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.

2008-10-21

Living the Hockey Dream

Imagine being good enough to play semi-pro hockey as a winter hobby.

This guy, Trevor Bremner is traveling Europe with skates on his stick. Currently he is featured in Tier IV (div2) Säffle HC. Carpenter by summer and hockey vagabond by winter.

Trevor Bremner deserves an honourable mention for perseverence.

-------

COMING SOON: my long overdue comments from the NHL game in Stockholm

2008-10-05

Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh, game 2 - Globen

Puck drops in about 3 hours for the rematch of the Penguins vs. Senators at Stockholm's Globe Arena.

I'll be sitting in row 4, perpendicular to the goalline. If you happen to catch it on tv, I'll be the knob who showed up to a Senators vs. Penguins game wearing an Oilers jersey.

2008-10-02

Bring in the Clowns...


The circus has arrived in Sweden, or at least that is how the headline reads in today's newspaper.

The Pittsburgh Penguins (with Sid the kid) and Ottawa Senators will play two matches Saturday and Sunday at Stockholm's Globe Arena, to open their NHL campaigns.

Starting the season 6000km from home nothing was left to chance. It has been deemed a circus perhaps because everything has been packed and brought over for the two matches.
Notwithstanding that both teams require a rider similar to that of a rock band, included in the truck load of supplies was, of all things, a bread toaster.
It is all about logistics, according to the NHL. Nothing is left to chance and thus everything is over packed. How very opulent and North American!

Despite the over packing, each team has also been provided with a so-called "locker room attendant". The LRA (roughly pronounced: lackey) is a local, who can help and assist with the basics like filling water bottles, making coffee, getting food or providing that local knowledge in case there is an emergency purchase needed.

But the idea of an emergency purchase is unlikely, consdering the rider, though one never knows.
Coffee, muffins, 2 saws, 2 files, 2 wood planes, 12 sheets of sandpaper, 24 pairs of skate laces, 600 pucks, 36 water bottles, 6 stationary bicycles, 100 packs of chewing gum, 24 soaps, 6 bottles of shampoo, 6 conditioners, 6 hair gel, 6 hair mousse, 6 hair brushes, 6 hair dryers, 6 shaving cream, 100 disposable razors, 6 bottle of after shave, 6 mouthwash, 6 deodorant, 2 baby powder, 2 Vaseline, 500 Q-tips. At each practice session there is to be 100 hand towels, 140kg of ice, an ice bath, and a hand dryer.

But wait... damn it, who brought the bread?!!

2008-09-26

Introducing the Rölers! ('rOI-Lers)

In this day of fair-weather fans, dime-a-dozen sports leagues, and re-branding of teams to follow changing affiliations and demographics, it is hard to decide how to steer one's sporting allegiances.

It is one thing to grow up in a city and live with the ups and downs of the prized sporting team - in that case, the choice seems abundantly clear. At least, that is my story with the Edmonton Oilers.

But what about deciding upon a team in a new found sport or, in my case, arriving in a new country. How does one choose on which side of the line to pull?

There are the typical answers:
  • geographic location - choosing the team in your city
  • the look - choosing based on the best looking colours, design, logo, etc.
  • a player - changing allegiances by following the career of a specific player
  • team philosophy - identifying with the attitudes or style of a particular club
  • indoctrination - by way of a relative or friend, being indoctrinated to a team's ideals or culture
  • the winner bandwagon - a team at the top of the table, consistently wins and often has a big piggy bank.
  • the underdog - choosing the least likely, cheapest-run team and relishing in their smallest of victories
  • affiliation - based on partnership or affiliation system (farm league)
  • anybody but... - having one team that is the antagonist and should be cheered against in all and any circumstances
Over at the football blog Keepie-uppie, there was a recent post that aptly put a degree of reality to allegiances he had passed down to him through his family. It was less about living and dying with the success and failures, but more about realising his own limits of fan-dom. After all, this is only sport. We vicariously live in these moments of battle as modern day gladiators enter and exit the playing field for copious amounts of money and glory.

Is it really that important? No, not really.

But it is still outrageously fun to cheer, sing, heckle and follow these teams in their rise and falls.

When it comes to hockey in Sweden, for seven years, I have chosen to remain impartial about "my team". Although, I can identify nine possible ways to choose a team, it was a tenth option that fit best:
  • making up my own team

I HEREBY INTRODUCE THE RÖLERS!


New to the hockey Elite Series this year is Rögle BK of Ängelholm.

I have never seen Rögle play live, nor do I have any significant connection to their playing style, ideals or players.

Although, what seems to fit best in this case is how well their logo synchronizes with that of my beloved Oilers.

I say, what better way to choose a team than to graphically mash and merge (and lousy at that) two logos into one? This year, I will cheer for Rögle and the Oilers and the same time. The Rölers do not exist in any one league other than my own head, although being able to cheer for one and both gives all the more fun to focus in both the Elite Series and the NHL.

This will be the plan, at least until the weather turns ugly or I can photoshop versions of OilGårdens or OilSands.

2008-09-12

It's Beginning to Look Alot Like Hockey Season...

The leaves on the trees are changing colour, the days are shorter, that cool breeze is in the air and the sports dailies issue their previews of hockey season.

For Swedes, or maybe just me, it is the sign that hockey is here.
Sportbladet (a division of Aftonbladet) released their 180 page magazine on Thursday.
I'll take a few more in depth look at this magazine in coming posts, but for now, I'm in a reading frenzy. Must be ready, because the regular season starts September 15th!

2008-09-10

Total Eclipse of a Qualifying


Ever built one of those thingamajiggers in grade school science class to look at the sun? You are well aware that you shouldn't stare at the actual sun, but how bad could it be? Just a peak, for a few seconds, right at the burning fire of reality.

Or rather, maybe it is like watching a horror film from behind one's hand – peeking between the fingers. The urge to watch is more than there. One is driven to see the horrors for oneself, even if it might leave nightmares for 4 long years.

Canada’s men’s national soccer (hereafter known as football) team (CMNT) faces 4 long years of waiting, should tonight's match-up with powerhouse Mexico be yet another defeat. As recently as last week, the CMNT blew up what was felt to be REAL World Cup qualifying hopes, when they lost a home match 2-1 versus Honduras.

With 4 matches remaining in stage 3, and only -1 in the goal differential column, Canada is not mathematically out. Sadly, this does not take into account that of these 4 matches, 3 will be in foreign, unfriendly confines and a fourth will be a rematch versus said Mexico.

I have my face covered, though I’m still peeking.

For more blog commentary on tonight’s match-up, I hyperlink thee to the following:


And some more official links:


2008-09-09

World Junior Tournament 2009 - Oilers Prospects


August was a chance for both 2008 Edmonton Oilers draft pick Johan Motin and 2007 pick William Quist to don the blue and gold Tre Kronor jerseys in advance of this year's IIHF World Junior Tournament

Two separate exhibition tournaments were the chance for evaluations of Swedish talent prior to selection of the team that will be on the ice this December in Ottawa. Sweden has drawn into group B along with Russia¸ Finland, Slovakia, and Latvia. Canada is in group A with the USA, Germany, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic.

