... I'm going to go ahead with the hockey updates tonight. For those whose eyes glaze over the news, skip down to the very interesting travelogues (for want of a better term) on the three leagues that have finished their seasons since Sunday last and their champion cities.
First though, let's do a sitrep on the leagues we featured last time. I'll start alphabetically with the Asia League, which is a short story as their first round playoffs open Sunday ( which is I think around 4:30 am our time tomorrow).
The Czech Extraliga is doing that 7-10 tourney to see who gets playoff spots #8 (and faces champs Ocelari Trinec, who BTW finished at 31-21) and 7 ( who draws second seed Liberec White Tigers). 7th seed Slavia Praha ( the Prague team) is two games up on #10 Karlovy Vary, winning 4-3 in a shootout and 3-1. 8th place Benzina Litinov is also up 2-0 on 9 seed Plzen 1929 with 4-2 and 5-2 wins. Whilst Trinec and Liberec wait on them, the other two second round matches will be Vitkovice Steel v. HC Mountfield and PSG Zlin v. Pardubice.
In Italy, Balzano has swept Pontebba in their first round series, winning games 3 and 4 by identical 3-1 scores. Champ Val Pustera leads theirs 3-1 over Alleghe after splitting 2 games this week, ditto for Asiago over Fassa; and defending champ Renon lost twice to Valpellice this week, 4-3 OT and 4-2 to fall behind 3-1. These remaining three series could be decided tomorrow.
In the Russian KHL, the first round is underway. Lokomotiv won game one handily from Dinamo Minsk, 7-4, but came out flat the next night and lost 4-1. Dinamo Riga scored an upset over UHC Dynamo Moscow, 2-1 OT in game one ( a feat less surprising because Riga beat them 4 of 5 in the regular season), but Moscow snarled back with an 8-4 game two rout. Chris Simon, the enforcer who came over from Vityaz just before playoff time, netted 2 goals in that one. SKA St. Pete has won 2 4-3 OT games over Spartak, both on OT goals by Matthias Weinhandl. Atlant also won an OT game, 3-2 over Severstal; but the first "winning goal" was reviewed and disallowed, and the coaching staff apparently obsessed over the ruling so much that they lost focus on game two and got beat 5-2. Neftekhimik, having beaten league champ Avangard 5 of 6 in season, did so again in game one 2-1 OT. Game two also went OT, but this time Omsk got the only goal in a 1-0 win. Ak Bars, now on their third straight opening round matchup with Barys Astana, have yet to allow a goal to their fellow Snow Leopards; they won 1-0 and 3-0, the latter being the first time in the three series that a game was decided by more than 2 goals. Salavat Yulaev is not surprisingly dominating Sibir Novosibrisk, winning 5-2 ( a game in which they mailed in the third period or it would've been much worse) and 3-1. Finally, Metallurg Magnitogorsk is having a bit of a tough time with Yugra, winning the opener 4-2 in a game closer than the score indicated, and losing the second 2-1.
Wrapping up the first wave, the Slovak Extraliga is just starting round one after Kosice put the finishing touches on a 50-9 season. They kicked off the playoffs with a 6-0 win over Nitra, while 2nd place Poprad opened with a 2-1 win over 36 Skallica.
That brings us to the new stuff. In reverse alphabetical order (so I can put the best story last), we go to Switzerland's National League A, where HC Davos came on at the end and stole the lead from injury-troubled Kloten at the very end. Their 38-12 record pushed them to a one point, 113-112 win for the regular season title and opens them against the last-seed Fribourg-Gotteron. Kloten draws the ZSC Lions, defending champ SC Bern draws the SCL Tigers(who are in their first playoffs since 1998), and EV Zug faces Geneve-Servette.
Davos are the New York Yankees of Swiss hockey. Founded in 1921, they have 29 championships to their credit. They play in Valliant Arena (cap. 7,080). Davos, population 11,000+, is the highest altitude city in Europe at 5,118 ft. In the east of the country, just SE of gigantic neighbor Liechtenstein, Davos was founded prior to 1280. In addition to being the host city to the World Economic Forum (also known to conspiracy theorists as the true government of the world), it is also a sought after ski resort and health spa, whose visitors have included Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This picture I'm told was taken by a paraglider. Neat, eh?
