Date: February 2, 2018

Want to know about the players in their Olympic team?

Want to know about the players in their Olympic team?

By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com

In this article I want to have a look at some of the players from Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Germany who will be playing in the Olympics who have worked in one of Europe’s best hockey leagues, the Swedish Hockey League (SHL)

Norway

It is Norway who will take the most players to the Olympics who are currently active in Sweden, eight players in all. The two players in Sweden’s second division, Hockey Allsvenkan, are MODO Hockey‘s forward, Martin Røymark and Timrå IF goalkeeper, Henrik Haukeland. From the SHL, defenceman Erlend Lesund has been at newly promoted Mora IF for three years but, like the relegation contending club, has not found the form that made his Norway’s Rookie of the Year in  2013/4. Another defender, Mattias Nørstebø has played nearly his whole career in the SHL, first at Brynäs IF and now at Frölunda Indians. He is currently side-lined due to knee surgery in December but may yet be able to play in South Korea.  A more certain bet is his Frölunda teammate, Mats Rosseli Olsen. The 26-year-old forward is now in his seventh season in the Gothenburg club racking up about 300 matches by the end of this season. The management speak very highly of him, saying that he and Swedish captain Joel Lundqvist are the core of the club.

When Rosselli Olsen and Lundqvist face each other on 15 February Sweden will also need to keep an eye on four Norweigans who have played in either the KHL or AHL. Two of that elite group have also played in the NHL, former Edmonton Oiler Patrick Thoresen and former Colorado Avalanche back Jonas Holøs. But here I will focus on the other two of that quartet who currently play in the SHL. One of them is goalkeeper Lars Haugen. The 30-year-old has played several seasons in the KHL at Dinamo Minsk but is now in his third year at Färjestad BK. The team seem likely to reach the automatic playoff, with thanks to Haugen who has a 0.914 Save Percentage so far this season.

Meanwhile striker Mathis Olimb is finally getting into his stride after a slow first season at Linköping HC last year. The 31-year-old played briefly in the KHL but more significantly played the 2010-11 season for the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Rockford Icehogs. Olimb is currently 15th equal on Total Points in the whole SHL and shares that position with none other than his own teammate, NHL star and Canadian Olympian, Derek Roy. But the two are unlikely to meet on the ice unless Norway can get out the group stage. Last, but not least, is Mathis’ teammate and younger brother by two years, Ken Andre Olimb. The two haven’t played in the same club side since 2007, so you can be sure than Ken Andre has been reminding his older brother than he is only 6 points behind him with plenty of time left in the season to overtake his more well-known sibling.

Finland

The group stage of the Olympics could turn into a Viking blood-fest as Nordic neighbours Finland, Sweden and Norway are all together with Germany in Group C. But surprisingly, Finland has only one player on the squad who is currently playing club hockey in Sweden. Instead they will be relying on the strength and depth of players they have in the KHL and their own top division, Liiga. The exception will be in the shape of the lightest and shortest player in the SHL, Sakari Manninen of Örebro HK. The slim Finn however, is not short of talent leading his team in Goals, Assists and Total Points. In his first season in Sweden he continues to collect points every other game, just as he did in a four year long career in Liiga. The 25-year-old has undoubtedly been chosen because of his success in the Euro Hockey Tour against three teams who will also be playing in the Olympics – Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The diminutive hot shot came in second place in Goals scored on the Tour. He shared that honour with several others including Sweden’s Joakim Lindström, the current top ranked Total Points scorer in the SHL.

Slovenia

One player I am really looking forward to seeing more of is Jan Mursak. The Slovenian captain has only played five matches in Sweden for Frölunda Indians but has already got four points, including three goals. The 30-year-old has a very impressive CV including seven years in North America and four years in the KHL. He is the only player on the Slovenian team to have played in the NHL with 46 games for the Detroit Red Wings. There he played with, amongst others, OA Russia’s superstar and Olympic bronze medallist, Pavel Datsyuk.

Former SHL players from Germany, Slovakia and Czech Republic

OA Russia, Switzerland and Germany have almost exclusively chosen players who are playing in their own country’s leagues. For the first two teams this mean no ex-SHL players have been selected for the Games. However, with Germany this still means some former SHL talent will be on display. For example, centre Felix Schützplayed for Rögle BK last season. The 30-year-old has played an incredible 129 international matches for Germany, two years in the AHL and three seasons in the KHL. He has circa 0.50 Points Per Game in the SHL, AHL and KHL which will be much-needed if Germany are to get out the group stages in South Korea.

