2009-05-08

Canada vs. Sweden 2009 World Championships



Circa 1985... Rocky IV is in the theatres and the Cold War was a cold as ever. Ivan Drako, played by Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, represented the Sovietski (AKA CCCP) threat to Rocky Balboa.

Don't ask me why, but I put in a hypothetical... what if there had been a sort of world tournament of boxing, who would've Dolph faced from Canada?

Grand Prairie's Willie De Witt, naturally.

Today, as I type, it is also some unknown Swedes against the unknown Canadians.

Such incredible match-ups as:
  • in Goal: Jonas "unsigned sensation" Gustafsson vs. Dwayne "Rollie" Roloson!
  • Captain Shane (Doan) vs. Captain Kenny (Jönsson)
  • Propects: Linus "shootout" Omark vs. Steve "seen" Stamkos
  • "Bleep" Tärnström vs. Shawn "Horcoff and Die"
After 6 and a half minutes Derek Roy openned the scoring for Canada. Good start for the boys in Red and White.

After Sweden's defeat of the Czechs yesterday, tv commentators were heralding the stingy Swedish defense and how well they shut the powerful Czechs off their game.

That was the game they saw. I saw a team of Swedes desperately trying to hold the lead.

If all goes according to plan, Canada will repeat last year's story line and meet Russia in Sunday's final. Or, as my hypothetical scenario goes:
After Russia disposed of Rocky Balboa, Drago goes on to face Willie De Witt for all the marbles.

2009-05-07

Will it be another Canada-Sweden Semifinal?

About an hour ago, Canada secured their 7th straight trip to the World Championship semi-final after defeating Latvia 4-2.

In just over an hour, Sweden will face the Czech Republic to decide the other entrant in tomorrow's semi-final.

KHL star and 37 year old Czech, Jaromir Jagr, whom has been heavily sought after by the Edmonton Oilers, has a lot of respect for this Swedish squad despite its lack of NHL talent. In fact, in an article by Swedish news bureau TT, Jagr mentions a respect for young Linus Omark but thinks he should have chosen the NHL.

(NOTE: these are my rough translations from the Swedish article to English)

It too bad that he didn't opt to try his luck in the NHL, I heard he will be the
KHL. But it is his choice.
I have seen a few of the new Swedish players and heard news about Omark. I've seen his highlight reels. He is a good player, but to play in the NHL he would meet players like (Sidney) Crosby, who was only 19 when are won the scoring title.

I think Jagr meant that Omark would benefit more from competition in the NHL than he will in the unbalanced and developing KHL.
My thoughts though are what could have been. Just think, should the Oilers miraculously get Jagr under contract, and had Omark chosen Edmonton over Moscow Dynamo, they would have hypothetically been teammates. One can only dream of what potential that would have been...


In the above clip from Swedish Television, Omark himself notes that he's lost a bit of a step in the knock-out rounds of the tournament. He has lost a bit of confidence around the net and with the puck but is hopeful the scoring touch will return against the Czechs.

If Oilers GMs K.Lowe and the great tamBellini are in the stands for this one, will they be drooling over Jagr or Omark? Hard to know.

What is known, is that the winning team faces Canada... on Friday.

2009-04-15

About Scouting Sweden

I really like the Swedish word lagom. It means essentially "Not too much, not too little". Just lagom.

My enthusiasm for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers is lagom, by my standards. I am very enthusiastic about the sport of ice hockey, the Oilers players, the prospects, their season, their history, etc. However, living on Central European Time, I have a hard time watching or listening to games that often occur between 3 and 6 o'clock in the morning. Instead, I have chosen a measured approach to my Oilers and follow instead often only in words (game reports, blogs, etc.) and video.

It is therein that I discovered an appreciation for the Oilogosphere (Oilers Blogs). It was the summer of 2007 and a friend was the co-author of one of the more popular blogs, at the time.

Far away from the often thoughtless idiots of call-in-radio, or the babble on HF forums, blogs were a source of intelligent commentary, statistical analysis and humour. It was new. It was unique.

