Six teams to hit Europe for openers

NEW YORK -- A record six teams will open their 2010-11 regular seasons in Europe,
the NHL and the players' association announced Tuesday.

"We are extremely pleased that six teams -- more than ever -- will open their season in Europe," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "With these games, nearly half of our clubs will have participated [in overseas openers], a testament to how excited our teams are to be playing before our outstanding fans in Europe."

The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild will be headed for Finland, where they will play two regular-season games Oct. 7-8 in Helsinki.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks will begin their seasons with two games Oct. 8-9 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes will be based in Prague, Czech Republic, for two games Oct. 9-10.

It is the fourth year in a row that the NHL will begin the season in Europe.

The NHL is very popular in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The league's Web site gets more traffic from those countries than almost anywhere else outside North America. And the clubs involved next season feature several players from the nations they will visit.

Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen of the Hurricanes, and Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Antti Miettinen of the Wild are from Finland.

Four Blue Jackets -- Fredrik Modin, Sammy Pahlsson, Anton Stralman and Kristian Huselius -- will be returning to their homeland, as will Douglas Murray and Niclas Wallin of the Sharks.

Modin, Pahlsson and Murray will represent the defending Olympic champions at the upcoming Vancouver Games.

"Having the chance to play these games is going to be special, especially for me and the other Swedish players," Pahlsson said. "It is really going to be great for fans in Sweden to be able to watch the NHL in person. They love hockey and games there are always pretty festive with a lot of singing and cheers. It is kind of like soccer a little bit. I'm looking forward to it and it should be a lot of fun."

The Czech Republic is the original home of Bruins David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka, along with Zbynek Michalek, Petr Prucha, Martin Hanzal, Robert Lang and Radim Vrbata of the Coyotes.

Plus, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. is the CEO of Compuware Corp., the business software and services provider that is sponsoring the Compuware NHL Premiere in Europe.

"It's just pretty neat," Karmanos said, before joking about Carolina's poor start this season. "Some of the teams last year were complaining about the slow start because they started in Europe, and I figured, 'We couldn't do much worse than we did this year.' So, no, I'm not going to hold any passports."

The Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers opened this season in Europe. The Blackhawks and Panthers played home-and-home games in Helsinki, while the Red Wings and Blues faced off in a home-and-home series in Stockholm.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.