SHL in English

The purpose of this blog is to give our international visitors a helping hand in and around the Swedish Hockey League. Therefore the blog is entirely written in English and aimed towards an international audience. If you wish to contact the staff, use red@shl.se!

2014-04-15 16:05:00 | Okategoriserat

Skellefteå AIK vs. Färjestad BK: How they match up

There have been 330 regular season games and a further 34 in the playoffs, add in 5 play-in matches in between and we now have what we have all been waiting for after the first puck dropped 212 days ago, just two teams and the Le Mat Trophy.

The first final under the new SHL format will see last season’s champions, Skellefteå AIK, take on one of Swedish hockey’s biggest and historically best teams, Färjestad BK. Skellefteå will be out to win their second championship in a row and their third of all-time, while Färjestad will be looking to put a stop to their rival’s dominance and win their tenth title.

Färjestad’s mission of overcoming Skellefteå may be harder than getting their whole team up and over Kebnekaise, but with self-confidence as high as the mountain itself the men from Karlstad will not be seeing it as such a big challenge. Heading into both their quarter and semi-final match-ups, against Brynäs and Växjö, they were tagged as under-dogs, and they have fared just fine. The 2014 final will be no different, although this time they come up against the might and power of Skellefteå AIK.

Skellefteå have dominated all season long and have never really looked off course in making their way to the final for the fourth consecutive year. The postseason has not really been much of a challenge for the reigning champions either, brushing aside both HV71 and Linköping by a 4-1 series win. A second title in just as many years appears almost inevitable for the Västerbotteners after such an imperious and commanding year.

Although, the last time these two clubs met in the final of 2010/2011, the first of Skellefteå’s current finals run, it was the men from Karlstad that celebrated, wining the Le Mat Trophy 4-1 in the 7 game series.

SAIK Offense vs. FBK Defence

Skellefteå’s offense is in a scary state if you are a Färjestad fan. The current danger that Joakim Lindström, Oscar Möller and Jimmie Ericsson are delivering has undoubtedly given many of the Färjestad players’ nightmares over the last few nights, and has certainly been the biggest headache for Coach Leif Carlsson in the lead up to the final.

If you add Skellefteå’s playoff secret weapon, Viktor Arvidsson, to the list of offensive problems the Karlstad club will come up against, you have the top four point scorers so far in the 2014 playoffs. The quartet have scored 19 goals and 28 assists between them in just 10 games. The Västerbotteners on a whole are also scoring at a scary rate of 3.8 goals per game and are averaging a whopping 33 shots. 

On the other side of things, it has been Färjestad’s ability to unsettle their opponents physically that has been one of the most impressive parts of their game throughout the end of the regular season and during the playoffs to date. If FBK are going to put up any sort of fight in this series they are going to have to get under the skin of Lindström and Ericsson, a task easier said than done. Tough guy Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will have to play physical and put on big hits to irritate his opponents and put a spanner in the works of the mechanical Skellefteå offence. 

FBK Offense vs. SAIK Defence

The Färjestad offense has not been short of chances throughout these playoffs, although a lack of a quality finishing has been a slight downfall in their game. With just under 30 shots on goal averaged each game, the Karlstad club have been able to put their opposing goaltenders under constant stress. Milan Gulas has been the most trouble offensively for FBK scoring 5 goals so far in these playoffs, shooting the puck 32 times with an impressive 15.63 shot effectiveness. Magnus Nygren has been relatively quiet to his standards so far this postseason and will have to take more of an advantage when given the chance to shoot from blue line during this series.

As strong as Skellefteå’s offense is, the defence is just as sharp, their two-way style of hockey being the key to their dominance throughout the whole year and in the playoffs. SAIK’s ability to keep their opponents chances to a minimum is second to none, constantly keeping their opposing forwards to the outside limiting any opportunities in front of their own goal. Skellefteå’s defence has only let in 17 goals in this year’s playoffs and more impressively has allowed only 256 shots on goal; to put that into perspective that is 100 shots less than Färjestad.

Goaltending

Coming into an SHL final goaltending is always going to be a talking point, and this year is certainly no different. There is going to be a battle at between the pipes as Marcus Svensson and Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, go head-to-head, which will produce highlight after highlight on SHL Play throughout the whole series.

Pettersson-Wentzel has already faced 356 shots on goal this postseason and has performed brilliantly, holding a 93.54 save percentage. PW’s hot form needs to continue as he will be called upon repetitively to come up big for Färjestad during this final series. 

Marcus Svensson on the other hand has not been asked to do as much work as his rival, but has been just as impressive. He has a 93.36 save percentage this postseason and will carry in high amounts of confidence heading into the final.

Special Teams

If 5-on-5 play has not caused enough sleepless nights for Färjestad then the thought of 5-on-4 would have certainly done the trick. Skellefteå’s powerplay has been almost unstoppable during the 2014 playoffs, answering for 15 of the teams 38 total goals.

To make matters worse for FBK, their boxplay has only been killing penalties at 81.08 percent in these playoffs and has allowed 69 shots in 37 short-handed opportunities. If FBK allow Skellefteå to set-up their offence with the man advantage, they will find themselves in a warzone of shots that will only have one possible outcome.