I too felt unique. Lagom unique.

The local Uppsala newspaper published an interview one November day on then Oilers prospect, and local boy, Jonas Almtorp. At the time, Jonas had leapt across the pond to try his luck in the Oilers (farm) system. His leap knocked the bar off (to use another sport analogy) and into a level of professional hockey much lower than he had likely expected, that was riding busses in the ECHL.

There were a few direct quotes from Almtorp in that UNT article, and I took it upon myself to translate and share them with the Oilers faithful, or rather the Oilogosphere. And thus began my so-called blog.

I am not a scout, nor am I involved with hockey in any sense other than as a casual observer.

Living in Sweden, I simply am taking the opportunity to send reports from my unofficial outpost. I keep an eye open here and there for any of the following:
  • Oilers draft picks (present or past) playing in Sweden
  • Canadians that play in Swedish clubs
  • Interesting Swedish prospects or talents
  • The Swedish system of sport (for instance: promotion/demotion in hockey)
  • Battles between Canada and Sweden
  • Obscure Oilers connections (like my semi-invented Swedish team, The Rölers)

What is more, I love soccer (hereafter known as football - AKA: SHAKAF). Canada is not known for football prowess and the dismal performances at an international level (1986 being our lone World Cup appearance) make it difficult to be a fan of Canadian football.

Nevertheless, I am a Canadian football fan. I am a Voyageur!

Any time a Canadian international makes inroads in the sport, I like to follow them. Atiba Hutchinson as an example, got his start in the Swedish clubs Östers IF and Helsingborg IF before finding his current home in FC Copenhagen's midfield.

I also like other crazy ice sports like Bandy.

All this amounts to an attempt at blogging. I do it because I think it is fun and it is my creative outlet. If anyone reads it, great! But frankly, I do it for the love and interest of sport.

I do not post here that frequently, maybe once or twice a month, but hopefully what is posted is interesting and informative.

In lagom amounts.

2009-04-09

Motin a Champion, Omark goes Russian


Färjestads BK have won the Raoul Le Mat trophy for the 8th time in franchise history.

Yesterday's 3-2 win over defending champions HV71, was the 19th straight home ice victory for Färjestads. They were dominant at home and dominant throughout the playoffs losing only once. It was game 5 of the best of 7.

Headlines abound today about the impending retirement of journeyman Jörgen Jönsson. It was Jönsson's fifth SM Guld (Swedish Mästerskap/championship Gold) and the first for young Johan Motin. Motin, drafted in 2008 by the Edmonton Oilers played a measly 6 seconds (!) of yesterday's decisive match (only Austrian back-up goalie Reinhard Divis had less ice time).

In actual fact, Motin did play, just not last night. He averaged 11:48 minutes per match in the playoffs, often in the third defense paring. Nevertheless, the experience of playing and winning the Swedish championship can not be understated.

Canadian Lee Goren also registered his first SM Guld. Goran was a Boston Bruins draft pick from 1997 and played in the Florida and Vancouver organisations before his European adventures. He was a dominant figure both last season in Skellefteå and in this year's Färjestad troop. Goren has said he will not be returning to the Karlstad club and, although his contract does extend through the 2009/10 season, there are sites suggesting he has signed with Bern/Zug of the Swiss league.

Former Oilers 2002 draft pick Mikko Luoma played like a workhorse in a losing cause for opponents HV71. In the playoffs, he average 24:59 minutes per match and played nearly 27000 seconds (7,5hrs) of hockey. He scored too, registering 11 points (3G, 8A).
  • Final factoid: Jörgen Jönsson was drafted by the Calgary Flames 227th overall in 1994 NHL entry draft.


OMARK SIGNS WITH DYNAMO
Reports arose yesterday that the "Overtorneå boys", Linus Omark and Johan Harju, have signed contracts with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL. The Oilers had apparently tendered a contract offer to Omark, but some big money and the chance to play with his good friend Harju seem to have lured him to Russia.

