The first two games of the Premiere Series went the way of the NHL clubs, and after having no games on Sunday there will be two more today, including a high profile showdown in St. Petersburg. On Saturday, the Boston Bruins handed the Belfast Giants Selects a 5-1 loss in the NHL's first visit to Northern Ireland, while the San Jose Sharks had trouble beating Adler Mannheim's goaltending tandem of Fred Brathwaite and Lukas Lang, but did just enough to earn a 3-2 shootout win. We'll have a first hand account of the Belfast game up later on the site, but for now let's focus on Monday's games.
SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Oct. 4 (11:30 AM EST)
The last time the NHL played in St. Petersburg, the city was still called Leningrad. Back then, the Montreal Canadiens came to town, and the local team couldn't handle their top line of Shayne Corson, Denis Savard and Stephané Richer, as they figured in the scoring of 4 of the Habs' goals in a 5-3 win. The previous year, the Washington Capitals came to town and beat the team 5-4 on the strength of a Geoff Courtnall hat trick. It's been a long time since the team faced off against NHL competition, and perhaps they're better prepared this time to pull off a win on home ice.
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs in 2009-10, a year after making the Eastern Conference Final, so they'll be using this game to help make last minute roster decisions. Anton Babchuk played 20 games for SKA back in 2002-03, and last season played with Avangard Omsk in the KHL, so he's probably the least phased by the whole visit. Veteran Sergei Samsnov, a Moscovite, is the team's other Russian and will probably draw some cheers from the crowd as a result. The Hurricanes have not faced a Russian team since moving to North Carolina, but the Hartford Whalers played 3 games, amassing a 1-1-1 record from 1989-1991.
SKA currently has a 3 game winning streak going, and seems to be rounding into form after a bit of a rough start to the KHL season. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would need some time to gel, given all the high profile offseason signings like Evgeni Nabokov, Maxim Afinogenov, and Denis Grebeshkov. Here is their lineup from their last game vs. Spartak Moscow. As you can see, Grebeshkov forms part of the team's top defensive pairing with former NHLer Vitaly Vishnevski. The team's top line is Petr Cajanek, Maxim Sushinsky, and Afinogenov, followed by Tony Martensson centring Matthias Wienhandl and Anton But. Alexei Yashin has, surprirse surprise, been in the coach's doghouse and actually scratched for a pair of games already, though he's back in the lineup right now.
Check out Canes Country for plenty of coverage from St. Petersburg. This game will be televised on NHL.com's GameCenter.
Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga) vs. Minnesota Wild, Oct. 4 (12:00 PM EST)
For the second straight year, the city of Tampere, and their jäähalli (Ice Hall), will host an exhibition between a local team and a NHL team. Last year, the Florida Panthers took on Tappara Tampere and lost in a shootout, 3-2. Tampere is the 3rd largest city in Finland, and lays claim to being the birth of Finnish ice hockey. The city hosts the national Hall of Fame, was the site of the first game, and was the first city with artificial ice and an indoor arena. Risto Pakarinen wrote a lot of what I wanted to say for this piece on IIHF.com, but as you can tell, there's a rich tradition in Tampere for the sport, and Ilves is the traditional power, currently in a rebuilding mode.
The Wild have never played a club from Europe before, making their first overseas tour in their 10th season. None of the team's three prominent Finnish players hail from Tampere. Antti Miettinen was from Hameenlinna, and played for HPK as a youth. Team captain Mikko Koivu is from Turku, and played for TPS before crossing the ocean. Niklas Bäckstrom is from Helsinki, where he played for HIFK (and later Kärpät). During the NHL lockout, Marek Zidlicky played for HIFK as well, so he'll be familiar with the city and the fans to some degree.
Young players like Joonas Rask and Toni Rajala help lead the way for Ilves, complimented by veterans like for Edmonton Oilers first rounder Jesse Niinimäkiand Canadian import Mark Lee. Former Ottawa Senators goalie Jani Hurme will likely be in goal. Ilves are currently in 13th place in the 14 team league, so the rebuilding project isn't looking like it'll pay immediate dividends.
There doesn't seem to be any broadcast of this game online at the moment. Follow Hockey Wilderness for any news about the Wild.