Pär Mårts returns to the helm of Sweden's Juniorkronorna, as they are known, after last year’s somewhat surprise silver medal performance (link to video clip). Mårts added the Juniors silver to his coaching resume, to go along with a 1994 Olympic Gold (assistant coach) and a 2004 Swedish Elite Series title (head coach).

The approach to selecting this year's team appears to be divided among two groups of players. Half (22 players) I will term the "Real Deal", and the other 22 shall be known as the "Soon-to-be Runners-up".

The "Real Deal" travelled over the Atlantic to Lake Placid, NY in early August to face a series of matches against 3 squads made up of the US junior program. Sweden’s team featured heavily touted 2009 draft prospect Victor Hedman and LA Kings prospect, Oscar Möller. The Oilers' Johan Motin was also among the "Real Deal", though did not register any points in the 4 matches played.

Later in August, the "Soon-to-be Runners-up" traveled to the Four Nations Cup in the Czech Republic. They finished a respectable third, which is not bad considering they were a bit of a B-team. The players, most of whom will be playing in the J20 programs in Sweden or with Allsvenska clubs, had a convincing win over Finland but lost to Russia and the host Czechs. William Quist played 3 tournament matches in the Czech Republic and was held pointless, though did register on the scoresheet with 4 PIM and was -1. Additionally, he appeared in a 6-2 (non-tournament) win over Slovakia, Aug 29.

Though they may be looked at as a B-team, these players were still are on an international stage and it was the chance to impress the coaching staff for future exhibition matches.


This means very little. If anything can be drawn from these matches, it is the status report on where Mr. Quist and Mr. Motin rank in terms of the Swedish class of 1989-1991. The Oilers have 2 young prospects both of whom are being looked at for the national junior team. Positive, yes?

Next up, Mårts will likely whittle down his prospects, with exception of those playing in the WHL & AHL, and will compose a team of Swedish based players for the Four Nations tournament that is set for Uppsala, Sweden in November.

Motin was previously scheduled to appear at the Oilers Rookie and Training camp though now appears set to start the season with Elite Series team Färjestad BK.

Quist is also set to start the season with his new Allsvenska club, Nybro IF.

FINAL NOTE: Björn Bjurling's Tre Kronor appearance was hardly spectacular as the Swedes lost 4-1. Sweden showed some fire power registering 32 shots, to Finlands 20. This article notes that in the 2nd period, Bjurling allowed 2 goals on 4 shots while during the same span, Sweden peppered Finland with 13 shots and scored only once.

2008-08-27

Bjurling Picked for Tre Kronor


Swedish national coach, Bengt-Åke Gustafsson announced his Tre Kronor team for the upcoming home & away exhibition match with Finland.

The friendlies are not being well received by clubs active in pre-season tournaments. Specifically, these two games conflict with the finals of the prestigious Nordic Trophy. The ten team, Swedish-Finnish tournament entices with significant prize money to the winning team. Adding meaning to pre-season with such competitions represents a growing trend emerging throughout European hockey.(*)

As a compromise to Swedish teams, Bengt-Åke chose a wide variety of players for all Elite Series (and two Allsvenska) teams. Those clubs involved in the Nordic Trophy had at maximum one representative chosen.

Bjurling, known in some circles as BBKing, has just returned from his BB Goalie Camp that is held annually in Norway.

This will be Bjurling's second call-up to the national team. In 2003-04 he was named though did not appear in any matches. With the departure of phenom Jhonas Enroth to the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, Bjurling is by all accounts the clear number 1 goalie for Södertälje this coming season.

Former Oiler Dick "Bleep" Tärnström, now with AIK, was also selected.


A RANDOM VIDEO MEMORY: Canada wins vs. Sweden in 2008 World Juniors final.

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UPDATE: It seems the Nordic Trophy may very well represent a precursor to a Nordic League. This article on Eurohockey.net suggests that it may be only a matter of time before Sweden and Finland's big teams join forces under the banner of a single league.

(*)As a final footnote, there are a number of tournaments or "Cups" up for grabs in the European preseason. Most are by invitation only and often are nothing more than tune-ups matches billed as a tournament. To name a few, there is the Lada Cup, the Belarus Cup, or that in which Oilers draft William Quist's Nybro Vikings participated, the Fredriksstad Cup.

The European Champions Cup (akin to football's Champions League) and the Continental Cup (akin to the UEFA cup) are sanctioned events by the IIHF that will begin play later this fall.

2008-08-21

Pre-Seasoned Swedes



Pre-season has begun in Sweden. Here are some highlights from the Oilers' perspective:

WILLIAM QUIST


Young William's Nybro Vikings were up against the Norwegian Elite Series team Stjernen in a preseason match up. According to this article, Quist was one of the key "young'ens" that were stellar in their 3-2 triumph. He got prime penalty killing minutes and as coach Lenny Eriksson philosophy for his young'ens was to, "throw them right into the shit" (seriously - that's a direct translation!)


LINUS OMARK
Luleå has played a series of matches in Finland (arranged by Kuopio Kalpa) among them, a 3-1 win against Belorussian KHL team, Dinamo Minsk.

Omark assisted in the match setting-up line mate Mats Lavander. No word on whether or not former-Oiler dreamboat Igor Ulanov was playing for Minsk.

Luleå's off-ice training regime was highlighted by something that might make Oilers' fitness coach Chad Moreau take notice.

On a hill called Måttsund, cross-country skiing coach Sven-Erik Pajala put Luleå hockey and basketball pros through a gruelling challenge: the King of the Hill fitness training - 3 gruelling laps up and down Måttsund ski hill. The reporter who wrote the piece actually passed Omark and posed the thought:

I wonder what the Edmonton Oilers would have thought of Omark's result?
Sven-Erik Pajala had his thoughts.
"I am of the belief that football (soccer), ice hockey and basketball players were much better shape 15-20 years ago. Today they likely have more strength, but if they don't have the conditioning to show up on this hill, it will not lead to any personal development. A hockey player's last 15 seconds on ice are very important and they have to have that stamina."


JONAS ALMTORP
Former Springfield Falcon, Jonas Almtorp is on a try-out contract with Luleå. His performance thus far is much like the Almtorp of last year: "Offensively he was invisible throughout the match. Defensively he did his job, not more."


RÖGLE OILERS
This year sees a new team in the Swedish Elite Series, namely Rögle BK from the town of Ängelholm. I've been toying with the idea of adopting them as my own, for no other reason than they have a sweet looking logo.

Mattias Tjärnqvist (brother to former Oiler Daniel) has signed to play with the club. As for preseason, they seem to be in the recording studio preparing a new fight song.



2008-08-20

World Cup 2010 Qualifying - Canada vs. Jamaica

I have this quotation flipping around in my head that is something like “Hope springs eternal”. It was long ago, that hope among Canadian soccer (hereafter known as football) enthusiasts was as high as it is now, in lead up to 2010 World Cup qualifying (WCQ).

