0
The Bolshoy Ice Dome will be home for Dolphin Sochi, one of the three new KHL clubs for the 2014-15 season. (Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)

After months of speculation and predictions as to where the Kontinental Hockey League will expand to, league president and CEO Alexander Medvedev has announced the expansion of three news clubs in Sochi, Tolyatti, and Helsinki.

“We can speak about the entry of the Sochi club, Lada and Jokerit as a fact,” Medvedev told R-Sport.

The Bolshoy Ice Dome, a site of the 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament, will be the home ice rink for the Dolphin Sochi club. Entering the KHL from a four-year break is Lada Tolyatti. The two-time champions are located in central Russia.

In sight of new and better competition Helsinki Jokerit will leave the SM-liiga and enter the KHL just in time for the 2014-15 season. Jokerit is a five-time champion in the Finnish league since the 1991-92 season.

The addition of a team in Finland would mean the league’s expansion across nine different countries.

Notes: Spartak Moscow may be folding due to financial problems since December 2013 when their main sponsor, Investbank, ran out of business. The 89-year old club had to ask for a loan from the league to get through the remainder of the season. Medvedev has stated that their participation for next season will be known in late April.

The foreigner limit for each team has increased from five to seven in efforts to be more alike the NHL, which has no foreigner limits.

The IIHF have announced that the Champions Hockey League, the top European club championship, will return in August 2014, with the conclusion happening in February of 2015.

The first and only edition of the CHL was played with only 12 teams from the top seven leagues in Europe, with the Swiss club ZSC Lions taking home the championship. Following their win, the team took on the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks in the Victoria Cup, and surprisingly, the NHL superstars were defeated in the final. The Champions League was cancelled shortly after, with hope that the NHL would participate in the future, but that never was the case.

The IIHF also announced the clubs that will partake in the tournament, with a ton of talent coming from across Europe.

AUSTRIA (EBEL): EC Red Bull Salzburg, UPC Vienna Capitals.
CZECH REPUBLIC (Tipsport Extraliga): HC Bili Tygri Liberec, HC Pardubice, HC Sparta Prague, HC Vitkovice Ostrava.
FINLAND (Liiga): IFK Helsinki, JYP Jyväskylä, KalPa Kuopio, Kärpät Oulu, Tappara Tampere, TPS Turku.
GERMANY (DEL): Adler Mannheim, Eisbären Berlin, ERC Ingolstadt, Krefeld Pinguine.
SWITZERLAND (NLA): SC Bern, Fribourg-Gottéron, ZSC Lions Zurich, EV Zug.
SWEDEN (SHL): Djurgården Stockholm (currently playing in second-tier Allsvenskan), Frölunda Gothenburg, Färjestad Karlstad, HV71 Jönköping, Linköpings HC, Luleå Hockey.

Missing from the 2014 edition of the tournament is, of all leagues, the Kontinental Hockey League. It was believed that the league wanted to send Finnish club Jokerit to the tournament next season, as they will be joining the Russian based league a year from now. From the sounds of it, the IIHF rejected the offer, and that led to refusal from the league to participate.

The schedule, playoff format and more is expected to be announced at the Red Bulls Salute in Berlin on December 20th, 2013.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Abbotsford Heat goaltender Leland Irving and Albany Devils forward Philip DeSimone have signed tryout contracts with Finnish team Jokerit.

Many people thought Irving was the goaltender of the future for Calgary after he was drafted in the first round, 26th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. A restricted free agent last season, Irving publicly considered signing in Europe if he couldn’t get a one-way contract from the Flames, but chose to return to Calgary on a one year, two-way deal worth $687,500 for an NHL season. Irving returned to Abbotsford for the start of the 2012–13 AHL season due to the NHL labour dispute. However, a slow start coupled with the outstanding play of Barry Brust and Danny Taylor relegated him to the team’s third-string goaltender, and even after the Flames traded backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson, he still couldn’t find a spot with the team after they signed Joey MacDonald. Clearly, the Flames didn’t give him a chance, but he didn’t exactly steal a spot, considering the fact the team felt they needed to fill the spots with outside goaltenders.

