Hockey is politics by other means. Russia's KHL, with clubs in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Latvia and Belarus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia, and soon Finland, fills a void left in the Russian soul by the departed USSR and Eastern Bloc, and prior to that, the Russian Empire. Austria's top hockey league the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga includes clubs from four former domains of the Habsburg Empire: the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Italy. Austria's second-flight Inter-National League, headquartered in Vienna, has four members of the former Austrian National League, five from the Italian Serie A2, and six from the Slovenian Hockey League.
The INL started last year with four Autria and two Slovenian clubs. This year they expanded to fifteen by incorporating the rest of the Slovenian league, and the Italian A2. The fifteen clubs each play 28 games, then the league continues play as three five-team groups, after which best-of-five quarterfinals, semifinals and finals determine a champion. I'll understand it better after I've seen it done once. There's no promotion/relegation mechanism between the EBEL and the INL. The Italian and Slovenian clubs also maintain ties to their national competitions.
The clubs are:
EHC Bregenzerwald. IHL champions 2012-13. Colours: Green, white and black. They play at Messestadion Dornbirn which seats 4,270. Bregenzerwald is in the northern part of Vorarlberg.
VEU Feldkirch. Founded in 1927, refounded in 2000. VEU Feldkirck are historically one of the most successful Austrian clubs. Nine-time Austrian champions, four-time champions of the Alpenliga, and winners of the IIHF's short-lived European Hockey League in 1997-98. They competed in the 1998 Spengler Cup. Their rink is the 5,200-seat Vorarlberghalle. Red, white and black. Feldkirch is in western Voralberg, within spitting distance of Liechtenstein.
EHC Lustenau. Founded 1970. Rink: the Rheinhalle Lustenau, which holds 2,200. Yellow and green. Lustenau is in northwest Vorarlberg.
Vorarlberg is Austria's westernmost state and the only one to border Switzerland. The local dialect is Swabian, like German-speaking Switzerland, rather than the Bavarian German of the rest of Austria. After World War One the people of Voralberg voted to become a Swiss canton, but their wishes were thwarted by the other Austrians, President Wilson, and a lot of the Swiss.
EK Zell am See. The Ice Bears. Blue and yellow. They finished first in the regular season last year. The Eishalle Zell am See has room for 3,200 spectators. Zell am See is on Lake Zell in the state of Salzburg.
All five of these clubs are located in South Tyrol, a chunk of Alpine territory taken from Austria at the end of World War One, and where the German language still predominates.
HC Neumarkt-Egna Wild Goose. Founded in 1963. Their arena holds 2,500, which is half the population of the town. Blue, red and white. Neumarkt or Egna is in South Tyrol.
HC Eppan Pirates. Founded 1981. Yellow and blue. Eisstadion Eppan can accommodate 1,500. Eppan is a little north of Neumarkt/Egna.
HC Gherdëina. Originally founded as HC Gröden in 1927. Four-time Italian champions. Red and blue. Their rink is the Eisstadion Pravines which holds 2,000. Gherdëina is the Ladin name for Val Gardena (in Italian) or Gröden (in German). Ladin is the very tiny Romance language spoken thereabouts.
SV Kaltern. Founded 1962. They play at the Palaghiaccio Kaltern (1,800). Red, white and black. Their logo features a pike, pickerel or muskellunge, I'm not sure which. Kaltern borders Eppan and Neumarkt. The Italian name is Caldaro. The English name would be Kettle.
HC Merano. Eagles. Founded 1968. Italian champions 1986 and 1999. Meranarena holds 3,500. Black and white.
The Italian teams continue to function as the Italian Serie A2 while they play in the INL. How? The Italian hockey authorities throw out the games involving non-Italian clubs and make a table out of what's left.
HKMK Bled. Founded 1999. Bled Ice Hall holds 1,000. Blue and white. Duck logo. The MK stands for youth category, so probably a junior team. Bled is a resort town on a glacial lake in northwestern Slovenia.
HK Celje. This junior club began in 1998 to replace an earlier club that folded in 1993. Blue and yellow colours. Golovec Ice Hall can take 500 Celje fans. Celje is east of Ljubljana.
