Many NHL players to play in Europe during lockout

Updated: September 22, 2004, 5:44 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- European hockey has taken on an NHL look.

With an NHL lockout in place, more than 150 players have signed to play in European leagues, including Markus Naslund with Modo (Sweden), Jaromir Jagr with Kladno (Czech Republic) and Ilya Kovalchuk with AK Bars Kazan (Russia).

Most of the players have lockout clauses that allow them to return to the NHL if and when the labor impasse ends. For now, European teams are taking advantage.

Besides Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks, Modo also signed his teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Niklas Sundstrom (Montreal), Pierre Hedin (Toronto) and Peter Forsberg (Colorado).

Forsberg has indicated he will play the entire season with Modo. He got off to a good start Tuesday, scoring a goal in a season-opening 3-3 tie on the road against Brynas. Forsberg beat former New York Rangers goalie Johan Holmqvist with a slap shot into the top corner on his third shift.

"It was a nice goal," Forsberg said.

In the third period, Forsberg was assessed a double-major penalty for cross-checking. He left the ice for good amid boos from the sold-out crowd.

"I don't think it (the hit) was that bad," Forsberg said. "He was skating to the bench ... I didn't cross-check him ... it was more like a push in the back. But it was stupid to do it."

Only 17 Canadian players are headed to Europe, with many others preferring to compete in a four-on-four exhibition series in Ontario and Quebec.

The Czech league has signed 47 NHL players: Jagr of the New York Rangers and Tomas Kaberle of Toronto skate for Kladno; Martin Rucinsky of Vancouver is with Litvinov; Ziggy Palffy of the Los Angeles Kings is with Slavia Prague; Radek Bonk of Montreal is with Trinec; and Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils is with Znojmesti Orli.

The Russian league has 33 NHL players. Besides Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers, there's Andrei Markov of Montreal and Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit (Dynamo Moscow); Sergei Gonchar of Boston (Met. Magnitogorsk); and Garth Snow of the Islanders (SKA St. Petersburg.)

The Swedish league signed 30 players, while the Finnish and Slovakia leagues signed nine NHL players apiece. Joe Thornton of Boston and Rick Nash of Columbus Blue Jackets headline the Swiss league, skating for Davos. Leagues in Austria, France, Italy and Germany also signed a few NHL players.

Forsberg is happy to be home, but knows he has a long way to go before he's playing at a top level.

"It's nice to be back, but this was not the best game in my life," Forsberg said. "I'm not blaming anything. There are big expectations, all other teams want to beat us."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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