Hockey Wanderlüst - March 21
It's a great day for hockey - from Prague to Pittsburgh
The Moose Is Loose
Gagarin Cup Playoffs Heat Up
Show Me the Money, Liiga!
He’s Where?! North American scorers in Europe
Finnish Liiga Video Joy Joy
Swiss National League Playoffs
Name the Logo Contest
Complimentary editions are winding down, stay happy, take 3 minutes and …
Ten years ago there was one full-time Swiss player in the NHL, Luca Sbisa in Anaheim. Yannick Weber played half of that 82-game schedule for Montreal. Today, ignoring the injuries plaguing the two best and brightest, Roman Josi and Nico Hischier, you’d find nine or ten regulars from Switzerland, with the Chicago Blackhawks leading the way. Sbisa (injured reserve for Nashville) and Weber (Taxi squad for Pittsburgh) are playing out the other ends of their careers.
Chicago has enjoyed the benefits of some solid scouting near the Alps. 24-year-old Pius (“Pyoos”) Suter was undrafted after two years in Guelph of the OHL where he helped win a league title in 2014, and has spent the last five seasons back home. He was the Swiss National League regular season MVP and top scorer last season. Signed by Chicago as a free agent in July, he hopped here from Zurich to start this season and has tallied 8 goals and 5 assists while moving around the line-up. His first three NHL goals came as a hat trick against Detroit on January 24th. He’s definitely learning the up’s and down’s. Suter is in a drought lately, pointless in his last six games.
Philipp Kurashev is the 2nd Swiss delight, one who has taken a more traditional route once settling in North America. He played major juniors in Quebec, spent some time with AHL Rockford, and only went home to play 13 games with Lugano because this NHL season was delayed. A 4th-round pick in 2018, Kurashev has 7 goals, 5 assists and 4 points on the power play. He’s also both been bounced around the line-up playing different roles.
Both players have seen time at centre on the Blackhawks top line between Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Not bad for a couple of rookies; auditioning and contributing for an Original-Six team that had been one of the most pleasant surprises of this NHL season.
The Moose Is Loose
When Johan Hedberg, the former NHL goaltender, was relieved from his duties as the San Jose Sharks’ goaltending coach in late 2019, he returned to his native Sweden and took over as head coach of Mora in HockeyAllsvenskan, the 2nd tier league.
Mora, a small community in the Swedish heartland, is nothing like Northern California, but for Hedberg, it was a homecoming, having once been the star goalie of Leksand, Mora’s fierce local rival. Leksand has also been the Hedbergs’ home base in Sweden, even though he has lived in North America since 1999.
When he arrived in Mora in August, one of the first things he did was to paint the team’s dressing room and help with other renovations, something that underscored the image of him as a down-to-earth person. Then he went to work on the ice and built a team that went 27-16-9 en route to sixth place in the regular season, which earns them a bye to the quarterfinal.
In January, Hedberg re-signed with Mora through the 2022-23 season and on Friday, the youthful 47-year-old was named the league’s Coach of the Year by a jury of Swedish hockey journalists.
“I don’t see this as an individual prize, this one’s for the entire team, from the management to the coaching staff and especially all the players who’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Hedberg said on the club’s Twitter channel.
“And we haven’t won anything, yet,” he added.
The HockeyAllsvenskan playoffs began with a play-in round on Wednesday. Next round begins the following Monday. The winner of the HockeyAllsvenskan playoffs moves up and earns a spot in the SHL in 2021-22.
Jonathan Dahlén, Timrå forward and son of 14-season NHL’er Ulf, was voted HockeyAllsvenskan MVP and Best Forward. He also won the scoring race with 25 goals and 71 points in 45 games.
Gagarin Cup Round Two
Ak Bars Kazan beat Salavat Yulaev 2-1 today to go up three-nothing in the series.
Also today, CSKA Moscow beat Locomotiv 2-1 in OT go ahead in that series.
Sergei Tolchinsky leads the Gagarin Cup playoffs in scoring with 10 points (7 GP)
Show Me The Money, Liiga
Hockey isn’t an easy business anywhere but it can be especially challenging if your team isn’t in a metropolitan city, and let’s face it, most European teams aren’t.
It’s hardly a coincidence that fourteen of the fifteen teams in the Finnish Liiga come from the eighteen biggest towns in the country. Seven of them have a population of under 100,000 and only one of the teams plays in an arena that has a capacity over 10,000.
The average capacity is slightly over 6,000.
The one town outside of the Top 18 in population is Rauma, with just under 40,000 residents. Despite that, or maybe because of it, it’s hockey team is probably Liiga’s most innovative.
The Lukko team, the pride and joy of this coastal town, hasn’t won the title since 1963. They haven’t even made it to the final since 1988, but they’ve stayed competitive enough to have made it to the semifinal eight times since 1994.
While Liiga’s business has scaled up over the years, the core business model hasn’t changed much. The teams still sell tickets to games, food and beverages to the spectators and look for additional income from corporate partners by selling advertising space on the boards, ice, and sweaters.
