competition has grown in both scope and prominence over the last five years. The tournament is now no longer just a preseason mini-event, but one that stretches into the month of December.

The 2011 installment of the tourney includes 24 teams based in many of the top European hockey countries. There are six teams from Sweden's Elitserien, six from Finland's SM-Liiga, seven from the Czech Extraliga, two from Germany's DEL, two from the Austrian-based Erste Bank Liga and one from Slovakia's Extraliga.
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