Omark is quoted saying that ice time in Edmonton would be nearly impossible in his first year and his decision came down to weighing a journey via the AHL versus continuing to play with his good friend, Harju in the KHL. That and some big time Russian Rubles.

Given my disillusionment over the Oilers having yet again missed the playoffs combined with an overflow of small, skill-oriented forwards, I find this loss tough to measure. Omark has proven his talents and abilities in Sweden's best league. He is a creative player who can also play physical. His next stage in development was obviously a move out of Sweden. Russia was not likely what the Oilers had in mind.

My own personal opinion is that it is more disappointing to have lost Omark's asset. At the very least he could have been a valuable trading piece during the summer silly season.

By the way, for any one who has yet to hear of Youtube or may be unfamiliar with his creative prowess, I present the following display into evidence:







BJURLING'S SSK AND THE RÖLERS BACK IN THE ELITE


Both Rögle BK (hereafter called the Rölers) and Södertälje SK re-qualified for next year's Elite Series.
Having finished 11th & 12th respectively in this year's Elite Series, both teams were forced into a qualifying tournament against 4 clubs from the tier II Allsvenska. Unlike last year, both Elite Series teams breezed through the tournament and re-punched their ticket to top tier hockey.

Winning is worth it too. The TV revenues of the Elite Series dwarf those of the Allsvenska by 18:1.

Whether Södertälje goalie Björn Bjurling, who is still under the Edmonton Oilers umbrella (drafted 2004), will be back next season is another story. No news has surfaced about his future address.


As for the Rölers, their successful Canadian twin duo of Chris and Cam Abbott are leaving. Cam and Chris were unheard of a year ago upon arrival from the Norweigan first division. They had a wildly successful impact in Ängelholm finishing 1st & 2nd in scoring; 39 (18G,21A) & 38 (18G,20A) points respectively.


No definitive details are known of their future, though if Omark and Harju can be lured East, so too could the Abbotts. And we all thought the KHL was set to collapse under economic uncertainty. Meh.
Update: According to Jonas Gustavsson at hockeysverige.se the Abbotts will be in Luleå next year. With the departure of Harju and Omark, they apparently had an opening.

2009-03-07

Omark Keeps on Scoring

Swedish public broadcaster SVT profiles Linus Omark. I'll summarize this in English at a later time.

For now, the gist is that he's a fun guy with a "glimmer in his eye".

Omark assisted on both Luleå goals in today's 4-2 loss in game 2. Former Oilers prospect Fredrik Pettersson's scored for Frölunda. Highlights can be seen via this link.

2009-03-05

March Forward


Woosh. That would be the sound of a metaphoric Elite Series hockey season zooming past. (In actual fact, it was a slow amble, although use of the fast-forward button creates the desired “woosh” effect.) It is time for playoffs and that means more than just the championship, but also the fight to avoid relegation.

ELITE SERIES QUALIFICATION TOURNAMENT
I had adopted Rögle BK as my team of choice during this year’s campaign. The Rölers, as I called them, held their own early season to initially surprised many.

Yet, here it is the Rölers who return to the Elite Series qualification tournament, this year as the losers defending their position rather than winners from the Allsvenska. The team gained promotion from the Allsvenska in dramatic fashion last spring in the final tournament match. During the off-season they made both smart and fluky acquisitions, including NHL veteran Mathias Tjärnqvist (brother of Daniel) and the anonymous Canadian twins Chris and Cam Abbott.

By mid-season, the team from Ängelholm was comfortably in the middle of the table in the 12 team league. But the trend was not the Rölers friend. Losses and injuries began to mount and it was mostly movements down in the standings as they approached March. They finished 11th and face the qualification tourney.

Joining them as relegates-to-be is Björn Bjurling’s Södertälje SK. The Edmonton Oilers drafted goalie posted okay numbers (90.93% save perc. & an average 34 shots per game) and was a lone bit of stability for SSK. The problem lay in that Södertälje managed next to no offence, registering a league low 122 goals for, which had them suckling on the bottom of the standings for most of the year.

