Date: November 7, 2017

Karjala Cup Primer: Who to Watch on Every Team

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By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

The 2017 Karjala Cup is upon us. Here’s a look at all six teams participating at the first leg of the Euro Hockey Tour this season.

If you weren’t from one of the four participating countries, you likely haven’t paid much attention to the Euro Hockey Tour or the Karjala Cup in previous years. Sure, it’s a men’s level tournament and features a lot of players trying to make future national teams, but without many big stars each year, it stayed as a tournament that was only important to Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

But for this year’s Karjala Cup, the tournament has seen the addition of Switzerland and Canada, who aren’t even from Europe. For all six teams, this tournament means more than usual thanks to it being part of the lead-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The tournament will take place from November 8-12, mostly in Helsinki, Finland, and will serve as the first real pre-Olympic competition since the Sochi Hockey Open back in August.

In order to prepare for the first leg of the Euro Hockey Tour for 2017-2018, let’s take a look at all the teams participating in this week’s international break event.

Canada

It all starts in goal for Canada, and Ben Scrivens is Canada’s go-to guy leading up to the Olympics. Scrivens has had a few tough seasons in the NHL after stealing the show with the Los Angeles Kings back in 2013-2014 when Jonathan Quick was injured. In 2014, Scrivens out-played former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie partner James Reimer and earned Canada’s starting role heading into the quarter-finals. He had some so-so moments at the Nikolai Puchkov Tournament but for the most part, he looked good enough to get the job done.

Saying Andrew Ebbett could be one of Canada’s best players sounds extremely odd when given some of Canada’s key players at previous Olympics. But for Canada, it’s a reality. The former AHL star has proven to make a good partnership with SC Bern teammate Mason Raymond and will be a big duo a few months from now. But at the Karjala Cup, both will get a chance to showcase the skill they showed at the Spengler Cup last December and the Sochi Hockey Open in August.

Former second line forward Rene Bourque is someone who will need a good tournament to help further his chances at a spot. Bourque wasn’t on the radar during the summer, but with a great start this season in Sweden, he’ll be given a chance. Chris Lee, a defenceman who couldn’t secure an NHL deal after a good year in the KHL, will make his national team season debut at the tournament just months after shining at the World Championships.

Linden Vey never had much of an NHL career, but the former Calgary Flame has been battling for the top scoring spot in the KHL with Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev all season long. That alone gives him a chance to be a top six contributor at the Karjala. And don’t sleep on Eric O’Dell, Canada’s top line centre for much of the Sochi Hockey Open, and forwards Brandon Kozun and Wojtek Wolski, two forwards with a lot to prove in hopes of some day returning to the NHL.


Czech Republic

The last team to announce their roster and perhaps the weakest team on paper, the Czech Republic will have a mountain to climb if they want to win just their second tournament title ever. Champions back in 2012, the Czech’s, like many teams, were hit big due to the NHL keeping players from competing at the Olympics.

But unlike Canada, Russia or USA, the team doesn’t have that big of a pool to choose from. In fact, despite bringing many long-time national team players to the Karjala Cup, the team doesn’t have a talent pool chock-full of NHL castoffs waiting in the wings.

The team’s goaltending, however, do have a familiar face. Marek Mazanec was a back-up in the NHL for many years before signing with HC Slovan Bratislava in the KHL this past season, where he currently acts as the starting goalie.

Former NHLers Ladislav Smid and Jiri Sekac will get extended roles with the squad. Smid missed all of last season with the Calgary Flames and signed in his native land to hopefully get his career back on track. Sekac’s failed NHL experiment lasted only two seasons between four teams before joining AK Bars Kazan last year, and after a good start this season, he’s done a good job to keep himself going strong.

Dominik Kubalik, the top scoring player in the Czech league over the past two years, will likely receive extensive ice time up front for a team that will be desperate for goals. Jan Kovar isn’t up to his usual KHL scoring numbers with Metallurg but after ripping it up last year with 12 points in seven Euro Hockey Tour games, this could be the way to turn his season around.