DeSimone was selected by Washington Capitals in the 3rd round (84th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. It took him a while. but he made his professional debut in the 2011–12 season, after signing a one-year contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. After producing an impressive 33 points in his rookie season, mainly in a small role, DeSimone was signed by fellow AHL club, the Albany Devils, on a one-year contract on July 6, 2012. Last season, he saw 44 games with the Baby Devils, potting 9 goals and 19 points.

Jokerit already features multiple former NHLer’s, including Tomi Maki, Jarkko Ruutu, Jani Rita and Ossi Väänänen. As well, Joonas Korpisalo, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, will likely challenge for the starting spot after playing for their junior team.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

According to Finnish website Jatkoaika.com, Finnish hockey league Sm-Liiga could end up changing the league name to simply Liga, or “League” in English.

Sm-Liiga has been in operation since 1976, sticking with the same name throughout. Just recently, Ässät won their third league championship. The league currently hosts 14 teams.

Just recently, former NHL prospects Colby Cohen (Providence Bruins) and Simon Gysbers (Toronto Marlies) have landed contracts with Sm-Liiga clubs.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Former NHL forward Niklas Hagman has signed with Finnish team Ässät in the SM-Liga.

An accomplished international player, Hagman has represented Finland at three Winter Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in 2006 and bronze at 2010. He played on the Finnish team that reached the final of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, has appeared in five World Championships and twice played at the World Junior Championships, winning a gold medal in 1998.

Hagman reached numerous milestones en-route to his second 20-goal campaign in 2008–09. He played his 500th NHL game on November 17, 2008 against the Boston Bruins, scored his 200th point on February 22, 2009, against the New York Rangers and his 100th goal on March 28, also against Boston.

Last season, while a member of the rebuilt Lokomotiv Yaroslavl squad, he went on to record 20 points in 49 games. A third round pick of the Florida Panthers, 70th overall, at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Hagman spent his last NHL season split between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, but only put up 23 points in 71 games. The 32-year-old Espoo, Finland native played 770 NHL games with the Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Ducks registering 147 goals and 301 points.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Brad Thiessen, who has spent the past four seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, has signed with HIFK in the SM-Liga.

Thiessen signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins and joined the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, though appeared in no games that season. After the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins season ended, Thiessen was among a number of players who participated with the Pittsburgh Penguins in practice during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Though he never dressed for a game, Thiessen was with the team when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in game seven to win the Stanley Cup.

On February 24, 2012, Thiessen was recalled by the Penguins and just two days later, he played in his first NHL game, registering his first career NHL win, 4-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. On March 7, 2012, Thiessen recorded his second career win in just as many starts. The Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. Thiessen has proven capable of dominating lower levels, such as college, AHL and ECHL,  justifying the fact by boasting a 35-8-1 record with WB/Scranton of the in 2010-2011. 

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

After spending the last 14 games of his professional career with TPS in the SM-Liga, Antero Niittymaki has announced his retirement at the age of 32 because of recurring hip-problems.

Remember this guy? On the first day of free agency in summer 2010, Niittymäki replaced long time San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov because of salary cap considerations. Niittymäki played strongly at the beginning of the season, earning the Sharks Player of the Month award in October. However, he sustained another lower body injury, resulting in him missing 17 games, during which Antti Niemi solidified his standing as the starting goaltender. In his second year in San Jose, an injury forced him to mis the first months. Upon his return, Thomas Greiss, who had been backing Niemi retained his role as the Sharks backup goaltender, and Niittymaki was waived. He did not play a single NHL game last season.

Niitty has previously played for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning and most recently Sharks, as well as in the SM-liiga and the American Hockey League. At the 2006 Winter Olympics, while playing for Team Finland, he was voted the MVP of the entire tournament.

