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Panthers/blackhawks To Open Season In Helsinki!

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well, I guess I will have to make this trip. Helsinki is one of my favorite cities to visit.

Florida Panthers will open next season in Helsinki against Blackhawks

The Florida Panthers will open a season outside North America for the first time, kicking off the 2009-10 campaign in Helsinki, Finland, against the Chicago Blackhawks.



RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Florida Panthers have accepted the National Hockey League's invitation to open the 2009-10 season in Europe, although the team would not confirm in which city it would play the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Miami Herald has learned the two games will be held in Helsinki, Finland, and not the Czech Republic as had previously been speculated.

Florida will be one of four NHL teams starting their season in Europe, with the Detroit Red Wings expected to play the St. Louis Blues in Stockholm. A press conference to announce the opening weekend pairings is expected later this month.

''We have accepted the NHL's invitation to play in Europe, but I don't have any other information at this time,'' team president Michael Yormark said Thursday morning.

``I think this raises our profile as an organization. It gives our players a chance to play in Europe, and I think they're looking forward to that. This will be good exposure for us.''

Winger Ville Peltonen is the lone Finnish player on Florida's roster, and he broke the news to teammates on the bus ride to the arena Thursday morning. Former team captain Olli Jokinen, who was traded to Phoenix over the summer, is a native of Kuopio, Finland.

Peltonen's hometown of Vantaa is a suburb of Helsinki, and the team would fly by charter to Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport. The games will be played at Hartwall Areena, capacity 13,464.

Finland has plenty of hockey fans and the Panthers hope opening a season abroad will raise their stature in the hockey world.

''The fans are really excited about seeing the NHL teams come in and play,'' said Peltonen, a fixture on the Finish national team for a decade. ``They know all the teams, but to see them play on their ice, it's great. I think this would help us get more fans there. A lot of kids might just grow up to be Panther fans.''

Florida would play two games against the Blackhawks on the weekend of Oct. 2-4, with games likely to be played on consecutive days. Yormark said the Panthers would spend a week in Europe, leaving Oct. 27.

The Panthers will play an exhibition game against a team of Finnish All-Stars or a local professional team.

''I think it's going to be awesome and I'm really looking forward to it,'' center Stephen Weiss said. ``This really changes things up a bit. It's positive for the Panthers. We'll get some exposure, showcase our players over there. Hopefully we'll play some good hockey and get a couple wins early in the year. I haven't been over there since World Juniors, so I'm really looking for it.''

By spending a week in Europe, Florida likely would forgo its recent trend of spending the early portion of training camp out west. In the past four seasons, Florida has opened camp either in Colorado or Alberta, Canada.

Florida also would lose a home game (against the Blackhawks) during the 2009-10 season, and would also give up a trip to Chicago. ''We have to give something up to get something like this,'' Yormark said. ``This is a great opportunity for our franchise.''

Next season's games will mark the third straight year the NHL has opened its season abroad. In 2007, the Los Angeles Kings played Anaheim in London. This season, Ottawa and Pittsburgh played in Stockholm, with Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers opening in Prague.

Peltonen is a pending free agent but indicated he would like to return to the Panthers for a fourth season -- and have a chance to play in his homeland in an NHL game for the first time.

''It would be really special to play there,'' Peltonen said. ``To play an NHL game in my country would be awesome. It would be like how a lot of the guys feel when they go to Toronto.''

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finally confirmed by the NHL


Stockholm, Helsinki beckon Wings, Blues, Blackhawks, Panthers

Thursday, 02.19.2009 / 9:00 AM / NHL Premiere 2009 By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Staff Writer

Niklas Kronwall knew the 2008 NHL Premiere Stockholm would be a huge deal in his home city, which is why the Detroit defenseman was kind of bummed to learn the Red Wings weren't one of the teams participating.

"I wish we were one of those teams going to Stockholm," Kronwall told NHL.com last spring. "That would have been awesome to be playing in Globe Arena."

Kronwall's wish was granted this morning when the NHL and its Players' Association announced the teams and cities for the 2009 NHL Premiere.

The Wings, who currently sport a 26-man roster that includes eight Swedes, are going to Stockholm and, yes, they're going to play in Globe Arena.

Detroit will open the 2009-10 regular season with a pair of games in Stockholm against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2 and 3.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers will play the same dates at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.

This is the third-straight season the NHL has played regular-season games in Europe. It's the first time the League has played regular-season games in Finland, though the Pittsburgh Penguins played an exhibition game in Helsinki this past September before opening this season against the Ottawa Senators at Globe Arena.

The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning also opened this season in Prague. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings became the first NHL teams to play regular-season games overseas, opening the 2007-08 season in London.

"The NHL Premiere games are a signature event for the League, our players and our fans," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Playing regular-season games overseas is an excellent way to further engage the passionate NHL fan base in Europe and encourage the growth of the game of hockey."

"The 2009 Premiere games continue an important tradition of showcasing NHL players to an international audience," added NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly. "Our members look forward to displaying their skills in front of the knowledgeable and enthusiastic hockey fans in Finland and Sweden."

For the Red Wings, barring roster moves between now and the start of next season, the NHL Premiere will be a chance for Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Andreas Lilja, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom and Jonathan Ericsson to sport the winged wheel in their home country.

"For the Swedish people, Detroit for sure is one of the teams they keep track of," Samuelsson told NHL.com. "There haven't been any more Swedes on a team than this team has."

The lone Swede on the Blues roster is Patrik Berglund, who is from Lidstrom's hometown of Vasteras.

"I think it’s a great thing for hockey in general, especially for the NHL to kind of spread its wings and go to other countries to market the game," Kronwall said. "NHL hockey is so different from the hockey that is being played at home. I don't think people realize that. It doesn't matter how much you watch on TV, you need to see it live to be able to experience that big difference."

The Hawks and Panthers are currently represented by only one Finn each. Florida forward Ville Peltonen and Hawks' backup goalie Antti Niemi, who is with the team now due to Nikolai Khabibulin's lower body injury, are from Vantaa, which borders Helsinki.

That won't limit the excitement, though.

"I think it's pretty cool to go over there," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith told NHL.com. "I've never been to Finland so that's neat in itself to visit that part of Europe and see what it's like over there. I think it's good the NHL does that to showcase our game over there to Finland and all the different countries that love hockey."

NHL overseas history

1938/Europe: Canadiens, Red Wings

1959/Europe: Bruins, Rangers

1976/Japan: Capitals, Kansas City Scouts

1980/Sweden: Capitals, North Stars

1989/Sweden, Czech Republic, U.S.S.R: Capitals, Flames

1990/Sweden, U.S.S.R.: Canadiens, North Stars

1990/West Germany, Austria: Blues, Oilers

1992/London: Blackhawks, Canadiens

1993/London: Rangers, Maple Leafs

1994/Finland: Jets

1997/Japan: Mighty Ducks, Canucks

1998/Austria: Sabres, Lightning

1998/Japan: Flames, Sharks

2000/Sweden: Canucks

2000/Japan: Penguins, Predators

2001/Sweden, Finland: Avalanche

2003/Sweden, Finland: Maple Leafs

2007/London: Ducks, Kings

2008/Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden: Penguins, Senators, Rangers and Lightning

- 30 -

that last list obviously includes all the exhibition games and locations as well...

btw, I heard Gino Reda last night note that of the four teams who went overseas to start this season, three have fired their coach and Tom Renney is hanging by a thread in NY...

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