Hockey fix: KHL, Euro leagues (cont.)
In the wake of the lockout, Switzerland, which has had national clubs since 1909, acquired some top NHL talent. Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg, John Tavares, Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture have headed for the Alps. There are 12 teams in the National A circuit and each plays 50 games. The top eight clubs qualify for the playoffs and the finals are decided by a best-of-seven series.
SC Bern: The league's marquee team has led Europe in attendance for 10 straight seasons and draws on average about 2,000 more fans per game than second-place Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. Bern has won the Swiss championship 12 times, most recently in 2010, and hosted the New York Rangers in a 2008 exhibition. During the 2004-05 lockout, Dany Heatley, Marc Savard and Daniel Briere played for Bern. John Tavares and Mark Streit of the Islanders as well as the Predators' Roman Josi are the current rentals.
Geneva-Servette: GSHC raced out to the top of the standings with an 8-1-0 record and is looking to return to the NLA finals after finishing way outside the pack last season. The team features two NHL notables: Logan Couture and Montreal's Yannick Weber (a Swiss national).
HC Davos: Bern may be the most popular team among the Swiss, but HCD is the most established, and the defending champs. Two elite scoring threats -- Joe Thornton and Rick Nash -- have signed with Davos for the lockout.
Rapperswil-Jona Lakers: For the fans of speed, high-scoring, and Jason Spezza's laugh, the Lakers may be a nice fit. Spezza's signed on with Switzerland's highest scoring team, which is backstopped by former Colorado Avalanche starter David Aebischer.
Ev Zug: Forward Damien Brunner, the NLA's top scorer last season and winner of 2011-12 best forward honors, signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings before the lockout and has flashed some scoring touch with 11 points in his first seven games overseas. Winger Linus Omark, 25, has played parts of two seasons for Edmonton after highly successful campaigns in Sweden and Russia. He only made it into 14 games for the hapless Oilers last season, and was eventually demoted to the minors. But he did get off to an excellent start this season, sharing the NLA scoring lead with teammate Brunner.
In action since 1993, after the breakup of Czecholsolvakia, the Tipsport Extraliga (name is sponsored) is the top league in the Czech Republic. There are 14 teams. Six automatically advance to the playoffs, four play for the final two spots, and the bottom four engage in a "play-out," with the last place club taking on the winner of the First League (which is actuallty the second division).
The Extraliga has welcomed over 20 NHL players in the wake of the lockout including Tukka Rask, David Krejci, Michael Roszival, Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Tomas Plekanec. Among the NHLers who got their starts there: Zigmund Palffy, Peter Bondra, Zdeno Chara, Miroslav Satan and the late Pavol Demitra (who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslval plane crash). Development programs have churned out such stars as Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Andrej Meszaros.
Rytiri Kladno: It may as well be dubbed the all-lockout squad. Kladno landed Jaromir Jagr, who has the distinction of playing for a team he co-owns with his father, and several other NHL talents including Tomas Plekanec (who got off to a torrid start by leading the league in scoring), Marek Zidlicky, Tomas Kaberle, and Jiri Tlusty (who signed a two-year, $3.2 million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes during the offseason). Kladno will likely suffer offensively, though, should Plekanec, Jagr and Tlusty leave when the lockout is settled.
HC Plzen 1929: Plzen features one familiar face that the NHL hasn't seen since 2008 (winger Martin Straka), a former New York Rangers tough guy (Ryan Hollweg), and two of the better lockout signings in Bruins goalie Tukka Rask and defenseman Michael Roszival of the Blackhawks.
Swedish Elite League: The 12-team league is a popular destination for locked out players because for many it is home, and according to hockey-site.com, it's the fourth-highest paying hockey league behind the NHL, KHL and Czech Extraliga. The best players who have arrived in Sweden are Kings' superstar Anze Kopitar (Mora IK) and newly anointed Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog (Allsvenskan).
German League: The Deutsche Eishockey Liga has attracted some interesting lockout migrants. Rick DiPietro fans will have to see how much SecondBundesliga action the starcrossed, frequently injured Islanders goaltender can survive with SC Riessersee. Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds is skating for Eispiraten Crimmitschau while his teammates, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux, opted to join Eisbären Berlin, a club that traces its roots back to a team of East German police and members of the Ministry for State Security. The Anschutz Entertainment Group now owns Eisbären. LA KIngs owner Phil Anschutz, who is looking to sell the reigning Stanley Cup champions, must like the O2 World Arena more than the Staples Center. Other notables in Germany: Christian Erhoff (Krefeld Pinguine) and Jamie Benn (Hamburg Freezers).
SMI-liiga Finland: A 14-team league is now the home NHLers Jussi Jokinen (Kärpät), Stephane Robidas (Lukko), Valterri Fippula (Jokerit), Mikkell Boedker (Lukko) and Anti Niemi (Pelicans). Former Sharks and Blues left winger Villie Nieminen (Örebro HK) is enjoying a successful start to the season. The defending champion is JYP, which added the Bruins' Rich Peverley.
Where to watch: A number of websites claim to offer streaming video of Euro games, including firstrow, Justin TV, Ustream, Freedocast, Veetle, Vipbox and Oleotv. Just be aware that you may be prompted to download all sorts of things, including unwanted add-on browsers and such, and be ready for the odd saucy pop-up. Proceed at your own risk.
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