Tonight, at BMO Field in Toronto, begins the third leg of four in the CONCACAF road to South Africa 2010. Jamaica will take to the artificial pitch in Toronto to face the Canadian Men’s National Team (MNT) and, what is hoped to be, a pro-Canadian home crowd.

The so-called Golden Generation of Canadian football is now. It has been a long time since Canada has known a team with such strength at all positions - most especially in the midfield - and tactics other than dump-and-chase.

The Voyageurs fan club, among others, has made sure that tonight will be a home field match. There should be a spectacular atmosphere at the match and I can only hope that the players respond in kind. The Voyageurs song book, with such hits as Dwayne De Rosario (to the tune of Pet Shop Boys Go West) or Radzinski (to the tune of Boney M’s Rasputin), will get a good workout from the Voyageur faithful.

Hope and Faith was not just some crummy American sitcom featuring Kelly Ripa, it is becoming the unofficial themes of Canadian football fans. They will sing at the top of their lungs and cheer for their boys because they are full of hope and believe that Canada can reach a World Cup again. We’ve been trusting in this faith and hope every four years when WCQ comes around.

A win in game 1 versus Jamaica will be step one. Otherwise, hope that springs eternal may be replaced by "hope burps ephemeral" or "pessimism whiplashes like a car crash". (I'll work on making that sound more eloquent, should need arise.)

HOPE COUNTER: 9x


For more on the match up, I refer thy faithful to the following:

"I think it is coming together," said Mitchell of his preparations. "It is strange week because it is a short week. Guys are traveling different places and in different states of physical condition. That is a little bit of a concern, but we have done our best to get as well organized as we can. We have the better part of a day and a half now to further rest up and to get to as close to 100% as we can be."





SWEDEN: Since this blog is known as Scouting Sweden, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that also tonight the Swedish Men’s team takes on France in a friendly match at Ullevi in Gothenburg. World Cup Qualifying for Sweden and UEFA Group 1 begins in early September against Albania and Hungary.

2008-08-15

Drafticus 4:103



And thus thy went forth to the podium and bequeath to the masses that it shall be Motin and Motin it shall be.


Although I am nearly two months overdue, I hereby wish to take this opportunity to thank the Edmonton Oilers scouting staff, in particular Kent Nilsson, for giving this blog a new prospect, focal point, and target for the coming years.


Frankly, I had written off the idea of the Oilers going Swede this year, especially considering how few picks (5) they had at their disposal in the NHL Entry Draft.


Selected 103 overall, Johan Motin joins the likes of William Quist, Linus Omark and Björn Bjurling as active Oiler draft picks from, and playing in, Sweden.


The Oilers development system seems to have burgeoned in the past couple years. The direct emergence of young talents like Sam Gagner & Andrew Cogliano along with a gain of depth in all positions allowed Kevin Lowe and entourage to follow a simple draft day strategy. At approximately 5:07 of this clip, Kevin Lowe mentions having seen Motin a couple years ago at the Under 18 World Hockey Tournament. At that time, scouts were projecting Motin as a top 10 pick and yet there he was, still available to the Oilers in the 4th round.

What changed? Well, not so much one realises after having scoured the internet via a Google News (in Swedish) search.


MOTIN: A GOOGLE NEWS SEARCH (SWEDISH VERSION)


  • TELEVISION: SVT reported March 5, 2007 about the poise Johan Motin has shown since his call-up to the bright lights of the Elite Series. His size and stability are noted as having been advantageous in handling the big league and when asked what he will work on most in the near future, Motin says primarily his shot.


  • PRINT: NWT - Sept 19, 2007. Season preview of Färjestad's team and their young talent Johan Motin. He is studying public/society economics at Tingvalla high school. Motin got prime ice-time last season with Czech veteran Robert Kantor. His first big league fight was with scrappy Finn Sami Torkki, which he claims to have won by "falldown". Motin takes the bus to school and says that he tries to be a normal teen because "one must have one's feet on the ground. I want to finish school in the best way possible, because there will come a life after hockey."


  • WEBSITE Kanon wrote about Motin's loan to Allsvenska club Bofors on Nov 21, 2007. Färjestad fired coach Roger Melin and new bench boss (Tommy Samuelsson) played primarily with only 6 D-men. With development and increased ice-time in mind, Färjestad loaned Motin to Bofors, in his home town of Karlskoga. More ice-time was vital given the forthcoming World Junior Championships that was to occur later in 2007 in the Czech Republic. He went on to appear in 15 matches with Bofors IK.


  • BLOGS: Scouting report HockeyMagasinet 2007-09-03
    "his mature and unafraid play impressed the Färjestad executive that offered him a 3 year contract in March 2007... his strong play in the U18 tournament (Sweden won bronze) garnered him the award for best Swedish player and he recorded 3 assists in 5 matches. He is a proven winner, having hardware from having won TV Pucken (Swedish rep. team tournament), the Swedish J18 league (junior) championship and a bronze a the U18 Worlds".

Why Johan Motin was drafted in round 4, as compared to Sept 2007 round 1 estimates, is likely due to two factors. Firstly, his move to Bofors looks bad on paper - like a demotion. The reality is that his new coach came under intense pressure to get Färjestad back into winning form and that meant veterans on defense. Motin's youth and development were recognized and he needed more playing time. The second factor, hypothesized by Kevin Lowe, was that his stay-at-home defensive style might also have lead to his drop in draft status. Stay-at-home defensemen do not score a lot of points, nor do they appear often in the spotlight. Lowe too was a stay-at-home D-man in his playing day, although Lowe managed to get drafted 21st overall in 1979 (perhaps stay-at-home defense was sexier back then).


In either case, Johan Motin remains a player with a promising pedigree and has already been a winner on a couple of big stages. His asset was deemed valuable by the Oiler executive and this writer certainly hopes Motin will be in Oilers silks in the future.


Final items from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft: when it came to Swedes, Ottawa managed to win the "Pick The Most Swedes" contest. Thanks in part to having former Swedish National Junior coach Anders Forsberg on their scouting payroll, the Senators selected 3 Swedes in front of their home crowd at the Scotiabank Arena. HockeyMagazinet put out this blog report and also summarized all Swedes selected.



LAST WORD: The Women's Olympic Soccer (hereafter known as football) quarter final between Canada and the USA is being played as I type. Canada has always had problems winning football matches against their female counterparts to the South, especially in major competitions. According to FIFA, they have met 42 times with the USA having been victorious 36 times (85%) and 3 ties. Canada's only victories have been friendly-matches.

After a promising performance against Sweden, the Canadian women have shown that they can match the best. The trend of losing to the Yanks must be broken and it must be today! I hope...

2008-08-10

Sweden - Canada: An Olympic Clash



August 12 in Beijing, China. Women's Olympic Soccer (hereafter known as football).

Nr. 9 ranked Canada faces nr. 3 ranked Sweden in Olympic competition.

Previews: FIFA has done one and also here. CBC preview (by former Canadian national team defender Jason De Vos).