Then we go to the Danish AL Bank-Ligaen, where SonderjyskE hangs on to take their second straight regular season championship, finishing 31-8 to Blue Fox Herning's 30-9. The Danish playoffs are a little more complicated than the norm.. They pair off the top 6 teams (out of 7) into two groups of three. These play a round robin of which the top 2 in each then face each other in a best of 7 semifinal. This opened with yesterday's games: AAB Ishockey's 4-1 over the Rodovre Mighty Bulls, and Frederikshaven's 6-3 romp over Hvidovre. The Champs open Sunday against Rodovre, with Blue Fox taking on Hvidovre.
SonderjsykE, the defending champs, are based out of Vojens and started play in January in the new SYD Energi Arena (cap. 5,000). Founded 1963, they have 6 championships to their credit including last year's. Vojens, pop. just over 7,700, sits in southern Jutland (the main part of Denmark that points up towards Sweden) near the coast (and what isn't?) of the Oresund that runs between Jutland and Sjaelland (that big island just to the east). And you'd be surprised just how hard it is to find info on a town somewhere between Angola and Nappanee in size. Part of the duchy of Schleiswig, which was seized by the Germans in 1864 and partially returned in 1920, it was founded as a railroad town in the mid-1800s (whether by Denmark or Prussia I don't rightly know). It has hosted the World Speedway Cup, an international team motorcycle race, in 2003, 2008, and 2010. The picture is a church that is a local icon, painted the national colors in 1920 in celebration of it's return to Denmark after the Versailles-mandated plebiscite.
And Now we come to the Austrian Erste Bank Ligan, which was pretty much a wire to wire affair for KAC Klagenfurt. They go 43-24 to run up a 78-68 margin over last year's champs, Red Bull Salsburg. The playoffs open Sunday with KAC taking on one of the non-Austrian teams in the playoffs, Croatia's Zagreb Medvescak. RBS draws the other, Slovenia's Olympia Ljubljana; the Vienna Capitals face the Graz 99ers, and my VSV Villacher plays Linz.
Klagenfurter Atheletik-Club (KAC, see?) is also the Yankees of their league. Founded all the way back in 1909, they have 29 titles to their credit, including 11 straight from 1964-74. They play in the Stadhalle Klagenfurt, cap. 5,500.
Klagenfurt has to be the early gem of the stories of cities. Since 2007, it's full name has been Klagentfurt am Worthensee (Klagenfurt on Lake Worth), but everyone ignores the extension since there is no other Klagenfurt to differentiate it from. Pop. 90,000, it sits in the south Tyrol near the Slovenian border, which becomes important to our tale. Allegedly founded in celebration of two knights that slew a dragon on the spot, it was given a city charter in 1252. The name, which roughly means either ford of contention or ford of lament, has been debated by linguists for years; the locals say the name came from a long ago incident where a baker's apprentice was accused of theft and executed, after which he was exonerated and the whole village lamented his wrongful death. The city suffered through a litany of attacks by fire, earthquake, locusts, Turks, and Slavs before burning to the ground in 1518. The Emperor at the time was too cheap to rebuild and gave it to the area nobility, who built it into one of the strongest fortresses north of the Alps. Not strong enough, though, because Napoleon marched in in1809 and left only one gate (which he made them pay for) from their formerly-impressive walls. The Serbian Army tried to claim it for the new Yugoslav state in 1919, but another plebiscite gave it to rump Austria; as such, it got the crap bombed out of it 41 times in WWII. In 1945, the British marched in to occupy the area just ahead of, you guessed it, Tito's Yugoslav army. After a long and heated debate that almost led to a shooting war between Her Majesty's forces and the rapacious Serbs, Yugoslavia backed down and the area was re-incorporated into the post-occupation Austrian state.
And here we end this week's tale. Tune in next week for another update and round of European city history.