KHL Medveščak Zagreb opened their 2012-13 EBEL season with a pair of outdoor games played in the ancient Roman amphitheatre of Pula, Croatia. They lost 3 - 2 to HDD Olimpija Ljubljana in the first game but beat the Vienna Capitals 4 - 1 in the second.
The highest tier of professional ice hockey in France is Ligue Magnus.
It consists of fourteen clubs, each playing a relatively mild twenty-six game schedule from September to February. At the end of the season there are four rounds of playoffs. The clubs ranked 5th through 12th compete in a preliminary round, and the winners face the 1st to 4th ranked clubs in the quarterfinals; semifinals and finals ensue. The preliminary round, quarterfinals and semifinals are best of five, the finals best of seven. The winner of the finals receives the Coupe Magnus. The 13th- and 14th-placed clubs play a best-of-five series called the poule de maintien. The loser is relegated and replaced by the winner of Division 1.
There is also la Coupe de France, a competition involving the clubs of Ligue Magnus, and Divisions 1, 2 and 3 in a knockout format of six rounds played through the hockey season. This year's is the 21st edition. Briançon are the current cup holders. And there's a league cup competition open to Ligue Magnus teams plus two others to make 16. Rouen won last year.
France has a long hockey tradition. The country's first ice hockey club was founded in 1894, and its first national championship was staged in 1907. France's winningest club, Chamonix, started play the same year as the Montreal Canadiens. There are amateur hockey clubs all over the French hexagon, right down to the Pyrenees.
Ligue Magnus attracts a large number of players from Quebec, and other parts of Canada.
The teams in this year's Ligue Magnus are:
Gothiques d'Amiens. French champions 1999 and 2006. The Coliséum seats 2,882 and was actually built on top of Roman ruins. Colours: black, red and white. Canadians: David Bastien, Danick Bouchard, Martin Gascon, François Ouimet. Amiens is on the Somme in Picardy.
Ducs d'Angers. Red, dark blue and white. La Patinoire du Haras holds 1,033. Canadians: Michael Busto, Mark Isherwood, Jonathan Bellemare, Tim Crowder, Eric Fortier, Brian Henderson, Braden Walls. Angers is in the Loire valley.
Albatros de Brest. French champions 1996 and 1997. They play at Rinkla Stadium, capacity 1,100. Blue and red. Canadians: Michael Dupont, Thomas Evans, David Poulin, Daid Croteau, Nicholas Pard. Brest is at the tip of Britanny, due south of Cornwall.
Diables Rouges de Briançon. Founded 1934. Their rink the Patinoire René Froger holds 2,150. Red, white and black. Canadians: Sébastien Basaillon, Marc-André Bernier, David Labrecque. Briançon is in the Cottian Alpes right by the Italian border.
Drakkars de Caen. Founded 1968. Patinoire de Caen le mer can accommodate 1,499. Blue and black. Canadians: Jordan Dewey, Shawn Stuart, Jean-Christophe Gauthier, Thiery Poudrier. Caen is in Normandy, hence the longship.
Chamois de Chamonix. 30 times French champion, but not since 1979. Their rink holds 1,700. Yellow and blue. Chamonix is at the foot of Mont Blanc and has been associated with mountaineering and other winter sports since the 19th century. The 1924 Winter Olympics took place in Chamonix and the club took advantage of the Olympic rink to dominate French ice hockey through the 1920s. Canadians: Kyle Hardy, Brent Patry, Kevin Gadoury, Benjamin Rubin, Julien Tremblay.
Ducs de Dijon. Founded 1969. Dark blue and yellow. The Patinoire Trimolet holds 1,200. Dijon is in Bourgogne, the ancient kingdom of Burgundy. Canadians: Emmanuel Boudreau, Maxime Robichaud, Sébastien Gauthier.
Dauphins d'Épinal. This team traces its pedigree to a sports club founded in 1906, though they did not play hockey competitively until 1968. Bob Gainey coached the team in 1989-90, between starring for the Habs and coaching the North Stars. Team colours: Blue and red. La patinoire Poissompré holds 1,400. Canadians: Francis Meilleur, Maxime Ouimet, Benjamin Breault, Steven Caccioti, Dominic Perna. Épinal is situated on the river Moselle in Lorraine. Dolphins are not indigenous to the Moselle.