In red will be a generation of girls who have together grown to become Canada's Women's National team (WNT). In blue/yellow, a routine laden bunch of tactical and talented Swedes.

It is the likes of youngster Kara Lang - who has been on the national team since she was 15, goal machine Christine Sinclair - now 93 goals in 124 games for the WNT! (Sinclair's Olympic blog is here), and 2007 player of the year Rhian Wilkinson complements a full cast of hard working young women. Most have gone (or are going) to American universities and/or ply their trade at the National Soccer Academy in Vancouver.

This is the profile of the women going up against seasoned pros from what is likely the best women's league in the world, the Damallsvenska. Led by Viktoria Svensson, Lotta Schelin and anchored by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

Swedish media, such as here, have looked past Canada from the very beginning. Most news outlets chose China and Sweden to advance, even though China is ranked 14th by FIFA. Perhaps drawing on China's second place finish at World Cup 1999, or that they host this Olympiad, many have heightened expectations for the PRC. When Sweden came out flat against the Chinese in the first game and lost 2-0, it further elevated China and put question marks in the minds of many a Swede.

Yet along came the 'dump and chase' style of Canada, who mysteriously proceeded to dominate versus China. In fact, Canada should have won Saturday's 1-1 match in Tianjin considering the amount of shots, and percentage of play they found.

So what is in store on Tuesday. It is not comparable to any Sweden vs. Canada ice hockey match-up. In this case, Sweden holds the upper-hand in experience and respect. Yet two very different team have shown up based on expectations. Sweden has under-achieved and Canada has been surprisingly dominant. The real test will be tomorrow.

Odds are it will be a phenomenal chance for Canada to prove its footie-value on the world's stage. Unfortunately, this writer believes their dump and chase strategy will be their downfall against the tactically sound Swedes. As much as I hope for a breakthrough for Canadian footie, it requires a stronger back line, a smarter tactic versus a European style, and a patience in ball possession that would flow throughout the whole team, and not just a lone few.

My prediction: Sweden 2 - Canada 1 (Sweden scoring in the 91st minute - injury time - after a defensive lapse by Canada).

2008-06-13

Hope for a Big Footie Weekend


Euro 2008 is progressing through the second set of matches and Saturday will be the highly-touted Spaniards vs. Sweden in Group D.

For the first 67 agonizing minutes against Greece, it was boring, tactical soccer (hereafter known as football). Then, a quick give-and-go via Henrik Larsson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's right foot secured Sweden a 3 point win, and momentum into Saturday's match against Spain.

It will be a completely different battle than that versus Greece. The creative Spaniards are known to make the simple look difficult and the difficult look simple. What is more, they are a talented team composed of rivalling factions - defenders Ramos (Real Madrid) and Puyol (FC Barcelona) reportedly had a yelling match during the first 10 minutes of their opening match against Russia.

Sweden will need to control the midfield and have solid communication along the backline. Two problems of this strategy are in the form of injuries to speedy right midfielder, and lone La Liga player, Christian Wilhelmsson and experienced back Niklas Alexandersson.

In their two meetings during Euro qualifying, Sweden won at home 2-0 (fall of 2006!), and lost in Madrid, 3-0.

If I were coach Lagerbäck, I'd be studying film of Manchester United's 1-0 win over Barcelona in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semi-final. It may not be completely an apples to apples comparison, although it was a brilliant demonstration of how to stifle and counter the lively tick-tack-toe Spanish style.


I hope for a draw.

---
Sunday, June 15, sees the Canadian national team (ranked 60) begin its quest for South Africa 2010 as the men's national team faces island nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (ranked 147). Hopes for this team are high, as the bitter taste of 2006's World Cup campaign fell enormously short of expectations.

Much talk on the forums of Canadian-soccer.com have been over the surprise roster spot given to Nigerian born, Ugo Ihemelu. Strangely enough, the Colorado Rapids player holds both Canadian and American citizenship and played 14 minutes of a 2006 friendly against Norway. The key issue is that those 14 minutes were for the United States national team. Word going around the forums is that the friendly was a so-called B-game and he is apparently still able to change nations. One would hope the CSA has done the due diligence to ensure Ihemelu is eligible for Canada.

I have hopes for a significant win to start the WC campaign. Mid-fielder Julian De Guzman may be injured, but the rest of the "Golden Generation" will be on the pitch and ready to pummel the St VAG zone with offence.

UPDATE: the Globe and Mail published an article where a couple players spoke out about the disorganization at the CSA. It is refreshing to hear that is not just us fans who are frustrated.
----

Finally, on a "Canadians in Sweden" note, Hammarby IF had 3 young Canadians on trial at the end of May.

Tyler Hemming, Vahid Assadpour and Tosaint Ricketts got a good look during a week of trainings. Though none were offered contracts, it is promising to see that young Canadians are getting attention at this level.

Hammarby coach, Tony Gustavsson had some kind, yet constructive critique for the lads.

Translated from the site:

Among this week's guests, he (Tosaint Ricketts) stood out. He was quickest of all
participants in the team's physical training tests, conducted Tuesday (May
20th).Quoting coach Tony Gustavsson "He confirmed the physical assets I'd heard
about, he's a player with unique agility and quickness. It was almost awful,
in a positive way of course. Then, he also was a bit un-schooled in both
technique and tactics."

Ricketts countrymen, midfield Vahid Assadpour and back Tyler Hemming, did not look out of place. "Vahid is a quick thinker and quite all-round. Tyler is the wisest of those who have been here. He has very good sense of the play and technically very secure with both feet, yet lacking quickness," says Gustavsson.

At present, it does not look realistic to write any contracts with any
of the players attending the camp. At the same time, the head coach is still
seeking talent at striker, inside midfield and midback during the summer.

2008-06-10

EURO 2008 - Sweden vs. Greece


Tonight, Sweden jumps into the fray among the 16 nations fighting for European soccer (hereafter known as football) supremacy. The match against defending champions Greece will be a vital benchmark for the hopes of both teams.

Sweden made Euro2008 after finishing second to Spain in what was a rollercoaster qualifying campaign. For every dominant performance, such as the 2-0 home win over Spain, there would be an uninspired 2-1 loss to the likes of Northern Ireland. Amongst all this, one never really got a sense of who was the real Swedish team. Never mind the fact that qualifying also included a near debacle in the form of the bizarre 3-0 default win over Denmark*.
With a roster composed of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fredrik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson, the Swedes should be almost feared when it is a big competition. Unfortunately, the cast of players is not all a Zlatan, Freddie or Henke. Although it is a blend of experience with youth and European league stars with domestic dignataries, one can only hope the team gels and that a top class team shows up tonight.
It is not that Sweden is inexperienced, internationally. In fact, Sweden is in its fifth straight international tournament (Euro 2000, 04, 08 & World Cup 02, 06) and will field a team quite similar to that which exited the 2006 World Cup in the quarter-finals against the host Germans.
Most of this nation is football mad at the moment. Every possible newspaper is pushing their own “exclusive Euro2008 supplement” or major retailers flog their own blue and yellow merchandise.
I have yet to see a media outlet, even most of the Swedish ones, give the Swedish team much hope of advancing past the quarter-finals. That said, this is the European Championship, and like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004, with a bit of teamwork and luck, any country can win it all. Greece proved in 2004 that a strong defensive strategy can win a championship.