The next former SHL player I want to look is Schütz’s former teammate for two years at Rögle BK, Slovakian defenceman, Dominik Granak. He played in Sweden for three years in total. The 34-year-old is an offensive minded player and has regularly posted seasons in both the KHL and SHL of c. 0.50 Points Per Game over the last ten years. But both Granak’s Slovakia and Murzak’s Slovenia will need all their players to be playing at the absolute top of their game to qualify from Group B which also contains the formidable strengths of the USA and OA Russia. 

There are a huge number of players who have experience from the SHL going to the Olympics. For example, just the Finnish and Slovakian teams alone have over 1400 SHL games in them. So, for my final example of former SHL players who will be gracing the Asian ice is Czech high scorer, Milan Gulas.

After four years and a jaw-dropping 138 Total Points, including 58 Goals, at Färjestad BK, the 32-year-old forward returned to the Czech Republic for this Olympic year. His team my be the surprise package Group A where they will face Canada, Switzerland and Korea. The team may even upset one of the big names in this tournament and should not be underestimated. Over half the team plays in the KHL and have a total of 1330 NHL games between them, even if 881 of them are owned by one player, Martin Erat, who played 11 seasons with Nashville Predators.

Conclusion

The SHL is awash with talented players from over the whole hockey world and many of its most skilful proponents best will be on display for 2 weeks in South Korea. OA Russia and Canada would have to be favourites looking at the strength and depth of the rosters, but what would sport be without the unpredictable heroics, the fallen stars and drama that is the Olympic Games. The first puck drop is only days away!

Want to know about the players in the US Olympic team?

By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com

Seven, that is a quarter of the selected team, play or have played in Sweden, indeed four of them at the same club, Linköping Hockey Club.

Bobby Butler has only had one season in the SHL at Peter Forsberg’s former club, MODO Hockey. It was a miserable year where he got only 10 goals as the club were relegated proving that Swedish hockey does suit every type of player. Compare that to his record in the AHL, where the Milwaukee Admirals forward has a whopping 0.76 PPG average over 250 games.

But the rest of the players could well be said to have been chosen because of their success in Sweden.

The American selectors must surely have in mind the points scoring success of the 2015/6 season at Linköping HC where the trio of Roe, Little and Billins amassed 107 points between them (41-35-31) and were 9th, 21st and 38th respectively in the Total Points table. Billins was the highest scoring back in the SHL that season.

Chad Billins – He is the classic back that likes to shoot – he has 13 assists and 3 goals in the 2017/8 season at the time of writing in this his second season with Linköping. After 2 years in the AHL Billins moved to Europe in 2014 and has played for two different clubs in the SHL. In North America and Europe he averages about a point every other game and hopefully can do the same in Korea.

Garrett Roe – He also played for two years in the AHL prior to moving to Europe in 2013 and is now playing in Switzerland. He is a consistent point getter gaining roughly a Point-Per-Game since he moved to Europe. That consistency gave him 9th place (2015/6) and 13th place (2016/7) in Total Points scored in his two seasons in the SHL at Linköping HC. Remember, the Total Points competition is this league is good indicator of high level talent, one that has been won by no less than New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccerello as well as Detroit Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg before.

Broc Little – a very fast skater and high goal scorer, especially on the power play. Now in Switzerland, he has played almost his entire career since leaving college in 2011 in Sweden, including 3 successful years for Linköping. In his first season in the SHL (2014/5) he was the Top Goal scorer in and in his last (2016-7) he was second highest Total Points scorer – and the highest scoring non-Swede. Expect him to play alongside former teammate, Roe and to see the ”Little Slide” goal celebration many times during the Korean trip.

Chad Kolarik – Linköping bought in Broc Little to replace Kolarik who was Top Goal scorer in Sweden in 2012/3 in his first season in Europe. Scores under a point a game but always has more goals than assists. He has moved around clubs a lot in Europe but brings experience from five years in the AHL prior to moving to the continent. Although he also played for Linköping it was not at the same time as they others, so may play on a different line. But he has been brought in to make sure the goal siren rings in Korea and will almost certainly be on one of the power play line ups.

