It turns out that the Karjala Cup is a tournament held in Finland every fall as part of the European Hockey Tour - basically a set of four tournaments that the various national teams use as tune ups for the World Championships, starting with the Karjala, then moving to the Channel One tournament in Russia next month. Next will be the Oddset tournament in Sweden, and finally the Kajotbet Games in Czech at the end of April. The only teams that participate are Czech, Finland, Sweden, and Russia.
We mostly don't hear about these in the US because they take place during the NHL season, but for European fans these are a big deal, and are used to help gauge who might be the top dog in European hockey.
For our purposes, we'll focus on the Karjala, but the format is basically the same for all four tournaments: The teams play three round robin matches, making sure that everyone plays everyone. Wins in regulation are worth three points, OT / Shootout wins are worth two points, an OT / Shootout loss is worth one point, and regulation losses are worth bupkis.
(For those paying attention at home, this is the scoring system that practically every Soccer / "real" Football fan thought the NHL should have adopted when the shootout was introduced for the regular season standings, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.)
Once the points are tallied, the top club receives a gold medal, second silver, third bronze. The team with the best points / medal count after all four tournaments is considered to have won that year's Tour, and they start back up again next year.
Oh, and the Karjala part of the Karjala cup? They're a beer company who sponsors the tournament. Poetic!
So, now that we've got some background, let's move on to this year's tournament.
So far, only two games have been held. Back on Wednesday, Russia faced their Finnish hosts in a game that looked a lot like the Winter War. Despite making early advances, including a goal in the first minute of the second period from AA that was assisted by our old friend Nikolay Zherdev, the Russians ended up bogged down by the resilient Finns and eventually gave up the tying goal midway through the third period, eventually falling to the host country in the shootout (AKA "Penalities).
In the other match, the Czech Republic (including former Jacket Jiri Novotny!) beat the meatballs out of Team Sweden, 3-1, including goals from Tomas Plekanec and Jiri Tlusty. Interestingly, former Jackets' prospect Gustav Wesslau was the starter for the Tre Kronor, stopping 26 of 29, while Blackhawks netminder Alexander Salak stopped 32 of 33 for the win.
That means the standings going into today's matches are Czech, Finland, Russia, Sweden.
Team Russia will have a chance to rebound by taking on the Swedes today, while the Finns and Czechs will battle for the top spot before the final set of matches on Saturday. If the Czech team can knock the Finns down in regulation, they'll have basically sealed the tournament, but things could get very interesting if they go to OT.
I'll keep an eye on the scores and stats and serve up a final report once the dust settles - here's hoping we get to see Bob take at least one of the two remaining starts, and perhaps AA will keep finding the back of the net.