I think an aggressive start will go a long way in facing Greece. The offensive weapons of Zlatan and Henke (Larsson) need to be exploited and Greece’s defensive wall must fall.

By my assessment, Sweden needs at least 4 points (one win, one tie) to emerge from this group. Spain is a heavy favourite and Russia is a wildcard. Greece, though defending champs, are a team Sweden needs to overcome in order to set the record straight that the real Swedish team has shown up to European football’s big dance.

* Sweden led 3-0 after 30 minutes only for Denmark to claw back to 3-3 by the 85th minute, at which time a Danish defender sucker punched Swede Marcus Rosenberg in the penalty area which was a red card to Denmark & penalty shot for Sweden. The penalty shot never got taken, as directly after the red card, a Danish spectator stormed the pitch and attacked the referee. The match was stopped and eventually forfeited. The 3-0 result was awarded to Sweden.

2008-06-06

Sweden's National Day


Yesterday, the Swedish Red Wings, er, check that... Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. Niklas Lidström became the first non-North American to captain a Stanley Cup champion (only the second non-Canadian, if I'm not mistaken) and Henrik Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP.

What's more, today, June 6, is the National Day of Sweden. It was 485 years ago that Gustaf Vasa was elected king, forming what is considered to be modern Sweden.

If anything, this cataclysm of events deserves a cheezy photo set-up.

Yay Sweden... Tomorrow, it's back to Oh Canada and Go Oilers Go!

2008-06-04

Canada vs. Mexico = Tip Top vs. Armani

Comparing Canada’s national team coach Dale Mitchell to Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson is like comparing Tip Top Tailors to Georgio Armani. In both cases, one can still show up to the show looking good, but it is really a question of quality, style and above all, money.

The worst kept secret in soccer (hereafter known as football) has finally been made official. Sven-Göran Eriksson, along with his entourage of Tord Grip and Hans “Hasse” Backe, have been named to lead the Mexican national football team, El Tri.

Mexico has paid a sweet bit of money (2 year - $7.5 Million contract) to gain the services of “Svennis” but the return is a proven commodity. Sven is a magnet for winning. As early as 1982 he took the small Swedish club (small by European standards) IFK Göteborg all the way to the UEFA Cup, and won it all, not to mention also winning their own domestic league and Swedish Cup that same year. Svennis has won in Italy, with Lazio, Roma (Coppa Italia ‘86), Fiorentina, and Sampdoria (Coppa Italia ‘94) and Portugal (Benefica). The most recent exploits with England’s national team and Manchester City have been well documented by the vicious, yet loving (tongue-in–cheek), British media.

Although he may be a magnet for success, he also is a magnet of the ladies and controversy. He often spiced up the tabloids when his famous British ladies spoke out. Or, what British football fan could forget the sense of betrail when news broke of his secret meetings/job interview with a Saudi sheikh (in reality a News of the World reporter posing as one)? Despite the scandals, he always seems to somehow conduct himself with poise, yet also maintain an image as shrewd business man and coach. One wonders how he can achieve such success with such a mild mannered demeanour. Must be the suits...

A jump across the pond to CONCACAF should lead to more success for the man from Sweden's Värmland, and Canada will get to experience it first hand.

If Canada wins it’s upcoming series vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (which they should) and Mexico disposes of Belize, the two will face each other in stage 3 of World Cup qualifying.

Mexico has always been a powerhouse in CONCACAF and with this move, they can only continue to improve. Their domestic league is strong and they are arguably one of the prime football cultures in the Americas, after Brasil and Argentina.

Quoting Mexican sports analyst David Faitelson about Eriksson's appointment:

  • I celebrate, applaud and delight in the decision Mexican football has taken today. Not only is it about the arrival of Sven-Goran Eriksson... it's about a new conviction and desire on the part of those in charge of Mexican football to explore the kind of horizons we wouldn't have dared look at in the past.

The Canada Soccer Association (CSA) and Dale Mitchell on the other hand, are scraping themselves back into shape after a debacle of resignations and infighting among the CSA executive.

Mitchell's credentials are hardly inspiring in light of Eriksson's. Dale Mitchell never played professional football outside of North America, although he was well capped with the Canadian national team. As a player, he appeared in the '84 Olympics and the '86 World Cup. Prior to taking over the nation's top team, he was at the helm of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the U20 national team. This is hardly a top-class, international football cv, but with consideration to David Faitelson's quote, it is about as far as the CSA's horizon reaches.

How will Canada meet this improvement to its CONCACAF brother? Hopefully, they will start by buying coach Dale Mitchell a good suit.

2008-05-02

World Championships Preview

The World Championships begin today. Denmark is playing the Czech Republic as I type.

Canada is the defending champs and on home soil. Sweden won in 2006.

The Edmonton Oilers have a number of players involved.
CANADA: Sam Gagner, Steve Staios, Mathieu Garon, Craig MacTavish (ass.coach)
USA: Matt Greene, Tom Gilbert
SWEDEN: Robert Nilsson
CZECH REP: Ladislav Smid
RUSSIA: Denis Grebeshkov

I suspect it will be the normal suspects (Can, US, Swe, Russia, Fin, Czech) will easily go through to the qualification round. Groups A & D will meet in this stage thus preventing a possible Sweden vs. Canada match up until the knock-out round.

The heated match-ups really begin next week.

Meanwhile, Swedes, including the Brunnström love-in, are in profile on the NHL site.

2008-04-29

Champions League: Barcelona @ Manchester United

Tonight is the second leg of the Champions League semi-final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. If Barcelona looks extra hungry tonight, the blame could be in part due to a Canadian, a Swede and Deportivo La Coruna.

Perhaps the most entertaining football in all of Europe is played in Spain’s La Liga.

Canada has one player that can lay claim to play in the elite levels of La Liga, Julian De Guzman of Deportivo La Coruna. Along with De Guzman, Sweden’s national team player Christian Wilhelmsson is currently on loan to Deportivo and the two make for a dynamic midfield combo.

As recently as mid-March, Deportivo was in danger of relegation. Wilhelmsson joined midway through the campaign and since Deportivo has nearly run the table, so-to-speak. They are currently in 7th and nearing a UEFA Cup spot.

This past Saturday, La Coruna man-handled what was a substitute ridden FC Barcelona. Perhaps with their Champions League match in mind, skipper Rijkaard rested the likes of Xavi, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi (Ronaldinho is injured and out for the season). Notwithstanding a substitute laden Barca is still a team to be reckoned with.

Even if they did have Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol, and Eidur Gudjohnsen, Deportivo’s performance was simply staggering. They would be challenging for a league title with Real Madrid had they played like this from season’s start.

