Every year, hockey leagues in Europe go on what’s called an “international break”, allowing players from some of the top European nations to compete in tournaments three times a year. Could you think of anything better to do while on a break?
For the second international break of the season, twelve nations will compete in three separate tournaments, taking place in Ljubljana, Budapest and Stavanger. All five players below will have something to prove one way or the other when the tournaments begin November 7th, and in some cases, it won’t even be one of the better players on their own team. Whether it be preparation for the World Championships in May or trying to prove himself for the future, here are some players to keep an eye on.
For more information on the tournament, click here.
5. Yutaka Fukufuji, G (Japan, EIHC Ljubljana): If you were to ask any North American hockey fan who they know from the Japanese national team, many will likely be surprised to know they actually have a team. After all that confusion is sorted out, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you that the only Japanese player they have ever heard of is Yutaka Fukufuji, the long time national team goaltender. Back in January of 2007, Fukufuji became the first Japanese player to ever play a single game in the NHL, and to date, he still remains the only player ever from the country. Fukufuji had a mediocre professional career in North America, mainly splitting time with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL and Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. His greatest success has come in Asia, where he was named the Asian league top goaltender three years in a row. A World Junior gold medalist back in 2002, Fukufuji has been the backbone of Japan for many years now, helping lead the team to Division 1A World Championship gold medals since 2010. He’s going to have a tough time outplaying Robert Kristian and Bernhard Starkbaum for best goaltender, but if Japan is going to have any success, they’ll get it out of this guy.
4. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, D (Norway, EIHC Stavanger): Nicknamed the “Norwegian Nightmare”, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen recorded 12 points and 296 PIM in 163 career NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. However, it wasn’t his NHL career that will likely leave a lasting impression on hockey fans. In 138 games while representing Norway in some form over his career, the 30 year-old defenseman has racked up a whopping 311 penalty minutes, some of which have caused him to earn suspensions. In a shocking turn of events, Tollefsen didn’t get suspended in the four Olympic contests he played in Sochi this year, and didn’t even have to sit in the box! Don’t let his tough guy image fool you, Tollefsen is actually a star defenseman for the Norge and will easily be one of the most effective players in Stavanger this year. While his NHL career never really got off the ground, Tollefsen has proven to strive with Färjestad BK, and with the SHL regular season, Champions League tournament, EIHC and World Championships all in the same year, Tollefsen will have a lot of chances to prove just that this season.
3. Florian Hardy, G (France, EIHC Stavanger): If anybody is going to have to prove himself at this tournament, it’s Florian Hardy. Odds are, you’ve never heard of him prior to right now, but there is a good reason for that: he hasn’t exactly stolen the spotlight anywhere yet. So, why, oh why, would he be included on this list? Easy. With 39 year-old Cristobal Huet heading towards the end of his career, there needs to be a replacement waiting in the wings. With the French national U20 team currently sitting in Division 1B, high quality goaltenders such as Huet have been hard to find in the junior ranks, so it’s not like the team has a plethora of choices in the long run. Hardy, a 29 year-old, recently made the jump to the German DEL league this season, and with a .920 SP to go along with a 5-2-0 record, it appears as though he’s finally finding his stride. He’ll be the starting goalie for the French in Stavanger, and with many of France’s stars missing the tournament for different reasons, he’ll have to step it up if he wants to show his true potential.
2. Bernhard Starkbaum, G (Austria, EIHC Ljubljana): Starkbaum has been the new face of the Austrian National Team in recent years. The star of the “The Eagles” during the Olympic Qualifiers back in 2013, Starkbaum lead the Austrians to a Group D upset, with their only loss coming to the Germans in the deciding game, but because Germany lost to Italy the day before, Austria had enough points to advance to the Olympics. Starkbaum had a stellar season with MODO of the Elitserien in Sweden, posting 23 wins in 46 games, while boasting a 2.06 GAA and .933 SP. The 27 year old from Vienna, Austria has represented the country in many international competitions since 2001-2002, winning the 2001-2002 U18 WJC Division 1 Bronze Medal, the World Championship Division 1A Gold Medal in 2009-2010 as well as the World Championship Division 1A Silver Medal the year after. This past season, Starkbaum was a major reason why Austria will compete in the top group of the 2015 World Championships, leading his team to a silver medal on an Austrian team struggling to find overall consistency. Austria and Slovenia are coming in as the favourites heading into Ljubljana, and if the red and white are going to steal the gold medal, they’ll have to rely on Starkbaum to be rock solid.
1. Jan Mursak, F (Slovenia, EIHC Ljubljana): For years, the Slovenian national team has been stuck with Austria, Italy and Kazakhstan in what seems like a never-ending roller coaster between the Top Division and Division 1A. Because of that, there aren’t a whole lot of players that seem to stand out to the average hockey fan. Along with Robert Kristian and Anze Kopitar, Jan Mursak is likely implanted in your brain somewhere. A 2006 draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, Mursak has played in 46 career games with the Red Wings, recording just four points in that time. His real success has come in Russia, where the 26 year-old winger has posted 44 points in 68 career KHL games over two seasons. While those stats are not exactly mind blowing, he has managed to score eight goals and 20 points in 18 games with CSKA Moscow this year, good for third on his club behind Stephane Da Costa and Alex Radulov. He’s been hot this season, and after strong showings with Slovenia at the Olympics and World Championships last year, he’s ready to shine once again.
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