Stockholm, Helsinki to play host

Updated: February 19, 2009, 3:42 PM ET
Associated Press

STOCKHOLM -- The NHL is heading back to Europe.

The Detroit Red Wings will open the 2009-10 regular season against the St. Louis Blues with a two-game series in Stockholm, while the Chicago Blackhawks play two games against the Florida Panthers in Helsinki.

The games are scheduled for Oct. 2-3, organizers said Thursday.

"It's something different and really exciting, for sure," said Panthers left wing Ville Peltonen, who was born in Finland. "I think they have been waiting to get a real game."

The Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins opened this season with two games last October before sellout crowds at Ericsson Globe Arena, and the New York Rangers played two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Prague.

Three other NHL teams -- the Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs -- played international tournaments in the Globe between 2000 and '03.

"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," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings opened the 2007-08 NHL regular-season in London. Previously, the NHL hosted three successful Game One events in Japan in 1997-98 and 2000.

"It's a definitely a life experience, going over there and playing games," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "And for the veteran guys who have been through the monotony of training camp year-in and year-out, I think it's a nice change. We get on the road, do some team building, get some different perspective on it, and hopefully it will kick off a good year."

The Red Wings have not played in Europe in 71 years, since they played a nine-game postseason series against the Montreal Canadiens in Britain and France.

The Red Wings' current roster includes seven Swedish players -- captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson and Andreas Lilja. St. Louis has one Swede, Patrik Berglund, a first-round draft pick in 2006.

"The world's best club team is coming to Sweden and Swedish fans will get the chance to see an NHL opener in Stockholm for the second time," said Thomas Johansson, a spokesman for the Swedish co-organizers.

Chicago will be playing in Europe for the first time in 17 years. The Blackhawks played a two-game exhibition series against the Canadiens at London's Wembley Arena in 1992.

The NHL Premiere 2009 series will be the first games ever played outside North America by the Panthers and the first regular-season NHL games played in Finland.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press