This week we get our last regular season travelogue, but lose another couple of regular season champs, which means that we'll eventually have at least three new spotlights when all is said and done.
We start in France, where the finals have been set and will start Tuesday. Rouen swept Amiens to take the one spot, but not without a classic game three. 2 goals by Claireau Valentin gave Amiens a 4-0 early in the second period (keep in mind, there had only been 7 total goals the first 2 games). Luke Late's 2 goals lead a 3 goal Rouen comeback in a 3-minute span. Amiens hit soon after for a 5-3 lead, but Late scored his hat trick just 16 seconds later, and teammate Carl Mallette scored twice in rapid succession to make it a 6-5 Rouen lead. Each team would add on yet another goal in the second, and they went to the final stanza 7-6 Rouen. Amiens scored twice in the third, one by Anthony dead with 2 minutes left to retake an 8-7 lead, but Mathieu Brunnelle tied it again with 29 seconds left to force OT. Ilpo Salmivirta scored the winner in a shootout for the regular season champs and they move on 9-8 to face Strasbourg. Strasbourg upset last year's runner-up Angers on a pair of 2-1 OT wins and a 3-1 game 4 victory.
In Italy, Asiago finished off Bolzano with a 6-3 win and went on to face season champ Val Pusteria in the finals. The champs quickly posted 4-1 and 5-3 wins, with the next match probably going on as I type.
In Switzerland, 2nd-place Davos finished a 4 game sweep of Zug in the semis with back to back 6-1 wins. They await the Kloten/SC Bern series, in which the 2 teams have traded home wins and Kloten leads 3 to 2.
In Germany, Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg has a 2-0 lead on Kolner Haie after 4-1 and 5-1 wins. Eisbaren Berlin also is up 2-0 on ERC Ingolstadt; Kreffeld's Penguinnnes and Hanover's Scorpions are a game apiece; and play-in team Adler Mannheim stunned the 2nd-place DEG Metro Stars with a 7-2 win in the opener, but Dusseldorf recovered to even it with a 3-2 game two win.
In Norway, Sparta Sarpsborg took 2-1 and 3-0 wins over Lillehammer this week to win that series 4 to 1; they await the winner of the Stavenger/Lorenskog series, in which Stavenger took 5-2 and 7-0 wins this week to take a 3-2 lead .
In the Elitserien, the semis opened with Farjestad taking 2-1 and 4-2 wins over AIK, and Lulea winning a pair of 4-3 OT games against Skelleftea
In Denmark, SonderjyskE will not win a second straight title, as Frederikshaven took 3-1 and 3-0 games to upend the defending champs 4 to 2. They will face Blue Fox Herning, who beat Rodovre 4-0 to win their series 4 to 1. The finals open April 1st.
In the Czech Rep., Slavia Praha holds a 2 to 1 lead on Ocelari Trinec, while Vitkovice Steel has a 3 to 1 lead on Pardubice Eaton, including 4-0 and 3-0 shutouts at home.
In Slovakia, Kosice is still waiting for the finale of the Poprad/Banska Bystrika series. They are 3 to 3, and the final game 7 is today.
In Austria, KAC Klagenfurt has taken out VSV 4 to 1 after 4-0 and 6-4 wins this week. they await the end of the Red Bull Salsburg and Vienna Caps series, which RBS took a 3-2 lead in after last night's 6-4 win. A nice recovery after losing Wednesday to the Viennese 9-1. They meet again on Sunday.
In Finland, JYP swept their opening series against the Ilves, but everyone else is still 3 to 2: Assat leads after a 2-0 win over the Blues last night; Jokerit over HIFK after a 3-1 win; and Lukko after a 5-0 blanking of KalPa, their third straight win.
The KHL went into the semis after last Sunday's Atlant 3-2 OT win over SKA and Magnitogorsk's 2-0 upset of season champ Avangard Omsk. The semis feature in the west Lokomotiv and Atlant, and the boys from the Moscow suburb of Mystichi have jumped to a 2-0 lead on 6-1 and 3-2 OT wins. In the east, Salavat Yulaev have taken control, topping Metallurg 4-3 and 4-0 so far.
Finally, we have a finish to the UK's EIHL. Shefflield's Steelers (43-11) tip Cardiff's Devils (42-12) and Belfast's defending champ Giants (41-13) to win the league's regular season. The playyoffs started last night, with Sheffield ripping Dundee 6-1 and Nottingham topping Braehead 5-4. the games resume tonight, with those two series as well as Belfast vs Coventry and Cardiff vs Hull.
Shefflield Steelers are the first fully professional hockey team in the UK, founded in 1991. They play in the 8,500 seat Sheffield Arena. A dominant team since their beginning, they have 7 regular season titles and 8 playoff championships.
Sheffield, located in north central England in the Yorkshire area, has a population of over 534,000, the largest city in England that is not an agglomeration with other cities. This is because it is isolated in a natural bowl at the confluence of seven hills and five rivers ( to which one of them, the Sheaf, the city owes its name). An ancient Anglo-Danish site, it got a market in the 1200's and a city charter in 1893. A city of contrasts, it was built on the steel industry and cutlery manufacture. Industrialization lead to dramatic growth, various problems (including a cholera outbreak and a devastating flood when a reservoir wall failed in 1864, killing 270), and a dirty, sooty, houses-on-top-of-each-other condition that led George Orwell in 1937 to call it "the ugliest town in the Old World." However, as the steel industry has faded, the city has revitalized itself. With 11 squ. mi. of woodland, 78 public parks, 10 public gardens, and 52 sq. mi. of national parkland in the city limits, and an estimated 2 MILLION trees, Sheffield is known as the "greenest city in Europe". In fact, it is estimated to be 61% green area. Home to such luminaries as Def Leppard, Sheffield has a "friendship agreement' (sorta a sub-sister city thing) with (big surprise here) Pittsburgh.
That's it for this week. Tune in next week when we might just have our first champions!