Other big names for the Czech’s include Detroit Red Wings prospect Lukas Radil, Michal Repik and Michal Birner. Still, while the team have some players who have represented the squad in various international tournaments, there isn’t a lot of game-changing players that will help them win the Karjala Cup.

Finland

When you ask fans which teams will have a strong Olympics, Finland seems to be almost a for-sure choice in the top four. Their Euro Hockey Tour team may not have a whole lot of star power, but with a solid goaltender, strong defense and a couple of highly-touted prospects, the team is set up for success this year.

The Finns could have one of the top goaltenders in the entire tournament with Mikko Koskinen. Sure, he’s lost his starting role for SKA St. Petersburg to 21 year old Igor Shestyorkin, but losing your job to one of the best goalies in the league isn’t a knock on his ability. They still give him a lot of starts, and his stats, albeit on the KHL’s most dangerous team, have been great. Koskinen is always one of the best goalies when called upon in Euro Hockey Tour action and Finland in general, especially at the 2016 World Championships.

Up front, the team will hope to get some good offense out of 2013 World Championships star Petri Kontiola. At 33, he’s lost some of his speed and isn’t producing like he used to in the KHL but when he does get called upon for Finland, they tend to get a good performance out of the former Chicago Blackhawks prospect.

There will be a lot of eyes on Nashville Predators first-rounder Eeli Tolvanen. The 18-year-old is extremely quick and is a magician with the puck, whether it be his wicked release or his accurate passing ability. He’s close to a point-per-game in the KHL with Jokerit this season, which is an impressive task given how he played in the USHL the past two seasons, He was one of Finland’s few bright spots at last year’s World Juniors and can use his experience when he makes his men’s team debut this week.

Former Edmonton Oilers forward Teemu Hartikainen is also off to a good start in the KHL this year, fifth with Ufa. He has a tendency to disappear in international events for Finland, but with no NHLers to worry about over the next few months, he could prove his offensive worth. Veli-Matti Savinainen was one of Finland’s best players in international play last year and will be counted on to replicate his strong performance again this year.

On the back end, there’s no question veteran Sami Lepistö will be the leader in almost all situations. Dallas Stars first-rounder Miro Heiskanen will also earn lots of ice time thanks to a great start in Liiga play this year with HIFK. Overall, Finland should be a competitive squad on home ice, but with a deeper talent pool this year overall, they’ll have to get scrappy.

Russia

2018 Olympic champions, Russia? Sure, that’s the expectation, but the Karjala Cup is just the next step for Russia on their quest for gold.

It all begins in net with Igor Shestyorkin, who could very well compete for the top goalie award in the KHL this season. Henrik Lundqvist’s future replacement in New York, Shestyorkin’s 15-1-2 record to start off the year has been too much to handle for most other teams. Russia does have other good veteran goalies to choose from, but Shestyorkin is having too good of a season to ignore at this point, even if his team has been lights out at every other position.

The Russians will be without scoring stars Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Vadim Shipachyov, but that shouldn’t hurt them too much. The all-time KHL leading scorer, Sergei Mozyakin is, well, good, even at 35. He lead the league in scoring last year and already is playing at over a point-per-game midway through the season. Then there is Mikhail Grigorenko, who was arguably Russia’s best player at the Sochi Hockey Open in August following a brutal few years in the NHL. How about future Minnesota Wild and upcoming Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov? He had four points in three games in last year’s EHT and has dominated the scoring charts in practically every event he’s played in internationally.

Nikita Gusev has garnered NHL chatter in recent months and for good reason. Vegas recently acquired his rights from Tampa Bay and if he ever makes it over, he’ll be an immediate top six scoring star. Sergei Plotnikov, Sergei Shirokov and Ivan Telegin will act as veteran role players to supplement youngsters Valeri Nichushkin and Pavel Kraskovsky.

Russia’s biggest issue? Defence, but with the amount of goals they’ll likely score, they should be able to follow up their championship at the Karjala a year ago with another title.