To some degree blame could be the revolving door (literally) into the coach’s office. Södertälje fired Leif Strömberg on December 10, only to recently rehire him February 26. Södertälje, it would seem, is plagiarizing Brynäs circa 2007-08. Brynäs IF used a similar distorted management style last year firing and rehiring Leif Boork as they miraculously hung around and qualified for another year in the Elite Series. It remains to be seen if SSK can wholly emulate Brynäs and re-qualify for next year's Elite Series.

Not to be outdone, March 2, after the final regular season game, Rögle (correction: Rölers) management promptly and inexplicably fired their coaching duo Peter Johansson and Björn Hellkvist. A new skipper, Gunnar Persson, is also a former skipper (coached Rögle '04-'06) and has been entrusted to stave off the team’s relegation back to the Allsvenska.

On the topic of coaches, former Edmonton Oiler Bert Robertsson together with colleague Jonas Rönnqvist has over-exceeded all expectations in their first year with Uppsala team Almtuna IS. Head coach Rönnqvist and assistant Robertsson have brought a high-tempo, aggressive-forecheck style to a team made up primarily of worker-bees and grinders. Bert and team knocked off last year’s Elite Series relegate, Mora IK in the first playoff to the qualifying tournament.

Their success in part is coaching, but can also be due to goaltender, Mark “in da park” Owuya . He is on loan from Djurgårdens IF and has been a stellar workhorse all season. Unfortunately, his return in Almtuna next year is highly doubtful. The 19 year old, who was passed over in the 2008 NHL draft, has turned many heads with his poise between the pipes for Almtuna. A return to Djurgårdens next season is most likely yet the playoff experience is all the better for his development, confidence and I wouldn't be suprised if he would be drafted this June. His hip-hop/urban Swedish stylings, on the other hand (as seen on his website), should be retired.


Above collage: A few of the Berts I know (and one Burt)

Should little Almtuna miraculously get promoted to the Elite Series, the crummy and cold Gränby Ishall (or, as I call it, ice hole) would be quite the embarrassment to top tier hockey in Sweden. At capacity, 2562 people would make it warm and cozy, though then I think the ice surface would spontaneously melt (sarcasm).

Point is, despite a lousy arena, Almtuna is a minnow and will not achieve promotion.

At present, the Elite Series qualification tournament will be Rögle BK, Södertälje SK (11 & 12 respectively from the Elite Series) along with Leksands IF, AIK, and VIK Västerås HK (1, 2 & 3 from the Allsvenska). One final spot in the tournament goes to the winner of the best-of-3 playoff between the Växjö Lakers and the aforementioned Almtuna IS. The tournament is a 10 game round-robin format where teams play each other home and away. Teams finishing first and second qualify for the '09-'10 Elite Series.



SWEDISH ELITE SERIES PLAY-OFF
The playoffs in the tier I Elite Series began earlier tonight. Notable is that, unlike the NHL, the top 4 teams get to choose their opponents.

  • Perennial superpower Färjestads BK (1) choose to face Brynäs IF (7),

  • 2008 runner-up Linköpings HC (2) meet Skellefteå AIK (6),

  • defending champs HV71 (4) go up against late-season surging Timrå IK (8), and

  • Gothenburg team Frölunda HC (3) surprisingly chose to face Linus Omark’s Luleå HF (5).
There were 3 upsets in game 1 with only Färjestads getting the expected win. Timrå, Skellefteå and Luleå all won the first of the best of 7.

LINUS OMARK
Luleå HF forward and Edmonton Oilers 2007 draft pick Linus Omark has not only had a break-out season, finishing third in league scoring (23 G, 32 A = 55pts), but he also stole the show in game 1. Together with linemate Johan Harju, Omark's "magic" set up 3 goals, in a 5-1 rout of Frölunda.

A successful playoff seems apparent and bodes well in advance of his first NHL training camp (he attended the Oilers' June 2008 prospect camp). His prowess for scoring points, stick-handling wizardry and the Oilers' heightened interest in the little guy from Overtorneå made for newsprint foder both in Sweden and North America. It remains to be seen where in the Oilers’ depth chart, amid the logjam of small-guy-scorer-types, he might fit.