Game report:
http://goal.com/en/articolo.aspx?contenutoid=674035

Ranks the match performance by player:
http://goal.com/en/Articolo.aspx?ContenutoId=674091

Interestingly enough, Manchester United also lost on Saturday.

It will be a phenomenal match tonight at Old Trafford, and should Barca prevail, I like the idea that the Canada/Swede connection beat up on the Champions League finalists.

2008-04-25

*bleep* Tärnström Signs With AIK


When the Oilers traded Dick Tärnström to the Columbus Blue Jackets, censorship reared its ugly (but in this case, humourous) head.

Fox Sports blogger Lyle Richardson (AKA: Spector) posted a story that didn't meet Fox's dubious standards of publishable content. It seems that they don't know Dick.

Like Tärnström's time in Edmonton, his name got a raw deal.
Actually, much of his NHL career was a bit of a raw deal. He played 2 ½ seasons (02-06) on a mediocre Penguins team. Though he racked up the points, the team won not much more than an NHL Draft lottery pick (Sidney Crosby). He was hardly around to reap the rewards of the Crosby phenomena but instead lucked onto a trip to the Stanley Cup finals with the Oilers. Unfortunately for Dick, much of his time was spent in the press box as that 7th defenseman, as was often the case in his return to the Oilers during the 07-08 season.

The tides haven't necessarily gone his way during his NHL career.

Tärnström has turned his sails back to Europe and will suit up the 08-09 seaons with AIK (Stockholm) in the Tier II Allsvenska. Though it may be a double step downward - out of the NHL as well as a step below the Elite Series - it is a promising prospect for his future. He returns to his so-called "mother-club" where he played 1992-2001.
AIK seems to be assembling a strong cast of proven talent in hopes of topping of the 08-09 Allsvenska and achieving possible promotion. They signed successful coach Roger Melin and talented young goalie Christopher Heino-Lindberg (Drafted by Montreal #177 in 2003).
If I know *BLEEP*, he does not *BLEEP* around with the puck in his own end, and plays intelligent hockey. *BLEEP* & AIK is a good match!
SIDEBAR: During the NHL lockout, former Oiler Georges Laraque played 16 games for, then tier III (Div 1), AIK and scored 16 pts (11G+5A).

OTHER NOTES: Edmonton Oiler Robert Nilsson scored and assisted yesterday in Sweden's 4-3 exhibition win over Latvia. The Latvians, who will play in Group B with the US, Canada and Slovenia, faced a 3-0 deficit after only 9 minutes. The Swedes will play a final exhibition match against the US April 27 in Portland, Maine.

TEAM SWEDEN ROSTER:
  • 9 NHL players
  • 15 Elite Series players
  • 1 Allsvenska player
  • 1 Russian Super league player
Oldest: Florida Panther defenseman Magnus Johansson (age 34.66 - as of tournament start)
Youngest: Washington Capital forward (& finalist for the Rookie of the Year) Nicklas Backström (age 20.44)
Notable: Sweden won Gold in 2006 with a similar mix of NHL & Elite Series merited players.

TEAM CANADA ROSTER
  • 23 NHL
  • 2 CHL (1OHL, 1WHL)
  • 1 US College
  • 1 Russian Super League
Oldest: Carolina forward Ray Whitney (age: 35.98)
Youngest: Uni. of Wisconsin (Phoenix drafted) forward Kyle Turris (age: 19.78)


MORE OTHER:

Canada clobbered Russia in the gold medal game in the U18 world championships 8-0!

2008-04-22

So Much to Think Abbott



Ever since Rögle qualified for the 2008-09 season of the Elite Series, I’ve been toying with the idea of unofficially making them my team of choice in Sweden. After all, their logo has an uncanny resemblance to that of the glorious Edmonton Oilers.

Today, I learned of further details that only convince me more that an allegiance is brewing. Rögle has signed the Canadian-born twin brothers Cam and Chris Abbott.

It may be a stretch to suggest it, but I hereby make the case of their Oiler connections as follows:

  • Though neither brother was ever drafted, both played with the Oil’s ECHL farm club the Stockton Thunder, albeit only 6 games between them (Chris 4, Cam 2).

  • After bouncing about the ECHL (whimsical story told here), they became a powerhouse duo as part of the CHL Bossier-Shreveport Mudbogs. The Mudbogs support club call themsleves the Boilers.
  • Now, each twin has signed a one-year contract to play in Sweden’s top hockey league with the Oiler, er, Rögle logo on their chest.

File under... to be continued.

2008-04-21

IIHF U18 - Canada vs. Sweden

Monday April 21, the Canada will face Sweden in the semi-final of the Under 18 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

This will be a rematch of sorts. Last year, Sweden's U18 team nailed Canada 8-3 in the Bronze medal game.

The Swedish line-up features a number of players eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry draft. The match-up should be a fine opportunity to get an idea of what is on offer. Most notably is Sweden's goaltender Jacob Markström. He acted like a brickwall during the relegation/promotion series and was a key element that kept Brynäs in the Elite Series.

update: Canada won 3-2 in what was apparently a stellar defensive battle. They play Russia for Gold on Wednesday.

2008-04-10

Detonate or Reinstate

The relegation/qualification series is quite the nailbiter. Going into tonight's final set of match-ups, there is a four-way tie for first place.

The top two teams will play the 2008-09 season in the Elite Series. the other four are left to duke it out in tier II, Allsvenska. As stated in my previous post, the difference between the two leagues is not just the quality of hockey, but also a difference of SEK17.5Million ($2.9Million) in royalites. It will be quite a knock to the balance sheet to finish 3rd place tonight.

There are a dozen or more possible outcomes tonight so I won’t even speculate who will win promotion.

Since there is so little dividing the teams, I hereby offer my superficial storylines to why one should cheer for each team.

Brynäs IF: They have a long and storied tradition, a nice rink (in Gävle 180km North of Stockholm) and they are currently being coached by Leif Boork – whom they fired in November only to rehire a month ago. No Canadians are currently playing for Brynäs though they do have an 18-year old, 3rd string goalie named Jakob Markström acting more like a seasoned vet than a rookie.

Mora IK: Features Canadians Eric Beaudoin and Rob Hisey. With Leksand now eliminated, this team is the hope of Dalarna: the landscape of the giant horse.

Malmö IF: Features Canadians Cole Jarrett and Frank Banham. Malmö has been linked to Oiler farmboy Rob Schremp.

Rögle: Features 2006 Olympic gold medalist and former NHLer Kenny Jönsson as the cement that holds together their defence (and offence too). And hey, their logo looks like the Oilers logo.





Although this video seems to be a rip-off/ode to the Bob Dylan classic Subterranean Homesick Blues, I think INXS & Michael Hutchence were on to something with his whole “ate” rhyming sequence.

INXS likely didn’t have ice hockey, nor sport in mind when the composed this since they missed “Relegate” - though detonate is close. Their hockey fate… relegate or reinstate?

2008-04-07

Open vs. Closed Leagues

With the NHL season now over, teams eliminated from the playoff race turn their talk to their position in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Among Sweden’s Elite Series' hockey bottom, talk is about relegation and the financial realities of demotion.

