Six league teams to open in Europe next season

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A record six National Hockey League teams will open their regular season in Europe this year, the league and its players' association announced on Tuesday.

In a news release, the league said the teams were the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks.

The Hurricanes and Wild will play two games in Helsinki on October 7-8 with the Blue Jackets and Sharks playing in Stockholm on October 8-9.

The third game of the series, known as the Premiere Games, will feature the Bruins and Coyotes in Prague on October 9-10.

"The Premiere Games are a highly anticipated part of our season launch and 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 the Premiere Games) -- a testament to how excited our teams are to be playing before our outstanding fans in Europe."

The contests mark the fourth consecutive year the NHL will play games outside North America.

This season, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues opened in Stockholm, with the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks meeting in Helsinki.

"I think it's going to be a great experience, to go back and play in your home country," Hurricanes defenseman and Finnish native Joni Pitkanen told the league's official website (www.NHL.com).

"We have three Finns (Pitkanen, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen) and we're playing the Wild and they have the same (Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen)."

As many as 18 players with ties to the three countries could be on home ice during the series according to current rosters, the website said.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by John Mehaffey)