My expectations of him were far exceeded, especially after this blog entry from preseason camp.

JOHAN MOTIN
Färjestads BK has had a comeback year, of sorts. Long time General Manager Håkan Loob has managed to keep continuity in the organization and always fields a contender in Karlstad. Yet it was last year's embarrasing exit in the playoffs and turmoil among coaches and team that were the scars heading into this season. After a bit of retooling, it was ironically their strong team ethic (and solid goaltending) season long that won them first place in the standings.

Oilers' 2008 draft Johan Motin’s had a stable sophomore campaign for Färjestads. He appeared in 52 of 55 matches, racking up 11:09 minutes per match while registering 3 assists and 28 minutes in penalties. They are hardly exciting statistics, although they are typical numbers for a young yet dependable stay-at-home defenseman. Färjestads will likely have a much stronger playoff performance this spring and Motin will be in that mix.


OTHER OILERS PROSPECTS
Allsvenska player William Quist is about to get the boot from the Edmonton Oilers wagon. I saw the 2007 draft pick play in Uppsala in October (video below). His team, the Nybro Vikings were lousy with a capital L. William's play that day was half-hearted. In fact, that would be a good description of what I’ve read of William’s travels in his young hockey career. His junior career, try-outs with the national junior teams, and even his time in Oilers rookie camp have all been a bit lacking in that je ne sais quoi. For every spark of life or creativity in a shift, there are 4 shifts of not-so-much. Quist did not find a strong role on his team, which happens to be approximately the same story last season.






The Nybro Vikings were not a good club this year and they will have to re-qualify to stay in the tier II Allsvenska. For Quist, he can forget the NHL in the short term and focus on keeping his team in Sweden’s second highest league. Those that claim he's young (only 19) and he needs time to find his bearings, should re-read Almtuna's Mark Owuya story.


FOOTIE

With spring in the air, I feel it necessary to finish off with a Soccer (hereafter known as Football) note, and womens football at that. A trio of Canadian women will lace up their boots for Piteå IF in the coming season of the Women’s Allsvenska (damallsvenska). This will mark the return of Canadians to Swedish women's football after a bit of a hiatus.

The W-League (and now the new WPS) is often a destination of choice for Canadians wanting to play professional. Work visas and connections often limit Canadians opportunities in European football but I get the sense that opportunities do abound. Personally, I am pleased to see Canadian women getting recruited and choosing to play in Europe, and especially Sweden. It is a high quality league and the training opportunities and competition add new experience and technique to a player's game (and therein also to the competitiveness at the national team level).

Speaking of new experience and technique, the CSA has (finally) made a smart move hiring an Italian to coach the Women's National Team (WNT). After 6 years under the guidance of Norwegian Even Pellerud, Carolina Morace took over the WNT February 5.

Those who care about the development of football in Canada can only hope that this will spell the end to the ugly dump-and-chase style employed by Pellerud during his WNT tenure. Goodbye to deep bombs and hello to ball control. Il ritorno di bello gioco di calcio!

2009-01-05

World Junior Championships 2009 Final


For the second year in a row, Canada faces Sweden in the IIHF World Junior championships.

I see it as I always see it: a no-win, both-win situation. I cheer for Canada, but am rather lonely doing it. Should Canada win, I am happy and everyone around me isn't. Should Canada loose, I am depressed while everyone around me is overjoyed. It is like deciding which is better, the plague or cholera... hard to pick sides.

Some sources are billing this as Hedman vs. Tavares. The two are supposed to be the top two picks in the upcoming 2009 NHL entry draft. Hedman is a workhorse defenseman that doesn't get a lot of glory. Tavares has FINALLY made it to the World Juniors stage.

I think the better story line is with Jakob Markström in goal. He has been most of the story for Sweden as he was for Brynäs last spring. Mattias Tedenby, New Jersey's 24th overall pick in 2008, has also had a good tournament with 5 points (1+4) in 5 games.

