This week, we add three more cities to the travelogue section as the European hockey scene roars into the second season.
First, we go to the leagues that are already in the playoffs. Starting with the Asia League, where defending champ Anyang Halla leads regular season winner Oji 3 to 1 after today's 5-4 win over the Eagles. The other series, between Nippon's Paper cranes and Tohuku's Free Blades is knotted at 2-2 after the Blades 4-1 win today that snapped a 2-game win streak for the Cranes.
England's EIHL is still in process, with Sheffield hanging onto a lead over several contenders led by defending champ Belfast.
Since we last visited Italy's Serie A, Valpellice, Val Pusteria, and Asiago all completed 4 to 1 quarterfinal wins. The semis have begun, with season champ Val Pusteria topping Valpellice 3-1 in the opener, while last year's playoff champ Asiago rips Bolzano 4-1 in game one.
The German DEL is still in process; however, Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg has rolled up a 12-point lead to already clinch the league title. The season ends next Sunday.
In the Czech Extraliga, Slavia Praha and Benzina Litvinov won their play-in series; in the quarterfinals, Mountfield and Vitkovice Steel split their first 2 games, Pardubice has taken a 2 to 0 lead on HK Zlin, Slavia upended Liberec 5-4 with 2 goals in the last 7 minutes to take their opener, and Ocelari Trinec blasted Benzina Litvinov 6-0 in theirs.
In the Slovak version, Kosice rolled to a 4 to 1 win over Nitra in their series; the others are all at 3-2. Poprad and Skallika split the first 4 games with a total score of just 5-4 in Skallica's favor, but Poprad demolished them 6-3 in game 5. Slovan Bratislava had Dukla Trencin down 3 to 0 before the underdogs rallied to win the last 2 3-2 and 2-1 to stay alive. Zvolen had beaten favored Banska Bystrika the first two before they came back in games 3 and 4; but Zvolen recovered for a 2-1 win in game five to push the fourth seed to the brink.
In Austria, KAC Klagenfurt, Red Bull Salzburg, the Vienna capitals, and VSV Villacher all have 3 to 0 leads in their first round matches. Tomorrow could see the semis set.
In the Swiss National League A, Davos won in games 3 and 4 against Friborg 7-0 and 7-2 to sweep their first round series. SC Bern moved on after a 3-2 OT win over SCL Tigers for a series sweep as well. Kloten has a 3 to 1 lead over ZSC Lions, and the EV Zug/Geneve Servette series is tied at 2.
Finland's S-M Liiga is the last of those who haven't finished yet; they close on Thursday, and the playoffs open in one week.
In the KHL, all but one first round series is decided. Lokomotiv finally wrapped up the second-to-last spot with a 6-1 win over a Dinamo Minsk team that amazingly took them the full seven games. My boy Josef Vasicek had a goal and 3 assists in the clincher. SKA St. Pete had long since swept Spartak; Atlant won the last 3 games to eliminate Severstal 4 to 2; and Dinamo Riga took out Moscow Dynamo with a pair of 2-1 OT games- with Red Army not making the playoffs, that puts all 3 Moscow teams out after one round. The Western Conference semis thus will have Lokomotiv facing Riga and Atlant draws SKA. In the east, Avangard- the regular season champs- find that Neftekhimik has forced them into a 3-3 tie- a tie they needed a 3-2 win Friday to get to- and they play Sunday to decide things. Ak Bars swept Barys Astana in the first round for the third straight year, while Salavat Yulaev outclassed Sibir Novosibrisk in a first round sweep, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk won the last three games to beat Yugra 4 to 2. The playoff semis lineup awaits the Avangard game Sunday.
The round robin in Denmark's AL Bank-Liga continues into next week. SonderjyskE got their heads handed to them by Rodovre 6-1 in their opener, and are 1-1 going into the second half of their group. Blue Fox Herning has beaten both opponents the first time; with Hvidovre at 0-3, this group will likely be decided in the round robin finale vs Fredrikshaven, whom they beat 2-0 in their first match.