Rapaces de Gap. French champions 1977 and 1978. The Alp'Arena has a spectative capacity of 2,700. Yellow and blue. Canadians: Tim Boron, Collin Circelli, Maxime Griet. Gap is about fifty miles south of Grenoble.
Brûleurs de Loups de Grenoble. Founded in 1963 to take advantage of the facilities being built for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Wolf Burners is by far the strangest club name in the league, and perhaps all of hockey, so much so that you feel it must be based on a true event. Six times French champion. Blue, white and red. They play at the 3,496-seat patinoire Pôle Sud, the largest rink in the league. Canadians: Stéphane Gervais, Pierre-Luc Lessard, Francis Charland, Toby Lafrance, Félix Petit, Luc Tardif jr. Grenoble is in the French Alps overlooking the Rhône. Birthplace of Stendhal.
Pingouins de Morzine-Avoriaz. Founded 1963. Their rink holds 1,280. Red and yellow. Canadians: Andrew Hare, Carl Hudson, Joakim Arsenault, Chris Jones. Morzine is in the Alps, up against the Swiss canton of Valais.
Dragons de Rouen. Rouen have been French champions 13 times, all of them since 1990, and including last year. Their rink L'île Lacroix can handle 2,700. Black and yellow. Canadians: Gabriel Girard, Julien Desrosiers, François-Pierre Guénette, Yannick Riendeau, Marc-André Thinel. Rouen is in the Seine river valley, downstream from Paris.
Étoile Noire de Strasbourg. Founded in the year 2000. They play at the Iceberg, with seating for 1,250. Colours: yellow, black and white. Canadians: Yan Turcotte, Matt Lyall, Sébastien Trudeau. Strasbourg is on the Rhine, and looks across to Baden-Württemberg whose state colours are yellow and black. There's something very counterintuitive about a black star. Can you only see it in daylight?
Ours de Villard-de-Lans. Founded 1931. La patinoire André Ravix holds 2,000. Double blue and white. Canadians: Vincent Couture. Villard-de-Lans is in the Rhône-Alpes, a bit south of Grenoble. A bear appears on the town's coat of arms.
KHL Medveščak Zagreb were members of the old Yugoslav Hockey League, and won the championship three times. With the breakup of the country and the league, Medveščak dominated the smaller Croatian Ice Hockey League, winning 17 championships. They shifted to the stronger Slovenian League in 2007, and then the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga in 2009, and this year they have signed with the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League, the strongest league in Europe.
To become competitive they have had to sign a lot of foreigners.
Of the 33 players listed on Medveščak's roster webpage, 16 were born in Canada, 8 in the USA, only 3 in Croatia (one of whom is old enough to say he was born in Yugoslavia), 2 in Slovenia, and 1 each in Slovakia, West Germany, Finland and Denmark. If you count the players with dual citizenship there are 10 Croatians.
The Canadians are:
Barry Brust. From Swan River, Manitoba. Played 11 games for the LA Kings. Last season he was with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL.
Mathieu Carle. From Gatineau, Québec. Played 3 games for the Habs. Last season he played for Genève-Servette of the Swiss league.
Jonathan Cheechoo. From Moose Factory, Ontario. Has played 501 NHL games, mostly with San Jose, but there was that one season in Ottawa. Last year he was with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL.
Mark Dekanich. North Vancouver, BC. Played one NHL game, for Nashville. Last year he was with the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL.
Kurtis Foster. From Carp, Ontario. Has 405 NHL games with Atlanta, Minnesota, Tampa, Edmonton, Anaheim, New Jersey and Philadelphia. He divided last season between Philly and Tappara Tampere.
Mike Glumac. Niagara Falls, Ontario. 40 NHL games with St. Louis. Played the last three seasons with Adler Mannheim.
Boyd Kane. Swift Current, Saskatchewan. 31 NHL games for Philadelphia and Washington. Played the past four seasons as a Hersey Bear.