Right now a playoff series is on-going to determine who will play in next year's Elite Series. With only 2 matches remaining in the 10 game tournament, both Brynäs and Mora are on the outside looking in. Granted it is an extremely close race in the standings, but these two teams could well be playing next year in the Allsvenska.


Swedish professional ice hockey's system is played in what could be referred to as an open league. That is to say that any team can be promoted or relegated, up and down the various divisions. Similar to most international soccer (hereafter called football) leagues, a team can win division 2 which can mean promotion to division 1. Meanwhile the team that finishes last in division 1 will play next season in division 2.

North American sports leagues used a closed corporation of franchises and drafts to build their leagues.

Most of Europe's ice hockey is played in open leagues (eg: Switzerland & Russia) and Sweden is no different. Players develop primarily in local clubs and rise through the ranks to ultimately play for the "A" team. There are no drafts, and trades are rare.


AN OVERVIEW TO SWEDISH HOCKEY LEAGUES
(for an excellent map and overview by team, go here)
The intracacies of the Swedish hockey union (Svenska ishockeysförbundet) can vary from year to year. Here is the 2007/08 version:

  • Elite Series (Elitserien) Tier I – Consists of 12 teams with a regular season of 55 matches – top 8 teams qualify for the playoffs. Teams finishing 11th & 12th face a relegation/qualification series versus 4 Allsvenska teams (see below). The Elite Series has been run as a commericially-focused organisation (called Svenska Hockeyligan AB) since 2001.

  • Allsvenska Tier II – 16 teams play in a regular series consisting of 45 matches. The top 4 (3 +1*) teams qualify for a playoff tournament versus the 11th & 12th place teams from the Elite Series standings. The two best teams from this tournament win a spot in the next year's Elite Series. Meanwhile, the 15th and 16th teams of the Allsvenska standings face a relegation series vs. 4 teams from division 1. The Allsvenska is run by an organisation called AHF HockeyAllsvenskan AB.

  • Division 1 or Tier III - (this is complex!) During 2007, 52 teams were geographically divided into 6 leagues (A-F). At the beginning of '08 the top teams sub-divide into North, Middle & South (called Allettan) and the remaining clubs make up Division 1 (A-D). Playoffs is an extremely complicated hodgepodge of playoff showdowns that then lead to more playoffs. Eventually, 4 teams earn a chance at the Allsvenska.
* Allsvenska teams finishing 4th-7th have a mini tournament to determine the final entry into the Elite Series qualification playoff.

March 16, Swedish Television’s sports magazine Sportspegeln (discussion begins at approx the 15min mark in the program) outlined the financial chasm that is growing between the Elite Series and Allsvenska.

Plain and simple, it is becoming all the more vital to remain an Elite Series team, not for hockey but for economic reasons.

Operating an Elite Series team is expensive, but the benefits from TV rights and league payouts dwarf that received by Allsvenska clubs. The Sportspegeln story quoted royalty payouts of 18 million SEK (approx. US$3million) versus 400 000SEK (approx. US$66 000). Being demoted from the Elite Series means a US$2.4million cut to revenues!


*info from various sources including http://forums.internationalhockey.net/showthread.php?t=5178


HAVE AND HAVE NOTS

Based on the finances, one could summarize the Elite Series into large, medium and small clubs. Although only 12 clubs, the division is quite clearly delineated. Even if the Svenska Hockeyligan AB works for the equality and betterment of the EliteSeries, there are most certainly those who have, and those who have not.

NOTE: The list to the left is purely my assessment and opinion.

Teams do not freefall as easily in hockey as in football (As an example: Leeds United). Instead, teams fall simply by going bankrupt. Today's pro hockey is an exclusive group that harbour many costs and expenses in both minor and professional levels alike. Large and modern arenas, financial deep-pockets, and a deep talent pool are required to compete at the professional level. Like football, a strong financial backer is often, but not exclusively, what makes or breaks a club. It is therefore difficult for small clubs to rise into the highest league without the proper resources.

The larger question is perhaps: how much money exists in Sweden to support pro-hockey?

THE WEAKLINGS

The weak sisters of the Elite Series - based on both competitiveness and financial gusto - over the last few years have clearly been Mora IK and Skellefteå AIK (SAIK), not surprisingly both small market teams. Although Mora and Skellefteå could be termed "hockey heartland", they have small arenas and draw from a very small, albeit loyal, group of citizens and sponsors. They both have strong development systems, though both are, in the grande scheme, financial minnows. Both clubs have had some luck with signing foreign players (Canadian players Eric Beaudoin & Rob Hisey play in Mora, and Kent McDonnell and Lee Goran play for SAIK) and improving their competitiveness. Though unfortunately, hockey is no longer based on talent alone and it is financial muscle and flexibility that lead to a yearly threat of relegation.

Mora is currently in the relegation/qualification series, along with an Elite Series stalwart Brynäs IF (of Gävle). Mora has, against all odds, managed to remain in the top series since 2003 though currently is on the outside-looking-in of the relegation/qualification series. With two matches remaining, Allsvenska clubs Rögle and Malmö sit ready to be in the big show in 2008-09.

Should either Mora or Brynas be relegated, it would mean in many ways tearing up the business plan and starting from scratch with players, sponsors, fans and realistic goals and objectives. Relegation is the metaphoric punch in the gut.


THE GOLIATHS

HV71 (Jönköping), Färjestad BK (Karlstad) and Frölunda (Gothenburg) lead the league in financial flexibility (financial capital). These teams, though they are equally susceptible to rising and falling in the yearly standings, outrank all others in economic stability. All three have modern arenas, capital funds, storied histories and strong sponsor partnerships. Hypothetically-speaking any of these club could probably weather a demotion to the Allsvenska, though they would likely incur substantial losses in order to achieve promotion back upwards.

Notably missing among the goliaths is big-city team Djurgårdens IF of Stockholm. Formerly a powerhouse, Djurgården has had to cut back in recent years and refocus efforts and finances. I suspect they will return as a power, though their two arenas - Globen is often too big and in use by other events, the alternative Hovet is old - lead split persona in respect to their game presentation.

Leksand is a goliath by Allsvenska standards. They have a storied history of developing players and as an organisation have achieved a number of successes. Strong financial backers assisted in the signing of one Edward Belfour to mind their net this year, in addition to 11 other foreign-born players - among them former Maple Leaf Rick Jackman and Czechs Roman Vopat and Michal Grosek). It remains to be seen if their heavy spending with net a promotion.

THE NEW WAVE

Linköping HC is the best example of a no-name club emerging out of seemingly nowhere. As recently as 1998 Linköping was not to be found on Sweden's pro hockey map. The Cloetta Centre was of the first new generation arenas to be built in Sweden and along with the new building, steady improvement on the ice and growth financially, LHC is a club that is now on the hockey landscape - including having reached the Elite Series finals for the second year in a row (loss last year to Modo).