One way to break out of the vicious cycle of doing more of the same, is to diversify. And that’s what Lukko did, for the first time in the 1960s.
Frustrated by a relegation from the top division, Rauma Lukko management - “management” to be understood loosely - set up a foundation to operate concession stands and a bingo, with the proceeds going to support the hockey team.
In the 1970s, once again prompted by a relegation scare, a new company fully owned by the foundation, moved into cleaning and industrial property service business. Today, that company has 3,000 employees and net sales of 115 millon euro, dwarfing the hockey team’s 10 million euro turnover.
The hockey team is now one part of the corporation that operates “in the field of property, services and sports entertainment.”
Without the financial muscles of the non-hockey business, Lukko wouldn’t have even been in the race and most likely, wouldn’t even be in Liiga anymore, despite the long hockey tradition in the region.
Others have followed suit, with their own subsidiaries. Some are closer to their core hockey business - such as restaurants in the arena – others try to find other kind of synergies. Oulu Kärpät, the 21st century Finnish dynasty that has made it to Top 4 13 times since 2000 (and won the championship seven times) has branched into staffing and recruitment and a few years ago, they bought the majority share of a local rock festival.
It has also helped the team to weather the pandemic storm, Kärpät CEO Tommi Virkkunen said in August.
“The playoffs usually make a significant part of our hockey business profits so [the playoffs being cancelled] hit us hard. Fortunately, we’ve built a solid support system outside of the hockey business, and in this case, the strategy was successful,” he said.
Note: Lukko currently tops the Liiga standings despite being without their head coach Pekka Virta since mid-February. Virta recently posted a photo on social media of himself in a hospital gown, after 27 days in the ICU for Covid-19.
The hockey biz has evolved at warp speed this year as flexibility, resilience, innovation and adaptation have been the central tenants of any hockey club in the time of the pandemic. A nod to our friend and dean of sports business writers Terry Lefton (a big Flyers fan), who spawned a Wander List this week by cleverly encapsulating trends in the rapidly evolving sports business … going well beyond the X’s and O’s. Wink.
“News cycles are capricious and fickle, especially now that they are powered by digital and social forces beyond our comprehension. I joked with a source yesterday that for some real news, what’s needed is a CBD brand, backed by Crypto, which also sells NFT’s and is prepping for an IPO via a SPAC. Surely in this new age of LSB, I can get odds on that somewhere, right?” - Terry Lefton, Sports Business Journal, March 17, 2021
1. He’s Where?!! North American Scorers in Europe
Through March 20.
Christophe Lalancette - Roberval, Quebec, was a 4th round draft pick (#109) of the San Jose Sharks in 2012 and plays for HK Dukla Ingema Michalovce.
Taylor Beck - St. Catharines, Ontario, was a 2009 3rd-round pick (70th) of Nashville and plays for Magnitogorsk Metallurg. He played 92 NHL games.
Brennan Menell - Woodbury, Minnesota native, who played 5 games for the Wild last season, plays for Dinamo Minsk.
Joe Whitney - Reading, Massachusetts native, who played 4 years at Boston College, plays for the Iserlohn Roosters in the German League.
John Ramage - Mississauga, Ontario, who was a 2010 4th-round pick (#103) of Calgary, plays for the Berlin Polar Bears. He played 2 NHL games.
2. Fourscore and an Assist Ago
Greetings from Finnish Liiga
Patrik Virta, the New York Rangers 7th round pick in 2017 (207th overall), had a night to remember when his Tampere Tappara beat Jyväskylä JYP 5-2 in the Liiga on Saturday. Virta scored four goals and picked up an assist.
JYP’s Robert Rooba scored his 26th goal of the season. He’s two behind Pori Ässät’s Sebastian Wennström in the goal scoring race, with ten games remaining.
3. Grüezi Mitenand from Switzerland!
Leave it to the Swiss to come up with this practical and effective graphic to describe their playoff format.
As noted, there will be no relegation for the 2020-’21 season which concludes on April 5th. In descending order, it appears teams representing Zug, Fribourg, Servette, Zurich, Lausanne, Biel, Lugano, Davos, Rapperswil, and Bern will move on. Ambri-Piotta and Langnau are firmly in the 11th and 12th positions.
Former Sabre and Oiler Linus Omark (Servette) is the league’s leading scorer with 51 points; former Canadien and Avalanche Sven Andrighetto (Zurich) is second with 48.
4. Name the LOGO: (from Thursday)
The Michigan Stags played in the World Hockey Association (WHA) for 61 games in the 1974-75 season. After compiling a record of 18 wins, 40 losses and 3 ties and drawing less than 3,000 fans per match to the Cobo Arena in Detroit, the team folded in-season and moved to Baltimore to became the Blades.
5. The Quiz: (answer Thursday)
Wayne Gretzky led the National Hockey League in scoring in the 1980’s with 1,842 points. A European player was the NHL’s second-leading scorer for the decade. Who was it?
See you on Thursday.
Enjoy the hockey action !