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NHL to open '10-11 in Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague

by Dan Rosen
The NHL is expanding its foray overseas for the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere games.

What started as an experiment with the Kings and Ducks going to London to start the 2007-08 season has turned into three major events on the NHL schedule to start the 2010-11 season.

"The Premiere Games are a highly anticipated part of our season launch, and we are extremely pleased that six teams -- more than ever -- will open their season in Europe," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "With these games, nearly half of our Clubs will have participated in Premiere -- a testament to how excited our teams are to be playing before our outstanding fans in Europe."

A record six teams will be opening next season in three different European cities.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild will play two regular-season games against each other at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday, Oct. 7 and Friday, Oct. 8.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks will square off for two games at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9.

The Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes will play each other at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, on Saturday, Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10.

The NHL has played regular-season games in all three arenas before, but never all in the same season.

"The 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Games, featuring six participating clubs this year, represents our continued commitment to growing hockey outside of North America, further displaying the talent of the NHL players internationally," said Mike Ouellet, NHLPA Chief of Business Affairs. "Fans in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic will have the opportunity to watch some of their own home-grown players competing in these regular season NHL games, which will certainly be a great experience for everyone involved."

This season, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues opened in Stockholm, while the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks did the same in Helsinki. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators opened the 2008-09 season in Stockholm on the same days the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning were playing in Prague.

"I think it's going to be a great experience, to go back and play in your home country," Hurricanes defenseman and Finland native Joni Pitkanen told "I think it's good because we have three Finns (Pitkanen, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen), and we're playing the Wild and they have the same (Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen)."

As the current rosters stand, 18 players could be going back to their home countries with their respective NHL teams.

Backstrom will probably be the most recognizable player in Helsinki by local media and fans alike. He is a Helsinki native and a national team goalie. Koivu, Miettinen and Ruutu are also headed to the Olympics for Finland. 

Coyotes' forwards and Czech natives Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata already played in Prague two years ago when Prucha was with the Rangers and Vrbata was with the Lightning.

They could be going back with fellow countrymen Martin Hanzal, Robert Lang and Zbynek Michalek. Boston could be represented by Czech natives David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka.

Michalek and Krejci will play for the Czech Republic in the Olympics.

Douglas Murray would be the only Swede playing for the Sharks, but the Blue Jackets could have Kristian Huselius, Fredrik Modin, Sammy Pahlsson and Anton Stralman. Murray, Pahlsson and Modin are slated to play for Sweden in the Olympics.

"It's going to be huge games," Pitkanen said. "Once in a lifetime experience."

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