THE ALLSVENSKA

By my count, four teams among the current Allsvenska have the wherewithall to play in the Elite Series – Malmö IF, Västerås IK, Leksand HK, and Rögle (Ängelholm). All four teams just so happen to be in the relegation/qualification series.

At the other end of the Allsvenska standings, other teams are simply fighting to not go bankrupt. As noted in the SVT Sportspeglen documentary, Nyköping HK (100km SW of Stockholm) has resorted to selling lottery tickets on the main street in order to raise money for a 2008-09 Allsvenska license to play.

And Nyköping is not alone in financial hardships. Hammarby IF finished last in the Allsvenska and shut the team down before the relegation/qualification tournament. Most recent talk is of merging with a minor league team in nearby Nacka in order to avoid bankruptcy.

In reference to the thin economic line of bankruptcy, Göran Forssberg, chairman of Nyköping HK was quoted saying "misstep and you can end up there".

How can the gap then be so enormous within Swedish hockey and what can be done?


THE FUTURE - GROW OR SHRINK

Money plays such a big part of today’s modern sport. Even if Sweden's league ranks among the best in Europe, it is still a relatively small country and resources are limited.

The entire sport of ice hockey in Sweden should be healthy and it is then the Swedish Hockey Union (ishockeyförbundet) who should actively unite Svenska HockeyLigan AB, AHF HockeyAllsvenskan AB and other partners to secure the health and, perhaps limit, the future size of Swedish hockey.

In my opinion, The Elite Series should be a closed league. The question is really at what size?

Currently there are 28 teams in the Elite Series and Allsvenska. By my count 14 are of Elite Series caliber. The Allsvenska should clearly be a development league and affiliations to Elite Series clubs, perhaps based on geography, should be established (all similar to the NHL-AHL model).

In this manner, Allsvenska clubs can aim for success of winning the league without the haunting worry of how to financially compete in the Elite Series the following year. The Elite Series then needs to clearly share the wealth to Allsvenska club as their development league.

Others think the Elite Series should be shrunk back to 1988 size of 10 teams.

Either way, there remain far too many unknowns and hypothetical than clear answers or direction.

THE FINAL TWIST IN THE ISSUE

In mid-February, the Ottawa Citizen published a story about globalization of the NHL. What is to say that one of the existing clubs could become a franchise in the NHL?

We are at a unique time in pro sports. The idea of a sustainable future is slowly sinking into the business practices of sport and managers, owners and fans discuss and debate the limits and long term life of their teams.

As for Brynäs IF and Mora IK, they simply need to win two matches each and hope for a few miracles in order to again play in Sweden's highest level of hockey. Otherwise, that 17.5million kronor difference in royalties to the bottom line will be quite the organisational motivation to get back in the bigs for 2009-10.

2008-03-26

Footie: Canada vs. Estonia


Tonight is the year's first fixture for the Canadian Men's national soccer (hereafter known as football) team. The Canadian team, comprised primarily of European-based players, face Estonia at the rather humourously named, A.Le Coq Arena in Tallinn.

According to http://www.canadasoccer.com/eng/bootroom/viewArtical_csa.asp?Press_ID=3104 a web cast will be available on CBC.ca. I've yet to find a link.

The two teams met March 29, 2003, also a friendly, with Canada losing 2:1.

Facing the small Baltic land of Estonia in a friendly should be an accurate test for the Canadian side. A convincing win, with a spice of strategy and a side dish of team building would go a long way to justifying their 4th place ranking within CONCACAF and 56th in FIFA. Plus, disposing of the 124th ranked Estonians would lend well to upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Caribbean minnows like Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (ranked 130).

After the under-23 team came within a game of the Olympics, hope for Canadian football has become a bit rejuvinated. A loss tonight would be just plain annoying.

PREDICTION: Canada 3: Estonia 1. Goals by Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario, Paul Stalteri

In other matches:

  • Jonathan de Guzman (brother to Julian) most likely will not play his first match for Netherlands in Vienna versus Austria. Jonathan gave the proverbial finger to Canadian football à la Owen Hargreaves-style. If you can read or understand Dutch, read more here.
  • Sweden relives the 50th anniversary of their only World Cup final appearance by facing Brasil in a friendly at Emirites Stadium in London.

------

UPDATE: Canada loses 2-0 (one was an own goal) on a snowy pitch. Ugh! Meh!


2008-03-10

William Quist - the (Nybro) Viking?

The above picture is a so-called Eastern Viking. I admit up front that I have not researched whatsoever the gangsta stylings of North/South/West or Central Vikings, nor can I say what kind of widespread war and pillaging might be sparked by magically placing Oiler prospect William Quist in this shot. Nevertheless, if rumours holds true, Quist may soon join the eastside gang of Vikings in Nybro.

Nybro, located in southeastern Sweden, is home to an Allsvenska team going by the name of the Nybro Vikings. Mr. Quist grew up in the Nybro program and is from the region.

According to a recent interview conducted by CrossChecking.se's Jonas Gustavsson, William could well make a return to the Viking clan.
-------------------------------
To quote the 18 year old:
  • They (Nybro) called today (March 7) actually. Prior to today, I had been hearing rumours about everywhere except Nybro. It feels like many of those around me are discussing it, but it was only first today that they called. Though it hasn't been any more than that. We will have to see what comes of it.


  • When asked about his short and abruptly-ended stint with Linköping HC's junior team he added:

  • It began rather messy and I didn't feel at all comfortable. I took the decision to return to Tingsryd and there I got to play at an "A" team level [professional as opposed to junior] and I must say it has worked out really well for me.


  • There is a huge difference between Division 1 [pro] and Junior20 SuperElit. Pro hockey is much more structured and organized and that has been very beneficial.


  • Gustavsson also asked Quist about what contact he has with the Oilers:

  • Yah, I do have contact and I was at their camp back in the fall.


  • Regarding his type of play:

  • I am a rather big player so I try and make use of my size. I tend to also be pretty good at finding the net [Ed.: assume this to mean both scoring and creating traffic].


  • Finally, with close ties to Nybro, Quist is also familiar with current Nybro coach Lenny Eriksson:

  • He was the head coach in Nybro during 3 years when I was younger, so I have gotten to know him a bit. He is known for pulling together a team and getting them to buy into a team system.

  • -----------------
    This interview scratches the surface, and is top quality "hockey player" answers.  If anything, it is yet a further element of the jigsaw puzzle that was jumbled when William Who? was selected at #157 in the 2007 draft.  

    Oilers prospects guru, Guy Flaming posted a thread over on Hockey Futures detailing a bit of insight into Quist and his contact with the Oilers organisation. Perhaps his turning point this season also came thanks to some choice words fromVP of Hockey Operations, Kevin Prendergast.

    The Oilogosphere had quite an affinity for former Djurgården and Norwegian national Patrik Thoresen. With that mighty viking now in Philadelphia Flyers silks, might it be time to proclaim a new viking warrior?

    It is far to early to give young William that type of status or moniker, but shall the Nybro Vikings be his new home, we might have added reason to believe the Oilers have a new warrior in the makings.