The SM-Liiga season kicked off last night, and one of its youngest stars decided to make quite a statement. Mikael Granlund, who was drafted 9th overall this past year by the Minnesota Wild, scored twice and added an assist to help HIFK win the battle of Helsinki with a 5-3 win over Jokerit. Granlund's poise, stickhandling skill, and intelligence has allowed him to quickly become one of the league's top players, so much so that this may well be his final season in Finland (although I don't know whether he's served his required time in the military). The immediate impact couldn't have been more timely for Risto Pakarinen, who wrote a feature on Granlund for IIHF.com. His coach has nothing but high praise for his game and work ethic:
"It’s obvious just by looking at him that Mikael has got a lot stronger and bigger. His skating is faster and more powerful, and his whole appearance shows how hard he has worked all summer. He has got the eye of the tiger," HIFK head coach Kari Jalonen said.
When I saw Granlund play at the U20 World Juniors in Saskatoon this past winter, he played a fairly quiet game, which surprised me due to his success in the SM-Liiga at the time. But being a top line centre for a top Finnish team at age 18 is quite an achievement, and despite my observations, he still managed 7 points in 6 games. He'll be playing alongside veteran winger Ville Peltonen this year. Here's a sample of his work yesterday:
In the Elitserien, Djurgårdens' win over reigning champions HV71 highlighted the four game schedule. Two goals from Matthias Tjarnqvist led the way in the 3-2 win in front of a boisterous crowd at Stockholm's Hovet. More on the boisterous crowd after the jump.
With NHL training camps getting under way, I don't know how much time the North American audience will have for the European leagues, but this weekend marks the first where the seven major leagues are all playing. The Elitserien started on Wednesday and the SM-Liiga on Thursday, and tonight the Tipsport Extraliga (Czech league) is the final one to get going. I've got a selection of games I'll be looking at this weekend after the jump... there's plenty to take in.
In the KHL, there are 14 games in total, seven games on Friday and seven on Sunday. The game I'm keying in on for Friday is the all Moscow battle between Spartak and Dynamo, as we continue our Dominik Hasek watch. Both teams have gotten off to rather modest starts to date after big wins in their opener, so here's hoping the cross town rivalry brings out the best in both. Other games include league leading Minsk making the long trip over to Khabavorsk, Barys Astana hosting Ufa, and SKA St. Petersburg hosting Severstal Cheropovets. On Sunday, we've got two great games in Omsk hosting Ufa and Kazan travelling to Riga. All of those teams have had great starts, and Omsk, Ufa, and Kazan are likely Gagarin Cup contenders.
There are five Elitserien matchups this weekend, with Timra hosting Frölunda on Friday in each of those team's first games. The other games run on Saturday, starting the second round of regular season play. The earlier game to watch (a 4 PM local start) sees HV71 head home to take on Brynäs as the champs try and get back in the winning column, while the later game that I'll be looking at is MODO hosting Djurgården. For an idea of what to expect from the Elitserien crowds, check out this footage from the Djurgårdens opener against HV71:
In the SM-Liiga this weekend, the top game of Friday night features two recent champions facing off against each other, with JYP at home to take on Kärpät. No word on whether Tom Priessing will be available for Kärpät so quickly (I'm guessing not, apparently he's signed with Barys Astana of the KHL now). There are three games on Saturday (four on Friday) and I'm going to go with Ässät hosting the defending champions TPS Turku.
I have no idea who to watch this weekend in the Tipsport Extraliga as their season opens their schedule, and I more than likely will have difficulty locating a game to watch, so it's really a pick your poison scenario. An uneducated guess would have to be Plzen at Karlovy Vary on Friday, followed by Zlìn visiting Slavia Praha on Saturday.
If I could have my way, in a perfect world I'd catch the Ambri-Piotta vs. HC Davos game in the NLA tomorrow, but that won't be happening. Your best bet is to stick to watching as many home games for SC Bern... they'll be taking on the Kloten Flyers on Friday. On Saturday, the choice is realtively easy: Lugano hosting Zug. Lugano was Glen Metropolit's team in 2005-06 when he led them to their last championship, so it's a bit of a homecoming for the league leading scorer.
We're getting right down to it now: how about Eisbaren Berlin vs. Augsburger Panther for Friday in the DEL, and on Sunday go with the early game and see the defending champs Hannover take on Hamburg. Skip to Sunday for the Slovnaft Extraliga: the top two teams, Koscice and Martin meet for the first time this season.
Stop in and talk about the games this weekend if you can catch them! Or really, any games of significance you come across.