Team Jesenice. This club stands in for the defunct HK Jesenice, one of the winningest hockey clubs in Yugoslavia (23 times champion) and Slovenia (9 times champion), which went out of business in 2012. Podmežakla Hall holds 5,900. Jesenice is in northwesternern Slovenia, on the Austrian border.
HDK Maribor. The Foxes. Tabor Ice Hall (capacity 1,000). Orange and black. Founded in 1993, they played in the Slovenian league until last year when they hooked up with the Croatian league. Maribor is on the Drava in eastern Slovenia.
HK Slavija. Founded 1964. Slavija played in the INL last year. Black, yellow, white. Zaloh Ice Hall holds 1,000 Slavija fans. Their home town Ljubljana is the Slovenian capital.
HK Triglav. Founded 1968. Thrice champions of the old Jugoslav League. They played in the INL last year. Blue and white. Their rink is the Arena Zlato polje in Kranj (capacity 1,000). Kranj is on the Sava just upstream from Ljubljana.
HDD Olimpija Ljubljana, eight-time Yugoslav champions and twelve-time Slovenian champions, play in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga.
An annual Slovenian playoff championship continues and includes all the top Slovenian clubs regardless of where they played their regular season.
Asia League Ice Hockey is the top professional hockey league in Japan and South Korea, and also includes China's one professional team.
The eight teams each play a schedule of 42 games from September to March, after which the top four move on to the playoffs, with best-of-five semifinals and finals. The Japanese clubs take time out in February for the All Japan Ice Hockey Championship, which has been going on since 1930. The Korea Domestic Championship dates back to 1955.
The teams are:
Oji Eagles. Founded in 1925 as the company team of Oji Paper, the Eagles play at Hakucho Arena (capacity 4,015) in Tomakomai, on the southern coast of Hokkaido. They have won the Asia League championship twice, its forerunner the Japan League championship 13 times, and the anyone-can-enter All Japan Championship 35 times including last year. They wear blue, white, yellow and black. The squad includes Canadians Aaron Keller, Mike Kompon and T.J. Kemp.
Nippon Paper Cranes. Oji Eagles' rival on the ice and in the boardroom, Nippon Paper Cranes are owned by the Nippon Paper Group, and play at Kushiro Ice Arena (capacity 3,000) in Kushiro on the eastern coast of Hokkaido. They began in 1949, have won the Asia League three times and the All Japan Championship five. Black, red, blue and white. Canadian: Eric Regan. The club name puts you in mind of the art of origami.
Anyang Halla. Founded in 1994, they won the Korean Ice Hockey League five times, and then after 2003 the Asia League once plus one co-win. They play at the Anyang Sports Complex Arena attached to Anyang Stadium. Blue, yellow and white. Canadians: Brock Radunske, Dustin Wood. Anyang is a city of about two-thirds of a million on the southern outskirts of Seoul.
High1. Founded in 2004, High1 joined the Asia League the next year. They are based in Goyang, South Korea, on the north side of Seoul. Black and red. Canadians: Bryan Young who has played 17 games for Edmonton, David Brine who played 9 games for the Florida Panthers and later played for Medveščak Zagreb, and Michael Swift.
China Dragon. This club is an amalgamation of two venerable Chinese powerhouses, Harbin and Qiqihar, both founded in 1954 and neither based anywhere near Shanghai. The team roster closely matches that of the Chinese Olympic team. Colours: red and yellow. No Canadians.
Tohoku Free Blades. Founded 2008. Their home address is Niida Indoor Rink (capacity 1,576) in Hachinohe, Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on the island of Honshu. Blue, gray and white. They have won the championship once, and were declared co-winners the year of the tsunami. Canadians: Darrell Hay, Brad Farynuk and Ned Lukacevic.
Daemyung Sangmu. New this year. This is the hockey team of the South Korean military and is tasked with training the South Korean national team for the 2018 Olympics. They play at the Mokdong Ice Rink in Seoul. Black, yellow and red. No Canadians.
The league had a team in Khabarovsk, in the Far East of Russia, for one season. The KHL has since moved into that town and Vladivostok.
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?