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Euro opening, Habs' centennial highlight new season

by Dan Rosen

The Montreal Canadiens embark on a year-long centennial celebration that will include hosting the annual All-Star Game in January and the NHL Entry Draft in June at the Bell Centre.
The first pucks in the 91st NHL regular season will drop in two European countries that have supplied the League with a number of premier players over the last two decades.

Sweden and the Czech Republic have opened their doors to the NHL for many years now by developing greats like Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek.

The NHL will give back in early October when the first major event of what should be a star-studded 2008-09 season takes place. The New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins will compete in the NHL Premiere on Oct. 4-5 in Prague and Stockholm.

The Rangers will play back-to-back nights in Prague against the revamped Lightning, who now boast No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos, as well as Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall, Vaclav Prospal, Mark Recchi, Radim Vrbata and Matthew Carle.

Meanwhile, Alfredsson will be bringing the Senators to his home country to play Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Stockholm. It’s a showdown of the last two Eastern Conference champions, who also have met in the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

The Rangers, Lightning, Senators and Penguins will play exhibition games prior to the NHL Premiere, showcasing the NHL in Germany, Finland and Switzerland.

The Rangers will play Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the IIHF Victoria Cup on Oct. 1 in Bern, Switzerland. Alfredsson will get a chance to play his old team, the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League, in his hometown of Gothenburg on Oct. 2.

Alfredsson played three seasons (1992-95) for Frolunda.

“I know Sweden is proud to have a chance to host these two games,” said Mats Sundin, one of Sweden’s legendary NHL stars. “The tickets were sold out hours after they were released. It’s a huge thrill for hockey fans to watch Crosby and Alfredsson and others playing. I think it’s great exposure for the National Hockey League in Europe.”

On the homefront, two of the most storied franchises in all of sports will open the season against one another when the Detroit Red Wings begin defense of their Stanley Cup championship against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 9. The Wings’ newest Stanley Cup championship banner will rise to the rafters that night in Joe Louis Arena.

Two more Original Six franchises will open another one of the League’s legendary buildings the next night as the New York Rangers begin their home schedule against the Chicago Blackhawks in what is sure to be a sold-out Madison Square Garden.

Montreal starts celebrating its centennial season Oct. 10 in Buffalo, and opens the home portion of their schedule Oct. 15 against the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins get the honor of opening three road buildings before their own – the Pepsi Center in Colorado, the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota and the Bell Centre Montreal. After a game in Ottawa, they open the TD Banknorth Center Oct. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins have the latest home opener in the League.

Fans will get their first taste of reigning MVP Alexander Ovechkin when the Washington Capitals open their season in Atlanta on Oct. 10. The Caps host Chicago at the Verizon Center the next night.

The legends will come out for Hall of Fame Weekend in Toronto on Nov. 8-10. A pair of legendary franchises, Montreal and Toronto, will begin the celebration by playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The New York Rangers will play in the Victoria Cup before facing Vincent Lecavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning in Prague to open the season.
Class of 2008 inductees Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov, Ray Scapinello and Ed Chynoweth (posthumously) will be honored at the induction ceremony two nights later.

For the second straight season the League is bringing the game outdoors on New Year’s Day. NHL Winter Classic 2009 will pit the Chicago Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in the NHL’s third outdoor game, but first in a baseball stadium. The game will be televised live on NBC in the United States and on CBC and RDS in Canada. NHL Radio will provide coverage across North America and NHL.com will provide extensive digital video coverage.

“It should be great for the League, the Blackhawks, our city, our fans and our product,” Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon told NHL.com.

Arguably the biggest story heading into the 2008-09 NHL season is the 100th season of the Montreal Canadiens hockey. The League is celebrating its most successful franchise in history by bringing All-Star Weekend and the 2009 NHL Entry Draft to the Bell Centre.

All-Star Weekend will be Jan. 24-25, 2009, and includes the SuperSkills Competition and the 57th All-Star Game. The Entry Draft will be June 26-27.

“It’s going to be our centennial year and we said from the beginning that we want to do everything so that Montreal really becomes hockey-centric and that it’d be a year of celebration of not only the franchise but of our national sport and our great game and all of its heroes,” Canadiens president Pierre Boivin told Canadian Press.

The second half of the NHL season begins Jan. 27 with a slate of 11 games, including Washington at Boston, Carolina at the New York Rangers, Detroit at Columbus, New Jersey at Ottawa, Montreal at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at Florida, Toronto at Minnesota, Atlanta at Dallas, San Jose at Colorado, Buffalo at Edmonton and Anaheim at Phoenix.

Right around then the rumors start to fly as trading season heats up, culminating on March 3, Trade Deadline Day, easily one of the most anticipated days of the season for any hockey fan.

The last day of the regular season will be April 12, when four games are on the schedule and perhaps some playoff berths or divisional titles could be on the line.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

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