Sweden

Sweden could end up going with either Jhonas Enroth or Magnus Hellberg in net. Both goalies have NHL experience in recent years, but there’s a good chance that Enroth will get an extra start to eep Sweden in the Karjala title contention. Enroth will likely get the nod due to his past experience with the team and overall better record in pro hockey, but Hellberg, being a young gun, will want to take every opportunity he can to make himself the starter when it matters most in February.

The top defence pairing will likely consist of at least one of Patrik Hersley or Steffan Kronwall.  Hersley, a former draft pick of the LA Kings, is a big defenceman capable of creating plays from his own zone effectively.  A member of the super SKA St. Petersburg squad in the KHL, Hersley is on pace for career-high numbers with 23 points in 25 games this season. Hersley has never played for Sweden at the World Championships, but he’s always a major fixture in Euro Hockey Tour play. For Kronwall, the former Toronto Maple Leaf is a proven veteran who shines every time he’s called upon for Sweden and will end up being a major leader heading up to the Olympic games.

All eyes, however, will likely land on Rasmus Dahlin. The consensus favourite to go first overall at the upcoming NHL Draft, there’s a chance Dahlin could play at the Karjala Cup, Channel One Cup, Carlson Hockey Games, Sweden Games, World Junior Championships, World Championships and U18 World Championships this season alone. Dahlin played in two exhibition contests last year for the men’s team, but this will really be his first chance to prove himself against men in international competition.

Sweden will have a good mix of speedy forwards that can chip in a few goals every now and then. Oscar Moller, a former LA Kings forward, fits that bill. In 16 games with Skellefteå AIK this season, Moller has been good for 15 points, already beating his total from last year. Moller has a lot of experience in EHT tournaments and is always a top contributor each season, making him worth a watch. Anton Lander, an Edmonton Oilers castoff, had a really good season with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors last year but his initial foray into the KHL hasn’t seen much offense with just two goals in 27 games. Dick Axelsson, Linus Omark and Johan Ryno bring valuable skill to the team and should grab a few points each, while Joakim LIndstrom, Robert Nilsson and Joel Lundqvist all bring veteran experience and some offense to boot.

Switzerland

No matter what event it is, the Swiss never seem to just lay down and take what’s giving to them. They always put up a fight, and their first ever Euro Hockey Tour event is going to be a challenge, no doubt. But with a team full of players that have stuck together for years, it’s no question the team could steal a game or two against some of the stronger hockey powers.

Leading the way between the pipes will be Jonas Hiller, Switzerland’s goalie at the previous two Olympics. The former Anaheim Ducks star played for his nation at the World Championships last year for the first time since 2007, and it’s safe to say it was a rocky run. Hiller could be called upon due to his experience, but if he falters at any point, Gilles Senn will be called upon to make just his first tournament start for the Swiss.

On defence, former NHL depth defender Raphael Diaz will be the go-to guy to get the puck moving. Diaz doesn’t score that often, but he does a solid job of making plays happen and creating scoring opportunities for his teammate. Diaz will be counted on to be a workhorse defencemen, perhaps paired with veteran Eric Blum. Blum had only skated in five games prior to getting named to Switzerland’s roster or the Karjala Cup, but has looked decent when he has played. He’s represented the Swiss in international competition for many years, and with no Roman Josi to worry about, Blum will need to step up.

The Swiss always have a lot of familiarity on their roster, and this year is no different. The roster features seven HC Davos players, including star Andres Ambuhl. Ambuhl has been one of Switzerland’s best players in international in recent years and has had a good season with Davos this season. Reto Suri, Pius Suter, Simon Moser, Denis Hollenstein, Gregory Hofmann, Fabrice Herzog, Cody Almond and Luca Cunti are all veterans of the national team will some good scoring ability, while Vincent Praplanis fresh off of leading Switzerland in team scoring at last year’s World Championships.

Women’s Hockey Rivals Prepare for the Olympics by Playing Each Other — Again and Again

By 

Three days after the United States women’s hockey team lost to Canada, 5-1, in an exhibition game here on Oct. 25, USA Hockey unexpectedly added Cayla Barnes, an 18-year-old freshman at Boston College, to its roster.