Ryan Gunderson – He has been playing in Europe since 2010 including c. 250 in the SHL with Brynäs IF. With an assist in every other game he has a PPG of 0.66 making him a reliable point getting blue liner. He is currently Top Points scoring defenseman in the SHL and Assist leader in his team. He also has a remarkable ability to stay out of the box collecting only 44 penalty minutes in a five year career with Brynäs. He has not yet sat down on the naughty boys’ bench at all this season (31 matches at time of writing).

Noah Welch – a very different type of player to the others we have looked at is traditional back/ enforcer type whose primary role is to stop goal scorers with his physical play that NHL fans will be familiar with. He brings with him five years of experience in the NHL/ AHL and now in his sixth season in Sweden where he has amassed an incredible 479 penalty minutes. He is currently playing with the top placed club, Växjö Lakers. He also played with them in 2014/5 when they won the SHL and he himself picked up Playoff MVP as well as being the Most Penalized Player of the season. Welch doesn’t seem to like playing a whole match – in December 2017 he managed to get a Match Penalty for Checking to the Head in two games in a row plus subsequent disciplinary action. So the 6’4″ back will almost certainly be spending some of his time warming the penalty box in Korea. 

Someone’s Missing?

For me the biggest surprise with the US team is that they haven’t chosen Frölunda Indians forward, Ryan Lasch. He has mainly played in Europe since leaving college in 2010 and has been winning awards in Finland, Switzerland as well as in Sweden where he has played three seasons with two different clubs in the SHL. He is currently the SHL’s fourth highest Total Points scorer, and the top scoring non-Swede in the League. In his previous season at Frölunda in 2015/6 he had totally magical season as the team won the SHL and the European knockout competition, the Champion’s Hockey League (CHL). Lasch himself won CHL MVP, CHL Total Points, SHL Total Points and SHL Most Assists awards – all in just one season. Whilst his second full year in Sweden was not of that calibre, he still managed to be 17th in the Total Points table. In fact, he was the fourth best American in the SHL behind a few names you might recognise. Yes, you guessed it, Chad Kolarik, Ryan Gunderson and Noah Welch‘s brother in law and then teammate to Lasch, Rhett Rakhshani.

Will Lasch’s exclusion spell disaster for the US team? Probably not. But that’s because the selectors must be certain that they can find the same consistency and firepower elsewhere in Europe’s quality hockey leagues. The Olympics without the NHL may be taking place in South Korea, but will also be a showcase of Eurohockey as stars from this continent battle it out for Gold on the icy fields of Asia. 

Want to know about the players in the Sweden Olympic team?

By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com

It is not just the North American teams that are affected by the NHL players not coming to the Olympics, but also Sweden. This team contains no one who played a game when Sweden won a Silver Medal in Sochi 2014 and only four players who played when Sweden won the World Championships in 2017.

Band of brothers

The team can boast one Stanley Cup winner in Viktor Stålberg (2012-13, Chicago Blackhawks) and a couple of names NHL fans might recognize in Lundqvist and Kronwall. But these are the brothers of their more well-known NHL counterparts. Joel Lundqvist, captain when Sweden won the World Championships last year, is twin brother to the New York Rangers goalie, Henrik. Meanwhile Staffan Kronwall is younger brother by two years to Detroit Redwings hard hitter and Stanley Cup winner, Niklas.

Here come the Super Swedes!

As in my other articles on the US and Canadian team, I’m going to focus on those who play their hockey in the Swedish top division today to give a flavour of the talent you will see in South Korea.

The Captain: Lundqvist

There are not enough good things that can be said about Frölunda Indians captain, Joel Lundqvist. The 35-year old and former Dallas Stars centre leads by example in front of goal at either end of the rink. His qualities defensively can be seen in that he is the leading tackler in the team, indeed, fifth in the whole SHL. On the offensive side, he is third at Frölunda in Assists. His on-ice presence can be well summed up in the statistic that he has plus/ minus of a mind blowing +94 in a career of over 660 games in the SHL.

Defensemen: Dahlin, Wikstrand and Bertilsson

Of course, the hockey world has gone completely mad about Lundqvist’s teammate, the 17-year- old defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He shone at the World Juniors and is likely to steal the limelight at the Olympics with his offensive capabilities from the blue line and silky skating skills in creating opportunities whenever he gets the puck.