For Canada, Oilers draft pick Jordan Eberle was a superhero in the semifinal victory over Russia.

As often is with this level of hockey, it is extremely fun to watch. At the very least, I'll try and see the positive amongs the battle: at least someone will be happy at the end... hope it is me.
(BTW, I'm fully aware that the pic is not from the 2009 World Juniors Tournament, nor the any World Junior tournament. Ryan Smyth in a Team Canada jersey never fails to say it all though)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This blog has been really low priority for me of late. There were not many posts since the fall season began and there may not be too many in the spring either. With enough talking heads out there on the internet, I cannot see my absence being too missed.

That said, I may throw something up here now and again. Just for funzies.

Before I go though, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Linus Omark is having a spectacular season in Luleå and sits in second place in Elite Series scoring. Lowetide ranked him nr 10 among Oilers prospects and suggested he will get a call to Oilers' training camp next fall.

GOIL & GoCanada!

2008-11-13

NHL in Stockholm: Eventual Genius & Crosby on Ice

In Swedish, Ev.Geni would mean Eventual Genius...


After seeing him live October 5, I can confirm Evgeni Malkin already is a genius. At Stockholm's Globe Arena, for the second of two NHL games on European soil, Malkin showed he was head and shoulders above the competition, and even his own teammates. Yes, he was even better than Sidney Crosby too.


video


The atmosphere was dare I say, tepid. With the game beginning late (20.30) due to TV, and with only a single Swede (Alfredsson) on the line-up cards, one would think there would not be much to cheer about, though then there was Evgeni. On paper it was Pittsburgh's home game and subsequently the crowd of 13,699 mildly supported the home team Penguins. Yet, despite this being the NHL in Sweden, they still brought the imported gimmicks like: "Let's hear it for your Pens" (ugh)!

Some of it seemed utterly ridiculous. I'm not certain, but it sounded like the announcer was also an import. He specially did a great bastardization of the Swedish Elite Series team Djurgården (yeur-gor-den) to something closer to da-ju-RAGAR-den. Maybe he thought is sounded cooler that way.

Speaking of uncool, does useless 90's techno and hard rock and the NHL go hand in hand? When will they learn that 2 Unlimited, Def Leppard and Stone Temple Pilots do not need airplay at hockey games? At least they managed get guitar happy girl-band Sahara Hotnights to do a quick 3 song set prior to game time - that was half-good.




In the crowd were many an NHL team jersey. I counted at least 3 Oilers sweaters (including my own) and saw all other Canadian teams including the Flames, Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks. Ottawa obviously had a ton of supporters including a contingent of what must have been contest winners all wearing silly Senators jerseys with 08 on the back. Peter Forsberg was also well represented. To my left sat three, what looked like, brothers each wearing a jersey from teams he'd represented - Nashville, Philadelphia, Colorado. Perhaps another brother with the Nordiques jersey was relegated elsewhere.


But back to Malkin. At one point in play, he cruised through the neutral zone casually bouncing the puck on his stick blade, 3 feet off the ice. He skillfully, almost lackadaisically, crossed into the offensive zone and with a small hop, dodge an oncoming bus in an Ottawa jersey, dipsy-doodled towards the net, still juggling the puck, only to be steamrolled by his own line mate. Pardon the alliteration, but Malkin made magic!


Although on this night, Ottawa won the game. Alfredsson worked like a dog. He wasn't flashy, but the Senator's gritty play beat the Penguins. Malkin and Crosby were the most talented players on the ice, but Ottawa executed the better game plan.

The NHL in Stockholm was great hockey and a pretty decent event but it was Malkin that made it interesting.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance, as was former NHLers like Calle Johansson, Andreas Dackell, Börje Salming, Mario Lemieux and (my grandfather's and many a Calgarian's favourite Swedish Calgary Flame) Håkan Loob.


















Håkan Loob with Calle Johansson & the dude from Swedish Canal+ TV.












Former Oiler, Jason (Gator) Smith in warm-up






Face-off featuring Crosby (behind the linesman) & Malkin.