The move may just be insurance for the coming Four Nations Cup, which begins Tuesday outside Tampa, Fla., and is the last major women’s hockey tournament before the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Or inserting Barnes, a prodigious defender who has won three consecutive under-18 world championships, into the lineup could be a shrewd psychological and tactical ploy.

After all, Barnes is one of the few players on the American team who is somewhat unknown to Canada.

Her addition is one example of the chess-like maneuvering within the most intense rivalry in women’s hockey. By mid-December, the two teams will have played up to eight games against each other — including one on Wednesday — in the span of two months, plotting their final moves of a four-year buildup to an expected meeting in the gold medal game in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 22.

“I use the analogy of going into it like a test,” forward Sarah Nurse of Canada said. “The better prepared you are when it comes down to that time in February when we play these guys again, we want to know what they’re going to throw at us. We don’t want any surprises. We want to be 100 percent prepared.”

Since women’s hockey became an Olympic event in 1998, the United States and Canada have dominated the sport. They have combined to win all five gold medals and have met in all but one Olympic final (Sweden defeated the United States in the semifinals in 2006). Canada has defeated the United States in the last two finals. The teams have met in all 18 world championship finals, with the United States winning seven of the last eight.

The fact that no other national teams have consistently reached the North Americans’ level of excellence has created an unusual situation in which the United States and Canada always have an eye toward one-upping each other.

The Americans have not won an Olympic gold medal since 1998, further motivating them to find an edge. Forward Hilary Knight, who took home silver medals in 2010 and 2014, has said that since those crushing losses, she wakes up every morning thinking about revenge against Canada.

Both sides expect their opponents to have an encyclopedic knowledge of their tendencies come the Olympics. In 2014, Canada won, 3-2, in overtime of what many consider to be the greatest women’s hockey game ever played.

Ice Hockey – Women’s Gold Medal Game – Canada v USA | Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

With little discrepancy in talent between the teams, the Americans are not so much seeking to find some undiscovered weakness in Canada’s armor during the pre-Olympic series, but rather to prove that they can dictate the pace of play. They also must hone their chemistry and accountability to carry them through the tense sequences that will most likely decide another gold medal match.

“I remember in 2010, always trying to play catch-up,” Knight said. “In 2014, we were the better team and then we had sort of mental lapses. What’s different now than in years past, this team really looks internally for motivation.”

Since Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin scored the golden goal in Sochi four years ago, fans have eagerly awaited a rematch of a game that drew almost five million viewers on NBC.

In North America, the audience for women’s hockey has grown with the creation of the National Women’s Hockey League in 2015 and the expansion of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Last March, the American players garnered national news media attention when they won a battle for equitable support from USA Hockey, their governing body.

With a greater platform, the American team changed their pre-Olympic plans, focusing only on exhibitions with Canada. In past cycles, the national team also played college squads. But not only does Canada provide the best competition, it is also the top box-office draw.

The game here on Oct. 25 was sold out, with an announced crowd of 6,298 at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Up to five of the remaining games between the rivals will be played in N.H.L. arenas.

“From a competition standpoint, I’d rather play Canada every single night, maybe Finland,” Knight said. “But when all is said and done and we’re looking from a women’s hockey exposure standpoint, we should be playing other teams. But I think that’s a little bit later down on in the future.”

She added that she would like to see stronger initiatives from the International Ice Hockey Federation to develop women’s hockey in more countries.

For now, even when they aren’t playing Canada, the Americans try to create the best facsimile, scrimmaging against college-age men’s teams in Tampa, where the national team has been based since September. It is a tactic used by the Canadians since 2002; this year, they will play about three games per week against 18-and-under teams in Alberta.

Jocelyne Larocque, a 2014 gold medalist, said those events had also helped grow women’s hockey throughout the province, as the games fill smaller rinks with hundreds of fans.

The American forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said playing against men’s teams had been beneficial because the scrimmages replicate Canada’s speed and strength. But they leave something to be desired in terms of gravitas.

It’s good to get that competition,” Lamoureux-Davidson said, “but it’s not the same playing them.”

For the United States women’s hockey team, “them” can only mean one thing.