Like Dahlin, Färjestad’s defenseman Mikael Wikstrand holds a Silver medal from his time at the Junior World Championship. The 24-year-old was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2012. He may not be high on Hits or Total Points, but is already out on the ice longer than anyone else on his team. That is because he leads the SHL this season with a plus/minus of + 20. So Team Sweden are relying on good things happening when he is on the ice to bring home Olympic Gold this February.

The final defenseman who is currently playing in the SHL is Simon Bertilsson of Brynäs IF. Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009, like Wikstrand, he has played extensively at international level but only in Sweden at club level. Injury has meant that he has only played 26 matches this season but Bertilsson has already clocked up the most Hits in the team. Over the last three years he seems to have matured reduced his Penalty Minutes from an over eager 1.23 PIM per match to a more sedate 0.26 PIM per game.

Goalkeeper: The mature Fasth

At 35, Växjö Lakers, Viktor Fasth is the oldest of the three netminders on the Olympic team and the only one who currently plays in Sweden. He has been Sweden’s go-to goalkeeper when Joel Lundqvist’s brother has not available since his return from the NHL in 2015/6. Whilst the Lakers are cruising to victory in the regular season, Fasth has not had the best season in terms of save percentages. Then again, his experience of two seasons in the KHL and two years in the NHL at Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers means he can deal with the opposition he will face. Hopefully, he will be first choice goalie and get to play for the Gold in this, probably, his final Olympics.

Forwards: Axelsson & the Skellefteå trio 

As well as the prowess of Lundqvist, Sweden will also be taking Färjestad’s talented all-rounder, Dick Axelsson. In 2006 he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, and last year the 30-year-old was in the team that won the World Championship. He is a great shooter and goal creator lying in sixth overall in the SHL for Total Points making a welcome return to Sweden after three years in Switzerland.

The final forwards I want to consider together because this year’s SHL has been lit up by Skellefteå’s hugely talented trio of Joakim Lindström, Pär Lindholm and Oscar Möller. The three of the have amassed 118 Points between them and all three lie in the top 10 Total Points scorers in the league. That means all three are ahead of some of their Olympic opponents, such as Derek Roy and Rene Bourque of Canada or defensemen Chad Billins and Ryan Gunderson of USA. Möller (28-years-old) and Lindström (34-years-old) perhaps represent the best Swedes outside the NHL. They have World Championship and Junior World Championship medals between them as well as over 250 games in NHL, 300 AHL games and over 200 KHL matches. Whilst they have been unable to break into long term careers in the NHL, both have returned for successful careers in Europe. In fact, both are scoring in the SHL at the same rate they did whilst in the AHL, an impressive 0.80 PPG each. Amazingly, 26-year-old Pär Lindholm is not NHL drafted and has only played in the Sweden. After a good Olympics that will surely change. The trio will perform many moments of hockeygodis, a colloquial Swedish term for great hockey. They will be particularly lethal on the Power Play so expect the siren to ring when Sweden have a man advantage.

Who’s missing on offense?

The SHL is packed full of super-talented forwards who I would love to have seen at the Olympics. But if the selectors had wanted players with more North American experience they could have chosen Djurgården IF’s, Niclas Bergfors. The 30-year-old played 173 games in the NHL plus several seasons in the AHL and KHL. Another alternative could have been the HV71 forward Martin Tedenby. The 27-year-old has had three years and c. 240 games split evenly between New Jersey Devils and their AHL affiliate. But all these guys will be remaining in Sweden next month and fighting for SHL glory instead.

Conclusion

This Swedish team doesn’t have the NHL experience of the Canadians (5000 matches) or the Americans (3000 matches) but there is enough talent and experience to guarantee a medal. My bet is a repeat of the Junior World Championship Final with a Silver for Sweden and a Gold Canada. If you’re on the front row look out for the latest Swedish craze of casting medals carelessly into the crowds after matches. Maybe they should make that a Winter Olympic sport too!

Want to know about the players in the Canada Olympic team?

By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com

On 13 January 2018 Team Canada announced their roster for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Without the NHL superstars, such as captain Sidney Crosby, who won gold in Sochi four years ago, the team has a very different feel. The selectors are relying on the quality of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) where 13 of the group currently play. However, seven of the team have played in Sweden, that is one quarter, and three currently play in their top division, Swedish Hockey League (SHL).

