Italy's Serie A finished their regular season Tuesday, and their playoffs have already started. The regular season champ, a wire to wire leader, was the Wolves of Val Pusteria. With a 28-12 record and 87 points, they beat out 2nd place Asiago, last year's playoff winners, by 7. Serie A is a 9-team league and 8 of them go into the playoffs on a 1 v 8, 2 v 7, etc. basis. Val Pusteria leads their series with 8th place Alleghe 2 to 0 after 4-2 and 3-2 wins. Asiago leads Fassa 2 to 0 with 4-1 and 5-2 wins; Bolzano likewise up 2 on Pontebba after 4-3 and 2-1 wins; and last year's regular season champ, Renon, and Valpellice are tied after the favorite wins 4-2 and the underdog won 4-3.
The Val Pusteria Wolves were founded in 1954, playing in the lower level until 1971, despite winning titles in 1968 and 1969, because their "arena" was an open field. They now play at Leitner Solar Arena (Cap. 2,100), but have not repeated their successes to date in Serie A.
Val Pusteria (Valley of Puster) plays in the city of Bruncio (German Bruneck) which is a mainly German (83.4%) town at the most extreme north point of Italy. Founded sometime before 1256, It was ruled by the Hapsburgs until Austria's collapse in WWI. It has a population of over 15,000, making it the second largest town in the region.
The Czech and Slovak Extraligas are playing their final games for the season as I type. The Czech Extraliga Has an odd (to Americans) playoff setup. The top six teams automatically make the second round. The first round is in 2 parts. Teams 7-10 will play a round robin to see who gets the 7th and 8th seeds. Teams 11-14 also play a round robin, and the worst of that lot will play the champion of the high minor league with the winner getting to play (or play on) in the Extraliga. The top six teams will be: top seed Ocelari Trinec, follwed by the White Tigers of Liberec, Vitkovice Steel, PSG Zlin, the rapidly sinking HC Mountfield club, and HC Pardubice.
Ocelari Trinec (the Trinec Steelers) are not surprisingly sponsored by the Trinec Iron and Steel Works, from which their arena (Werk Arena, 3,700 seats, 5,200 SRO, which is usually filled) gets its name. Despite being around since 1929, Trinec has not won a championship either in the Extraliga or in the old Czechoslovak First league.
The City of Trinec was founded prior to 1444 and sits at the extreme eastern point of the Czech Republic. The population of 37,000 + has a sizable Polish minority. In Fact, it is one of the areas Poland cowardly grabbed in Hitler's dismembering of Czechoslovakia in 1938. It became part of the CR after the Czech/Slovak split in 1992.
The Slovak Extraliga, a straight 8 team playoff, will begin later in the week. The favorite would have to be HK Kosice, which has a 134-108 lead over second place HK Poprad going into today's final games. While the matchups are just hours away from settlement, we do know that the playoff teams will also include Banska Bystrika, last year's RS champ Slovan Bratislava, Dukla Trencin, HK Zvolen, 36 Skalica, and HK Nitra. The Kosice team, founded 1962, is one of the most powerful teams in Czech-Slovak history, winning the First League championship in 1986 and 1988, and the Extraliga in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2009, and last year. They play in the Steel Arena (their sponsor is the Kosice branch of US Steel), which holds 8,343.
Kosice, population 242,000, sits on the border with Hungary. Founded prior to 1230, it was also a victim of Hitler, being claimed by Hungary; in fact, its bombardment by the red Army in 1941 gave the Hungarian government its excuse to declare war on Soviet Russia. Among Kosice's sister cities is Mobile, Alabama.
The Asia league finished out about 6 this morning our time, and the Oji Eagles defeated the Nippon Paper Cranes 4-3 to win by 2 points, 76-74. Oji (26-10) will face defending champ Anyang Halla in the playoffs, while Nippon will meat the Tohoku Freeblades. Oji, sponsored by Oji Paper, founded in 1925, and playing in the southern Hokkaido city of Tomakomai, is the New York Yankees of Japanese hockey. 34 time All-Japan champions, 13 time Japan League champs, and won the Asia League title in 2008. They play in Arena Hachuko, cap. 4,015.
Pinned between the Pacific and the lava dome of Mt. Tarumae, Tomakomai is a city of almost 174,000. Incorporated in 1948, they are a sprawling industrial and port city.
Finally, the KHL is just wrapping up its last games. If I'm looking at things right, the West playoffs will feature top seed Lokomotiv Yaroslavl v. Dinamo Minsk, Dinamo Riga v. UHC Moscow Dynamo, SKA St. Petersburg v. Spartak, and Atlant Mystichi v. Severstal Cherepovets. The eastern bloc will headline overall regular season champ Avangard Omsk v. Neftekhimik; Ak Bars (Snow Leopards) Kazan v. Barys (Snow Leopards) Astana -yet again-; Salavat Yulaev v. Sibir, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk v. rookie entrant Yugra.
Avangard (Vanguard) Omsk, most famous for being the current team of Jaromir Jagr, was founded in 1950 and is basically taxpayer-funded. They play in Omsk Arena, at 10,318 the largest we've looked at; they have one championship to their credit, the 2004 Russian Super League title.
Omsk, founded 1716, is the largest Russian city east of the Urals at 1, 134,000 and change. This former border post was the seat of White Russian Admiral Alexsandr Kolchak in 1918-9 and the prospective seat of the Soviet government had Moscow fallen to the Wehrmacht in WWII. Situated near the southern border with Kazakhstan, Omsk is sister cities with Milwaukee.