The NHL and the NHLPA announced Thursday that the Red Wings will join the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers for four opening weekend games in Europe to kick-off the 2009-10 regular-season.
The Red Wings and Blues will play a home-and-home series at Globe Arena in Stockholm on Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. On those same dates, the Blackhawks and Panthers will play home-and-home games at Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, Finland. Sweden and Finland are the top ranked countries in terms of overseas visitors to NHL.com.
The Red Wings' current roster is comprised of seven Swedish players -- captain Nicklas Lidstrom
, 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg
, Johan Franzen
, Tomas Holmstrom
, Niklas Kronwall
, Mikael Samuelsson and Andreas Lilja. The Blues boast a dynamic Swedish player of their own in center Patrik Berglund, a first-round draft pick of the team in 2006 and participant in the 2009 NHL YoungStars Game on the rookie team.
The Red Wings have a history of playing in Europe. It was 71 years ago when the Wings and Montreal Canadiens played a nine-game post-season series in Great Britain and France. The Canadiens won the series, 5-3-1, that was played between April 21 and May 14, 1938. The series was played in three different arenas in Paris and London. It was the first overseas tour by NHL players.
The Wings also have a history with Sweden. They are the first NHL team to employ a Swedish-born player -- defenseman Thommie Bergman -- as a roster mainstay. Bergman played six seasons with the Red Wings between 1972 and 1980.
The Blackhawks will be playing in Europe for the first time in 17 years. The Blackhawks played a two-game exhibition series against the Canadiens at London’s Wembley Arena in 1992. NHL Premiere 2009 will be the first games ever played outside of North America by the Panthers and the first regular-season NHL games played in Finland.
“The NHL Premiere games are a signature event for the league, our players and our fans,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Playing regular-season games overseas is an excellent way to further engage the passionate NHL fan base in Europe and encourage the growth of the game of hockey.”
The NHL opened the 2008-09 regular-season in Europe in front of capacity crowds when the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning played two games in Prague, Czech Republic, and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators squared off in a two-game set in Stockholm. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings opened the 2007-08 NHL regular-season in front of two sellout crowds at O2 Arena in London. Previously, the NHL hosted three successful Game One events in Japan in 1997, 1998 and 2000.
More information on NHL Premiere 2009 will be released at a later date, including ticket information, broadcast information, training camp schedules and preseason schedules.