The Swedish Connection: Roy, Bourque and Elliott

Every review of the team mentions two people at the top of their article: Derek Roy playing for Linköping HC and René Bourque for Djurgården IF. For Roy it is because he has played over 700 games in the NHL with a has a huge production rate of 0.71 Points Per Game (PPG) over an 11-year career. Bourque has a played a similar length of time in the NHL and can boast a production rate of 0.44 PPG. Both players are in their first season in Sweden and are producing points at a slightly higher level that their time in the NHL, which bodes well for the forthcoming Olympics.

Roy did miss some games, including an international call up at the Karjala Cup, due to a groin injury. At the same time Roy‘s team has not sparkled this year whereas Bourque has played with a resurgent Djurgården where the whole team has been banging in goals left, right and centre. They lie in second place at time of writing. In that sense, Bourque has probably had the better warm up to the Olympics that his compatriot.

The third active player in the SHL who is going to Pyeongchang is HV71‘s defenseman, Stefan Elliott. He was out of contract in the summer after his first season outside North America in the KHL. He came to injury hit HV71 in the middle of October and has played just 21 games. Like his team, who are the reigning SHL champions, he has had an understated season. He also has a great habit of staying out of the box. For example, he collected only 60 Penalty Minutes in 234 games in the AHL. Canada’s selectors will be hoping he finds the form that made him top Goal scoring defenseman in that league in 2015-6. But surprisingly, the Olympics will be the 26-year old’s first international tournament since the Under 18 World Championship back in 2008.

Players who have developed in the SHL

The other four players who have played in Sweden are forwards Mason Raymond and Maxim Lapierre and backs Mat Robinson and Chris Lee. Whilst none of them stayed in Sweden, playing in the country was a key step towards establishing their career outside North America.

Raymond perhaps shouldn’t be on this list as he only played 2 games for Örebro BK when they were in the second division, Hockey Allsvenskan, during the NHL lockout of 2011-2. He has been primed for this Games with several tournaments for Team Canada in the last year. He has netted nine goals in 14 games and fits their team model of in being a forward with a lot of NHL experience, over 550 NHL matches and today plays in Switzerland.

Maxim Lapierre is another forward with huge NHL experience, in fact Raymond and Lapierre were teammates at the Vancouver Canucks for three years. He has over 680 games in the NHL spending a good deal of time sitting in the box – 586 minutes to be precise. He chose Sweden for his first year outside North America playing an unremarkable season for MODO Hockey in 2015-6 before settling in Switzerland. He has played the first international matches of his career this December collecting 4 assists and, amazingly, no minutes in the box. We remain to see whether this new-look Lapierre or old-school enforcer will appear in Pyeongchang.

Chris Lee is a goal scoring defenseman who has been playing in Europe since 2010 after four years in the AHL. He is in his fifth season in the KHL, but prior to that played one season for Färjestad BK in 2012-3. Then, as now, he was very affective from the blue line scoring 41 points recording an impressive 0.76 PPG. He also picked up the most Assists and top Total Points by a defenseman that year. He has been collecting those type of awards wherever he has gone and since that season at Färjestad BK he also being playing for Canada. In that way we can see that this Olympic call up is not so unexpected.

Mat Robinson is another offensive minded defender who played in Sweden prior to a successful career in Russia, where he has also been for five years bashing out a PPG of 0.54. Unusually for a North American he has almost no experience from the NHL or AHL and has built his career up entirely here in Europe. Whilst in Sweden he had has slightly lower production rate at relegation-prone Timrå IF. But he has bloomed since moving to Russia picking up the Most Goals by a defenseman award in the KHL in 2015-6. Guess who won it the following year? None other than Chris Lee.

Anyone Missing?

It seems clear to me that one SHL player who would have fitted into Canada’s selection model is Daniel Paille. The 33-year-old forward is in his second season at Brynäs IF but is out injured, possibly for the rest of the season. That’s because he suffering concussion from a totally pointless blindside tackle in the dying minutes of a Champions Hockey League match. Paille has over 580 NHL games, over 200 AHL games and has played for Canada in one of the pre-Olympic warm ups but will not be going to South Korea.

Conclusion

I think it would be safe to say than the Canada selectors have not primarily focused on the SHL in assembling this team. This is in sharp contrast to Team USA which features players who have shone during their time on Nordic ice. The Canadian are relying on NHL experience with their forwards and KHL experience with their backs in their team and as they themselves have said, that players step up in their performance. In one month’s time the first Olympic puck will drop and we’ll see if their approach pays off. Let the Games begin!