I haven't given much time to explain the club tournaments that exist in European professional hockey to date, but with the first one starting tomorrow, I figured it might be a good idea to give a primer on them. The European Trophy is the successor to the Nordic Trophy, which ran from 2006-09 and was a pre-season tournament for SM-Liiga and Elitserien teams. This year, however, the competition will involve eighteen teams from eight different leagues and seven nations, wrapping up with a final in Salzburg, Austria, from September 3-5. As the hosts of the finals, EC Red Bulls Salzburg will be granted a top eight seed no matter where they finish in the preliminary round.
It's a unique set up, and is much different from the IIHF Continental Cup as a result of all this, and not even close to the now defunct Champions Hockey League. It plays a bit more like the Spengler Cup, as if this tournament continues in the format, it's almost a bit of a Salzburg invitational. In fact, the official website of the finals comes to that conclusion as well, billing the tournament as the Red Bulls Salute Invitation Tournament. However, as the successor to the Nordic Trophy, they made sure to load up the tournament with six clubs from Sweden and five clubs from Finland's SM-Liiga. They make up more than half of the teams involved this year, but eventually the organizers of this tournament hope to involve upwards of 40 teams, and have the winner of the competition play the winner of the Stanley Cup (presumably, for the Victoria Cup). As for the Victoria Cup, the annual pre-season single game competition between a NHL representative and a European club champion, I wouldn't be too surprised if one of the top teams involved here is the one who will be representing Europe in this fall's edition, though nothing has been confirmed on that front.
Join me after the jump to see the teams involved and get an idea of the format.
For the most part, the biggest cities, and stadiums, are the ones being represented here. That definitely explains Malmö's presence, as they have fallen on hard times competition wise, and probably need this tournament to boost revenues and renew interest in their second-tier club. Salzburg as hosts looks really curious, as they play in the smallest arena, but they are an interesting club with a lot of financial backing despite being in a non-traditional locale. As you can see, the pools, or divisions in this case, are divided evenly and not even geographically... teams will play teams from at least three different countries in their 8 game round robin. Some of the playoff round will also take place in the Austrian city of Zell am See, in a presumably smaller arena.
Games run Wednesday through Saturday each week for the next three weeks to determine who makes the Salute Invitational in Salzburg. The top four teams in the Capital Division will play the top three teams in the Central, plus the hosts Salzburg, for the trophy. Obviously, this is still preseason, and there are some notable injuries that will probably keep players from particiating as a result. It should also be noted that not all games will be held in the home arenas of the teams, there are alternate venues (as with other preseason games) that have been scheduled. For a full list of injuries, as well as a mini map of the teams involved, visit Elite Prospect's European Trophy site here.
Make no mistake, the biggest driver of this tournament is the additional revenue for the clubs involved. The Champions Hockey League broke up due to complications about revenue distribution, as well as the loss of the major sponsor. This tournament skirts around the national federations, since it is an invitational event, and the clubs themselves are the ones that will pocket the majority of the revenues. All that being said, for preseason hockey, it's a great format for fans to get excited about, and hopefully tournaments like this will increase demand for more international club play in the future. And for puckheads, the idea of pro hockey in August, generally the most painful month as a hockey fan, has to be tantalizing.
For a full schedule, go here on the official website. The European Trophy drops the puck on their inaugural 2010 tournament on Wednesday with 8 games in Finland, Norway, and Sweden:
- Eisbären Berlin @ HIFK in Järvenpää, Finland
- Alder Mannheim @ Jokerit in Vantaa, Finland
- Sparta Praha @ Vålerenga IF in Oslo, Norway
- Färjestads BK @ Linköpings HC in Mjölby, Sweden
- EC Red Bull Salzburg @ Oulun Kärpät in Oulu, Finland
- ZSC Lions @ TPS in Turku, Finland
- SC Bern @ Tappara in Kotka, Finland
- Frölunda Indians @ Malmö Redhawks in Malmö