Saskatchewan product Lind leads WHL to victory in Moose Jaw

By 2017 CiBC Canada Russia Series

Moose Jaw, SK – Shaunavon, Sask. product Kole Lind led the way with two goals and an assist as six different players had multi-point outputs in a 7-0 Team WHL victory in Game 1 of the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series in Moose Jaw.

Lind joined another fan favourite in Moose Jaw Warriors captain Brett Howden in playing a prominent role while Los Angeles Kings prospect Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings) recorded three assists on the night.

“We had a good start to the game, that’s what we carried on throughout the whole game. They had little spurts of their chances, but we definitely capitalized when we needed to and Hartsy [Carter Hart] definitely stood out tonight too.”

“We’re definitely a really fast team too,” Lind continued. “That showed tonight.”

Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips) became the third WHL goaltender in event history to record a full 60-minute shutout, turning away all 20 shots that came his way including a number of early high quality scoring chances.

Hart provided a trio of big saves off Russian attackers Vladislav Kara, Artyom Manukyan and Maxim Tsyplakov in the opening half of the first frame before Lind opened the scoring for Team WHL at 13:31.

Just as a WHL power play expired, Lind wired a high shot over the shoulder of Vladislav Sukhachev with assists from Howden and Clague.

Team WHL increased its lead 5:13 into the second period as Clague sent a shot goalward that caromed off the skate of Calgary Flames prospect Matthew Phillips (Victoria Royals) and past Sukhachev. Josh Mahura (Regina Pats) also picked up an assist on the goal.

Lind picked up his second of the night less than five minutes later at 9:52 on a tremendous play by Detroit Red Wings prospect Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City Americans). Battling past a Russian check, Rasmussen lost his footing but managed to centre the puck for an oncoming Lind who had an open net to make the score 3-0 at the midway point of the game.

Hometown hero Howden brought the Moose Jaw faithful to their feet with 2:17 remaining in the second, increasing the WHL lead to 4-0 on a deflection in the slot. Howden got a stick on Dennis Cholowski’s (Prince George Cougars) point wrister while Tanner Kaspick (Brandon Wheat Kings) also picked up an assist.

WHL scoring leader Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current Broncos) wrapped up a four-goal second period with 36 seconds left on the clock as Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets) centred for Sam Steel (Regina Pats) before the puck found the stick of an open Steenbergen who provided the finish to make the score 5-0 after 40 minutes.

Russia made a goaltending change after two periods as Sukhachev gave way to Alexey Melnichuk after surrendering five goals on 26 shots.

Lind’s standout performance continued early in the third period as he entered the zone off the rush to find Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks) streaking down the right wing to make it 6-0 at 1:23. Rasmussen also picked up an assist to give him two on the night.

Clague collected his third assist of the night moments later at 4:59, springing Dube in alone as he beat Melnichuk on a second effort to round out the WHL scoring in a 7-0 final.

Team WHL outshot Russia 33-20 in the victory, going 0-for-5 on the power play to Russia’s 0-for-1 mark. Team WHL was also effective in the faceoff circle, winning 69 percent (35-of-51) of their draws on the night.

The decisive win marks the fifth time in event history that Team WHL has put up at least seven goals in a game. Kale Clague’s three assists make him one of six WHL players in event history to record three helpers in a game.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to put lines together and develop chemistry,” said Team WHL head coach Tim Hunter (Moose Jaw Warriors) as he reflected on the win. “They seemed to click. I don’t know if we’d change anything for tomorrow night. We talked about the possibility of changes, but we looked pretty good tonight. Overall, right through the lineup, the lines seemed to click and have good chemistry.”

Team WHL’s Brett Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors) left the game with an injury in the third period and did not return.

The 7-0 Team WHL win marks the ninth time in event history that Russia has been shutout. They look to rebound in Swift Current on Tuesday as the two clubs clash in Game 2 of the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series at the Credit Union iPlex.

Tuesday night’s matchup can be seen live on Sportsnet Ontario, East and Sportsnet ONE when the puck drops at 8:00pm ET/7:00 pm CT.