After spending ten years in North America, it was announced last summer that Niittymäki had signed a one-year contract with his youth team TPS. After a 4-5 shootout loss against Tappara on November 13th 2012 it was announced that Niittymäki would be injured or the next two weeks. Later it was revealed he would be out for the rest of the season after only playing 14 games, posting a 2.83 GAA and a .902 SP before the injury

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

According to Finnish website Kavela.fl, Kärpät, a team in the SM-Liga, will likely sign Toronto Marlies goaltender Jussi Rynnas, replacing former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Johan Backland who is expected to leave at the end of the season.

As a younger player, Rynnäs was never considered a prime talent and was, for example, never drafted in the NHL. After becoming over-aged to play in the Ässät Junior team, Rynnäs had serious trouble in finding himself a team, ending up in the Finnish 3rd division. However, Ässät signed him for the 2009–2010 season and, after impressive performances in the pre-season games, Rynnäs got more and more responsibility and ended up becoming Ässät’s number one goalkeeper and a fan favorite. Since signing with Toronto in 2010, Rynnas has spent time with the Marlies (with a call-up to the Maple Leafs in 2011-2012), and has been given a lot of starts with the club as Ben Scrivens graduated to the big club once the lockout ended. However, with Mark Owuya, Drew MacIntyre and Garret Sparks all looking for spots on the roster next year, it’s unlikely Rynnas would return for 2013-2014.  A big goalie at 6’5, Rynnas takes up a ton of the net and moves extremely well for his size.  He has an extremely wide stance that allows him t0 appear big in the net, and move with NHL-level quickness. When he’s crouching and looking through bodies, his glove is at a perfect height, something that takes practice.Combined with his skill, Rynnas is a hard-working individual with a fierce, competitive edge to his game. Most over-sized goalies are considered a bit passive, but Rynnas is active and agile.

Backlund, who went undrafted in the NHL, was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2009 prior to the playoffs.  After the 2009 training camp he was sent to the Adirondack Phantoms as Ray Emery and Brian Boucher were slated to be the Flyers goaltending tandem for the 2009-10 NHL season. Backlund was called up briefly in early October when Brian Boucher was injured but did not play before being returned to the Phantoms. After a moderate start he earned his first shutout on North American ice against the Syracuse Crunch on November 1, 2009. On March 27, 2010, Backlund made his NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins.He allowed 2 goals on 24 shots, but had to exit the game after 2 periods, having re-aggravated a groin injury. After mostly playing with the Adirondack Flyers in the AHL, Backlund decided to ink a deal with Karpat for the 2012-2013 campaign, taking them to the playoffs, where the club lost in the first round.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

After having a successful tryout with TPS of SM-Liga, Brian Willsie has signed a one-year deal with the club.

Brian was drafted 146th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. After starring for the Storm in the following two seasons, Brian was named to the OHL First All-Star team and represented Canada at the 1998 World Junior Championships. After spending the majority of his 5-year tenure with Colorado splitting between the AHL and the NHL, Willsie was claimed by the Washington Capitals prior to the 2003–04 season on October 3, 2003. Willsie established himself with the Capitals scoring 15 points in 49 games in a season that was shortened with a concussion.

On July 15, 2008, Willsie signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, marking his second stint with the team. Brian now a veteran, was re-assigned to captain affiliate the Lake Erie Monsters prior to the 2008–09 season. Only 14 games into the season, Willsie was recalled to the depleted Avalanche where he remained for the season appearing in 42 games and scoring his lone goal for the season on January 21, 2009, against former team the Kings in a 6-5 loss. Willsie re-signed a one-year deal with the Avalanche on July 6, 2009.

Willsie played in four games with the Avalanche early in the 2009–10 season but primarily remained in the AHL to continue as captain of Lake Erie. He set a franchise record and led the team with 26 goals in 75 games.

On July 14, 2010, Willsie signed a one-year two-way contract with the Washington Capitals, where he spent most of the season with the Hershey Bears. On July 7, 2011, Willsie signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens, where he was assigned to affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs. Willsie was named an alternate captain and concluded the 2011-12 season leading the team in scoring with 44 points in 68 games.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.