Mark Katic. Timmins, Ontario. Played 11 NHL games for the Islanders. Last year he was with Eisbären Berlin.
Alan Letang. Renfrew, Ontario. Has 14 NHL games with Dallas, Calgary and the Islanders. This is his fifth year with Medveščak. He's team captain.
Charles Linglet. Montréal, Québec. 5 NHL games with Edmonton. Divided last season between Lugano and Dynamo Minsk.
Kenny MacAulay. From Baddeck, Nova Scotia. A product of the University of Vermont. This is his fifth season with Medveščak.
Steve Montador. Vancouver, BC. 571 NHL games with Calgary, Florida, Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago. Last season: Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.
Andrew Murray. Selkirk, Manitoba. 221 NHL games with Columbus, San Jose and St. Louis. Last season he mainly played for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL.
Mark Popovic. Stoney Creek, Ontario. 81 NHL games with Anaheim and Atlanta. Played last season with Langnau of the Swiss league.
Geoff Waugh. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Has played for four AHL teams, including the Manitoba Moose. This is his third year with Medveščak.
Brian Willsie. Belmont, Ontario. 381 NHL games with Colorado, Washington and Los Angeles. Played last season with Kloten of the Swiss League.
The head coach is Canadian Mark French, and two of the assistant coaches, Dean Fedorchuk and Don MacLean, are Canadians.
The KHL in the name KHL Medveščak Zagreb is short for Klub hokeja na ledu, meaning ice hockey club, and does not refer to the fact that they now play in the KHL. It's also purely coincidental that the president of the Kontinental Hockey League is named Alexander Medvedev ... or so I believe. Medved means bear in the Slavic languages. KHL Medveščak Zagreb are The Bears.
Medveščak play in the Bobrov Division, which includes clubs from Latvia, Belarus, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg. In their season opener they beat CSKA Moscow 7 - 1.
Bulgaria is not a hockey power. The Bulgarian national squad currently ranks 37th in the IIHF World Ranking, out of 48 countries, and plays internationally in Division III. But, they're playing hockey, and have been since at least 1952 when their first national championship was held. How is their domestic league organized?
Frugally. The Bulgarian Hockey League (properly Държавното първенство по хокей на лед or Dŭrzhavno pŭrvenstvo po khokeĭ na led or State Championship of Ice Hockey) consists of four clubs, all of them located in the capital Sofia, and three of them in the same rink, the Sofia Winter Sports Palace, capacity 2,500.
Two things stand out about this league. One, it's a Soviet creation and does a fine job of maintaining the look and feel of the Soviet era. Two, it has adopted the organizational logic of a senior city hockey league. In the 1920s Ottawa and Montreal had high-quality city leagues that acted as feeder systems for their professional franchises and were not heavy on travel or building maintenance costs. In the case of Sofia the club at the top of the food chain is the Bulgarian national team.
The schedule is brief. In recent years the number of league games per team has ranged from 8 to 12. There is a Bulgaria Cup competition that runs concurrent with the league.
The clubs are:
HK CSKA Sofia. Founded in 1964. 14 times Bulgarian league champions. 13 times Bulgarian Cup winners. Colours: red and white.
HK Levski Sofia. 13 times Bulgarian champs. 17 times Bulgarian Cup winners. Winter Sports Palace. Blue and gold.
HK NSA Sofia. The National Sports Academy team. Founded in 2009. They play at the Winter Sports Palace. White, blue, black and gold.
HK Slavia Sofia. 21 times Bulgarian league champions.12 times Bulgarian Cup winners. They play in their own rink, Slavia Ice Stadium. Black and white.
The hockey season is getting going in Europe. What are the league membership changes since last year?
Kontinental Hockey League. Vityaz Chekhov has relocated to Podolsk and become Vityaz Podolsk. An expansion team, Admiral Vladivostok, has been added in the Far East. Longtime Croatian hockey power KHL Medveščak Zagreb has signed up, adding Croatia to the Kontinental hockey empire.
