In just a couple days, the Panthers and Jets drop the puck to begin the first of back-to-back games in Helsinki, Finland. The NHL Global Series took the teams abroad earlier this week, and they’re both making the most of it. Arriving early gave them time to acclimate and get over the jet lag, but also to do some sight-seeing. And since each team has their own Finnish superstar, they get to truly experience the country.
NHL Global Series Diary – Panthers and Jets in Finland
Leading the crew for the Panthers is captain Aleksander Barkov, who has picked up eight points in the team’s first nine games. Opposite him for the Jets is sniper Patrik Laine, who looks to improve his sluggish start. While Laine has yet to score at his usual rate, his team sits in a playoff spot with seven wins through 12 games. This cannot be said of the Panthers despite Barkov’s solid start.
Both rosters have time to prepare for the games later this week. In the meantime though, let’s catch up on their trip across the world.
Barkov’s Panthers Enjoying Finland
After a disappointing loss Saturday, Florida immediately boarded a plane to Helsinki. They touched down early Sunday morning and immediately held practice. The Panthers hope the experience will help bring them together and gain some chemistry, confidence, and momentum for the rest of the season.
After landing in Finland, Barkov stated, “The nature, the language, the people, everything is suddenly familiar…I still can’t believe I’m in Finland wearing a Florida Panthers jersey.” He mentioned his plan to take the team to a sauna to help relax after the long flight, too. Unfortunately, his home is two hours out of Helsinki. Although he may not get a chance to get there, his family and friends are already heading to meet him in Helsinki.
In his Global Series blog, forward Nick Bjugstad writes: “I think it’ll be good for our room to just kind of be together. It’s not the easiest time right now, but I think our team can get through it and have a few good games here [in Finland].” They took the day off Monday, but will be back at it for the two days leading into Thursday’s matchup.
Jets and Laine Exploring Helsinki
On the other side, Winnipeg can’t rely on Laine for the same tour-guide experience Florida is getting from Barkov. Regarding Helsinki, Laine said, “I don’t know much about this city…[My teammates] have their phones. They have Google. They know just as much about the city as me.”
He made his comments with a sarcastic smile, and there’s no doubting he’s enjoying every second of the experience. “It’s been the games that I’ve been waiting for since the season started. It’s awesome to finally be here, be back home, and just be here,” Laine said.
The Finnish star is also excited to have the same opportunity to inspire that the Panthers had when he was a youngster in Finland. Their opponents later this week were the same team that made this trip a few years ago and played against a local team. Laine was in attendance, too, back in the days before he was a Jet. “It was awesome as a kid to come watch Florida play against my hometown team,” Laine said. “Now being able to be one of those guys who comes here and inspires the kids here, it’s an honour. I’ll try and do my job as well as I can.”
Enjoying the Experience before the Games
Each team has two more days to enjoy Europe before the matchup. The importance of those games isn’t lost in the excitement, either. In fact, it seems to be magnified.
The Panthers are very well aware of their position in the standings. Watching the rest of the league play games in the meantime puts further distance between them and the teams ahead of them. They’re quickly approaching “do or die” territory, especially after last season was ruined by a bad start.
Winnipeg sees these games the same way, too, despite being in a much better spot standings-wise. The Central Division probably ranks as the toughest division in the NHL currently. Besides the Jets, the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and Chicago Blackhawks all sit at or above Winnipeg’s 15 points. Those four teams all sit in the top six in the entire league, and the Minnesota Wild are just one point back as well. The Jets know they can’t take their foot off the gas, and earning some points in Finland would help their case.
Main Photo: SUNRISE, FL – FEBRUARY 09: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers and Derek Forbort #24 of the Los Angeles Kings fight for the puck during a game at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017, in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)