That brings us to the newly finished leagues. In France's League Magnus, Rouen's Dragons (22-4) won by 4 points over Angers. The first round was a best of three affair to place the opponents for the top 4 teams, who got a bye. #1 Rouen will face Morzine-Avoriaz, who won a 2 to 1 series with Chamonix. #2 Angers gets Villard de Lans, who swept Grenoble; #3 Gap draws Strassbourg, who upset Epinal 2 to 1; and #4 Briancon gets Amiens, who swept Dijon. Guess they couldn't cut the mustard, eh? (BIG SARCASTIC LAUGH)
The Dragons were founded in 1982 and already have 10 championships to their credit, including last year. They play at the Ile Lacroix, which seats 2747. In 2005-6, they went unbeaten except for one tie throughout both the season and the playoffs. If this is the same amount of games, that would be 37-0-1. Wow.
Rouen is by far the oldest city we've looked at thus far, founded by the Gaullish Veliocasses prior to Caesar's invasion. The Romans called it Rotomagnus. It is the capital of the historic Norman state, the seat of the independant Norman
dukedom from 911-1204. Resting near the mouth of the Seine, it was the first city taken by Henry V of England in the first stages of the Hundred Years' War in 1419. With a population disposed to fight French authority, it became the base of English operations while it remained in their hands, and in 1431, the English murdered Joan of Arc there. Charles VII retook it for France in 1449, and Hitler's armies let it burn for 2 days in the summer of 1940.Filled with beautiful, ancient Gothic architecture, Rouen has a population of almost 533,000 and is a sister city to Cleveland, Ohio.
In Norway's GET-Ligaen, the Sparta Warriors of Sarpsborg (37-8) win the regular season title by 14 over Stavenger's Oilers. The best of 7 first round has begun, and the champs have taken the first 2 from Rosenborg BK, 8-0 and 5-3. #2 Stavenger has split the first 2 with Frisk Asker; defending champ Valerenga has a 2 to 0 lead over Lorenskog, and Lillehammer and Storhamar have split their first two.
The Sparta Warriors were founded in 1958; in 1995 the team went bankrupt and had to start over from scratch, meaning they lost their players and dropped all the way to the third league. Playing in the Sparta Amfi (cap. 3,450), they are as close as they've ever been to a championship.
The city of Sarpsborg was founded as Borg (meaning "Fortress") in 1016 by St. Olaf Haraldsson, King of Norway. Subsequently the name was modified to reflect the nearby Sarpsfossen waterfall on the Glomma river. Burned to the ground in the Danish/Swedish "Northern Seven Years' War" (which amazingly I had never heard of)
by Swedish troops in 1567, it was moved up the Glomma to near the larger city of Fredrikstad ( all of which is basically located in that little tongue of Norwegian land that sticks over into the Swedish "lump" of Scandinavia). In 1702, a mudslide washed nearly everything into the river, and it took 137 years before it had recovered enough to regain a city charter. With a population of around 52,000, Sarpsborg was the home of the Borg Bryggerier, the once-third largest beer brewer in the country. It is sister city with Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The Swedish Eliteserien finished this morning (our time), and a 3-0 win by Farjestad over Brynas put them into a three-way tie at the top with HV71 and Skelleftea. The first tie-breaker, goal margin, eliminated Skelleftea, and the second, total goals, gave HV71 the title. In the Eliteserien, the top 4 seeds get their choice of 5-8 to play in the first round. HV71 took 8th seed AIK; Farjestad grabbed #7 Brynas; Skelleftea took #5 Linkoping, leaving #6 Djurgardens to #4 Lulea. The first round starts Tuesday.
HV71, founded in 1971 (hence the name), plays in the city of Jonkoping. Their home is Kinnarps Arena(which was virtually rebuilt around them during the 2001 season), which seats and has SRO for a combined capacity of 7,038. One of the most respected teams internationally, they hold 4 regular season titles and 4 playoff championships (one of which they won as the 8th seed).
Jonkoping, in central Sweden at the southern tip of Lake Vattern, received a charter in 1284 (isn't it amazing how many of these cities were dated from the thirteenth century?). The home of Dag Hammerskold (former UN secretary-general) and Agnetha Faltskog (the "other" chick in ABBA), It was, like Sarpsborg, an occasional
victim of the Danish/Swedish wars of the Middle Ages, being burned and looted by the Danes several times. Ironically then, it became known for the matchstick industry that thrived there between 1845-1970. Jonkoping has a population of about 122,000.
That's it for this week. Three winning cities to go, and if they don't win their championships, we'll have more afterwards, so stay tuned.