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NHL players on the move to Europe during lockout

Associated Press Published: October 12, 2012
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Chara played for Sparta Prague's youth team before joining the Prince George Cougars in Canada's Western Hockey League in 1996, after he failed to make the Sparta roster.

Fans are flocking to KHL arenas to see the best players on the planet.

When Ovechkin's and Chara's teams met Tuesday in Prague, it was before a KHL record crowd of 16,317.

"It's very nice to see so many fans show up," Chara said after a 1-0 loss on the goal scored by Ovechkin, his fourth of the season. "There's not too many chances for people to come and see such great NHL players. Now, it's the time."

The KHL is not the only competition luring NHL players. Others have signed up to play in Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic and even Britain.

Center Patrice Bergeron, Chara's teammate with the Bruins, has reached a deal to join Swiss club Lugano. Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog plays for Swedish second-division club Djurgarden, and Philadelphia Flyers centers Claude Giroux and Danny Briere have been signed by Eisbaren Berlin.

In the Czech Republic, provincial team Kladno attracts big crowds because of the presence of its owner, Dallas Stars forward Jaromir Jagr, who is first in goals, assists and points among active NHL players. Jagr has signed four other NHL players for Kladno, including Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens.

Nearly 400 NHL players suited up in 19 different European leagues during the lockout that canceled the entire 2004-05 season. It's not clear yet how many are coming this time, but the migration started a debate that the NHL players pushed others out of jobs.

"That's absolute nonsense," Jagr argued on Czech public television this week. "You can believe me that the young players now have somebody to learn from. I doubt that I would have ever reached my hockey level if I hadn't had players such as Paul Coffey and Mario Lemieux around me. I learned from them every day."