Hockey’s fun. While the casual fan may just follow their favourite team, the more dedicated will follow their farm team(s) in the AHL and/or ECHL. If you want to go even further you can also follow prospects in the CHL and NCAA. But if all those leagues still aren’t enough to satisfy your hockey craving, then this post is here to help.
The NHL may be the world’s #1 hockey league, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only one that’s well established. Europe has a handful of leagues as well that garner large audiences as well. In fact, Dinamo Minsk of the KHL had an average audience of 13,230 people last season, higher than the Hurricanes, Coyotes and Islanders. This post will look at some of the larger leagues around the world, and help you, the reader, make a decision on who to cheer for in 2017-18.
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)
Info: The world’s second largest league, the KHL is made up of 27 teams spanning mostly across Russia. There’s also teams in Kazakhstan (Astana), Belarus (Minsk), Latvia (Riga), Slovakia (Bratislava), Finland (Helsinki) and most recently China (Beijing). Their rapid expansion will also continue as they plan on expanding into London, England.
A big difference with the KHL is the timing of their schedule, as many teams are already a dozen games in. If an NHL player is struggling to get a contract, then the KHL is usually their first contact.
Who to cheer for: There’s a few good options, really.
Jokerit, the team based in Helsinki, is home to three former Sens players in Peter Regin, Mike Lundin and Matt Gilroy, and was Erik Karlsson’s temporary team during the 2012-13 lockout. Lundin is currently tied for the team lead in points (1 goal + 7 assists in 9 GP), good for 7th amongst defencemen. With Jokerit, however, it’s worth considering that their star player is Eeli Tolvanen, who was drafted 30th overall by Nashville in 2017 — one pick after the Sens. He looks to be a star in the making, which could be painful for a Sens fan to cheer for.
If that doesn’t suit your fancy, you could instead cheer for Anton Volchenkov, who’s still going strong at 35 playing for Admiral Vladivostok. They’re last in their division, though, so it may be a rough season ahead. Another fan-favourite during his time with Ottawa is Kaspars Daugavins, who’s been hanging around the league as a top-six forward for what’s now his fifth season. His team, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, is currently sitting in the middle of the pack.
If cheering for former Sens players isn’t your thing, then the clear team to root for is SKA St. Petersburg, who are undefeated after twelve games. The reigning champions are stacked, with all three of the league’s top three scorers in Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev. And this is after they lost Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeni Dadonov in the off-season. They’re a fun team to watch, and are far and away favourites to repeat as champions. They’re also the home to David Rundblad.
Swedish Hockey League (SHL)
Info: Next in line after the KHL in terms of size and popularity is the SHL, a 14-team league with every one based in Sweden. The skill level is a step down from the KHL, and is known for being a lower scoring league. Their season has yet to start, although the first games begin tomorrow.
Who to cheer for: Unlike the KHL, it isn’t filled with former Senators, as Mike Kostka is currently the only player to start the season there.
From the perspective of a Sens fan, there are two obvious teams to cheer for. The first is Frölunda HC, which was the team Erik Karlsson played for during his teens. Johnny Oduya also played his last season in Sweden there before heading to North America. They finished third in the league last season coming up short in the semifinals, and appear to only be going upwards. Potential 2018 1st overall pick Rasmus Dahlin plays for Frölunda, a player who has been compared much more than once to the Sens captain. Viktor Stalberg’s brother, Sebastian, also plays for them as a depth forward.
The other team is Djurgårdens IF, who although aren’t as strong a team as Frölunda, was the junior team to Fredrik Claesson, Andreas Englund and Johnny Oduya (before he switch to Frölunda). Their leading scorer last season had 34 points in 50 games, although they somehow managed to squeak in the playoffs as the eighth team.
Info: Liiga (also known as SM-liiga) is the premier ice hockey league in Finland, with 15 different teams. Their season began just recently, with teams hovering around the 4-5 games played mark.
Who to cheer for: There are no former Sens playing in the Liiga, nor are there any current Sens who used to play in the league (with the exception of Karlsson and Turris briefly in the 2012-13 lockout).
The team I’ll be cheering for, however, is TPS, the club of Sens prospect Markus Nurmi located in Turku. They have yet to lose in regulation after their first five games, with Nurmi scoring a goal and an assist in that span. One additional connection to the Sens is that Sami Salo, a Senator of four seasons, is serving as their assistant coach.
National League A (NLA)
Info: For the final league profiled in this post, the NLA has a dozen teams spanning across Switzerland. They began their season at the same time as the Liiga, with most teams having already played a handful of games.
Who to cheer for: As has become a recent trend around Ottawa, the team has picked up a lot of Swiss flavour. Tom Pyatt came from Genève-Servette HC, Chris DiDomenico came from the SCL Tigers and Guy Boucher came from SC Bern.
The team with the most Ottawa connection, however, is the ZSC Lions. Most prominently is that they’re the team Marc Crawford coached before being hire by Ottawa, although there’s also a small connection with former Sens draft pick Roman Wick. ZSC is also the team for which Pius Suter is currently contract, although he could potentially be staying in North America if Ottawa offers him a contract.
Any one of those teams would be good to cheer for, but my personal support goes to EV Zug, who is not only ahead of all the others standings-wise, but is also the team of Viktor Stalberg. Although his stay with Ottawa was brief, he was still an excellent addition to the Sens’ depth that helped them go to the conference finals. Stalberg’s succeeding as well, with three goals and two assists in his first five games.
Who are you cheering for this season in the international leagues? Does it even matter? Leave a comment below.