Sweden. The Elitserien has changed its name to Svenska hockeyligan, or SHL for short. Leksands IF and Örebro HK gained promotion; Timrå IK and Rögle BK were relegated. With the promotion of IF Björklöven from Division 1, the HockeyAllsvenskan is now primarily made up of former Elitserien clubs, which should add to its prestige somewhat. Bud Holloway, the Canadian who won the Elitserien scoring title last season, has opted to remain with league champions Skellefteå rather than join the LA Kings who own his NHL rights.
Finland. The SM-Liiga is tough to get into. Last-place Ilves were able to hold off Mestis champions Jukurit in the promotion playoff, and so there is no change in SM-Liiga membership.
Switzerland. The NLA is also hard to get into, but Lausanne did it, knocking off SCL Tigers.
Germany. Hannover Scorpions are out. Schwenninger Wild Wings are in. This change came about through Schwenninger's purchase of Hannover's DEL license.
Czech Republic. No change, despite a new promotion playoff system that pits the bottom two clubs against the top two second tier clubs.
Slovakia. No change. MHC Mountfield held off Bardejov.
Austria. The Erste Bank Eishockey Liga lost KHL Medveščak Zagreb to the Kontinental Hockey League (above), but gained HC Bolzano, whom they lured away from the Italian league.
I've griped before about how Canada is the only hockey country without an annual championship. It's now twenty years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, and twenty-four since two Canadian teams faced off in the Stanley Cup final. Which clubs have been Canadian hockey champion since 1993? Who knows? In an earlier post I drew up a list based on regular season performance, or Stanley Cup win if that happened, and I awarded the St. John's Maple Leafs the championship during the lockout year, as they were the most successful Canadian pro team going that year.
Another way would be to look at who went deepest into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Starting with 1994 you get:
1994. Vancouver. (Stanley Cup final. 3 - 4.)
1995. Vancouver. (2nd round. 0 - 4.)
1996. Montreal/Winnipeg/Vancouver/Toronto. (All four were eliminated 2 - 4 in the 1st round.)
1997. Edmonton. (2nd round. 1 - 4.)
1998. Ottawa/Edmonton. (Both lost 1 - 4 in the 2nd round.)
1999. Toronto. (3rd round. 1 - 4.)
2000. Toronto. (2nd round. 2 - 4.)
2001. Toronto. (2nd round. 3 - 4.)
2002. Toronto. (3rd round. 2 - 4.)
2003. Ottawa. (3rd round. 3 - 4.)
2004. Calgary. (Stanley Cup final. 3 - 4.)
2006. Edmonton. (Stanley Cup final. 3 - 4.)
2007. Ottawa. (Stanley Cup final. 1 - 4.)
2008. Montreal. (2nd round. 1 - 4.)
2009. Vancouver. (2nd round. 2 - 4.)
2010. Montreal. (3rd round. 1 - 4.)
2011. Vancouver. (3rd round. 1 - 4.)
2012. Ottawa. (1st round. 3 - 4.)
2013. Ottawa. (2nd round. 1 - 4.)
Ranked: Ottawa 4.5. Toronto 4.25. Vancouver 4.25. Edmonton 2.5. Montreal 2.25. Calgary 1. Winnipeg .25.
I'm not saying break up the NHL. (Okay, well, yes, sometimes I do say that.) But what would be the harm in having a recognized method of pulling a top seed out of the stats? Would anyone object to another cup? The O'Brien Trophy perhaps?
They nicknamed Skellefteå Guldstaden, meaning Gold Town, because they gazed into the future and saw their team win the 2013 Swedish hockey championship! And also because of the mining.
This year's Swedish hockey championship came down to a finale between the two northernmost clubs in the Elitserien: Skellefteå and Luleå. It was SAIK's third straight appearance in the finals. They had lost to Brynäs in 2012 and Färjestad the year before. The only time SAIK had ever won the Swedish championship was 1978. Luleå won their only championship in 1996.
April 13th, Skellefteå took the first game 1 - 0 in overtime. The next day SAIK won 2 - 4 in Luleå. SAIK won game three 2 - 1 on Tuesday. Yesterday SAIK swept the series with a 0 - 4 win in Luleå. Victory!