It may hardly create a blip in the hockey news schedule here in North America, but this week is filled with national team competitions throughout Europe and North America. All of the European professional leagues are on hiatus for them, as the national federations get a chance to look at some players that could be part of their World Championship entry this coming year. Meanwhile, in St. John's, Newfoundland, the top women's hockey nations in the world are also competing. Then there's that overhyped Canada-Russia Selects CHL tournament making its way across Canada currently as well.
Karjala Cup: November 11-14; Helsinki, Finland
The Karjala Cup kicks off this year's Euro Hockey Tour, a series of four tournaments between Europe's top 4 hockey nations leading up to the World Championships. Finland plays host first this year, as the Czech Republic moved their tournament from first to last amongst the group, which actually makes some sense this year with the Worlds being held in neighbouring Slovakia. Last year, the Karjala was made famous by Peter Forsberg attempting to come back from injury there. For the visiting countries, it's a chance to try out players that have had a hot start (like Russia's Denis Platnov), or even some depth guys off to terrible starts, just to see if it's just a bad situation they're in. For the hosts, however, you have to put together a roster to bring in the fans, so this is Finland's time to shine. Ten players are from the KHL, plus five more from the Elitserien, perhaps an admission that the SM-Liiga isn't nearly as strong of a league. Here are the rosters:
|Czech Republic||Finland||Russia||Sweden (pdf)
Deutschland Cup: Nov. 12-14; Munich, Germany
After the Big 4 of Europe, the next most prominent tournament this weekend will be between the national teams of Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and a Canadian entry as well. The Canadian entry is notable for it being the start of Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier's coaching career. The tournament is quite at the level of the Karjala mainly because of the player selection (all links are .pdf files): both Germany and Canada are fielding teams full of players from Germany's top pro circuit, the DEL. Slovakia is using players from across Europe, while Switzerland is sticking to their own national league as well. Here's the main site for the tournament, and here's Hockey Canada's page on it.
Euro Ice Hockey Challenge: 4 tournaments, Nov. 11-14
The rest of the men's national teams get in on the act this weekend in a series of four tournaments across the continent. The participants vary from tournament to tournament, with sixteen national teams participating here in November, but less at the other scheduled international breaks. Latvia, curiously, is not taking part in any of the EIHC tournaments until a tournament in Norway in February. It's not a perfect set up, and not really in the same spirit as the Euro Hockey Tour circuit, which is viewed as a 4 tournament competition with a winner of the Tour at the end. But they do break it out into relatively competitive groups of four. For the first time, Serbia and Spain are participating in the EIHC.
|Telenor Hoki Kupa||Budapest||Hungary||Austria||France||Japan|
|EIHC Poland 2010||Sanok||Poland||Netherlands||Russia B||Ukraine|
|European Challenge Cup 2010||Brasov||Romania||Croatia||Serbia||Spain|
Of course, it's not just the men's teams taking advantage of this break in the schedule. Across Europe, there are U20 tournaments in preparation for the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship season, which starts about a month from now. In Canada, there's the Super Series between a team of Russian Junior Selects against All-Star teams of the top Canadian talent in the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL. The Russian Selects usually are a bit weaker of a group than the actual U20 team, and have had a hard time competing in the past, partly due to an insane schedule that sees them cross Canada in under two weeks to play six games in six different cities (usually in five different provinces). Buzzing the Net has some decent coverage of the event right now. The junior tournament action doesn't stop there, as in Penticton, British Columbia, a World Junior A Challenge with two Canadian teams, an American team, plus a Russian, Swedish, and Swiss team.
Lastly, in St. John's, Newfoundland, there is a Women's tournament of note called the 4 Nations Cup, pitting the top 4 Women's hockey teams (i.e. the only ones to have any Olympic or World Championship medals) against each other. It's probably a higher level of tournament just by keeping out the lesser teams, the ones that never make the semifinals, but it's not exactly in the spirit of growing the game. Canada and the USA are at another level of play to any other country, while Sweden and Finland are well ahead of their European counterparts. But whatever, it should be a good show for the fans 'back home'.
Action starts today... check the various national team sites that I've linked to for potential video coverage of the games. Hockey Canada offers a pay service for national team games throughout the year, while the Czech Hockey website streams their games for free. It looked like the Belarussian site might be doing so as well. The Russia-Canada Subway Super Series is being broadcast on Sportsnet.