Unfortunately for Färjestad they have not been able to get their powerplay underway during the 2014 playoffs, struggling to find ways to setup in their offensive zone or hit any real rhythm. Skellefteå’s strong boxplay should not have any problems killing off a currently lacklustre Färjestad man advantage.

 
Jeremy Darke
Blogger
red@shl.se
 

2014-04-14 11:15:00 | Färjestad BK

Färjestad BK join Skellefteå in the final


(Photo: Simone Syversson, Pic-Agency)

Färjestad’s fairy-tale run back to greatness after a tough start to the season continues, the Varmlanders beat Växjö Lakers 4-2 in their semi-final series, in a brutal clash.

There was no shortage of emotion or feeling in the series between Färjestad and Växjö, both clubs showing no mercy when throwing their weight around to unsettle their opponents. It was certainly a series for the enforcers, with plenty of scuffles and big hits, a tactic that favoured the newly revived Karlstad club, using their tough guys to unsettle their opponents, just as they did in their quarter-final clash against Brynäs.

A new and improved Färjestad BK has continued to get stronger and more and more impressive after their trip back from Canada. Their new aggressive style of play has proven to work in their favour, overpowering Växjö with muscle, to create chances for their goal scorers to hit the back of the net, something that just didn’t happen for the club earlier in the year. 

The team has taken huge steps back to becoming what everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the year and now find themselves in the final to play off for the Le Mat Trophy, after a very ordinary regular season.

– Thos is not a one-man-show from my side, the whole association got stronger when it went tough, explained Färjestad Coach Leif Carlsson:

– We built the team enormously after the AHL trip to Canada; we travelled a lot and had many hours to talk with each other. Now we are in the final, we battle and have high moral in the group.

Växjö exceeded the expectations

After opening up early in the series it became a tight affair and it was Färjestad’s ability to fight from behind in the third period, giving them the opportunity to win matches and ultimately take the series after six games. The final three games of the series FBK were able come back from a one goal deficit in the final period, winning two of those three games and losing the other in overtime after a freakish and unlucky goal.

Växjö exceeded the expectations of many this year, finishing third after the regular season and putting up a strong fight in the semi-final, in the club’s first ever playoffs in Sweden’s top league.  Although Växjö have had a record breaking season, they still feel that they have come up short after continuously showing their hunger to go deeper in this year’s playoffs.

– I think that we had a good season where we played well in SHL, had a good series against Luleå, said Växjö coach Sam Hallam after his team’s emotional series loss. We are certainly not satisfied, it is empty and you feel almost nauseous when it ends so quickly.

Färjestads’s win now sets up an epic SHL final against hot favourites Skellefteå. The Karlstad club will be looking to win their tenth Championship in history, while the Västerbottners will be trying to finish off their dominant year with their second consecutive Le Mat Trophy.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-04-09 12:20:00 | Skellefteå AIK

Skellefteå AIK first team to the finals


(Photo: Bert Söderström. Pic-Agency.com)

Skellefteå AIK will compete for their second straight Le Mat Trophy and will look to become back-to-back champions, becoming the first team to make it to the final in the playoffs on Tuesday night.

It always appeared inevitable as the indestructible Skellefteå team glided through this year’s playoff semi-final, against Linköping, just as they did in the quarter-final, winning the series 4-1.

If Linköping were the giant killers in their quarter-final against Frölunda, then the giants got their revenge, Skellefteå simply stomping all over the White Lions, outscoring them 22-7 in the five matches played.

– We let in too many goals when we ourselves have been coming into the game, said Linköping coach Roger Melin after his team’s semi-final loss.

The production continued from SAIK’s big guns Jimmie Ericsson, Joakim Lindström and Oscar Möller as it did against HV71. The trio dominated the play visibly out on the ice and also on the score sheet, Ericsson picking up another 3 goals and maintaining his huge stature in front of goal, while Lindström and Möller dictated the play once again, putting together a six point series to share the playoff point scoring lead with 13.

–  It feels so good. The boys are just shooting at me and I am just hoping to get a touch on them before they go in, explained Jimmie Ericcson to C More on his goal scoring form.

Fourth consecutive final

Skellefteå now move on to their fourth consecutive final and will be striving to be the first team to win the Le Mat Trophy back-to-back since Djurgårdens IF in 2000 and 2001.

For Linköping it is time to find some closure on their up and down season, while taking out the positive fact that they were able to get themselves together when they needed to the most, pushing their way through to the semi-finals, where they unfortunately met a stronger and more determined opponent.

Linköping didn’t appear to be the same team the forced their way past the Play In against MODO Hockey and the quarter-final against Frölunda, lacking the energy and will power to fight against the hockey machine that is Skellefteå.

– We didn’t lose a match in the last seven or eight games (of the season), then went into the Play In with that feeling and we won two games there, explained Melin to C More:

– We had a really good feeling going into the quarter-final, we battle hard in those games. I don’t know if it took too much energy or if we just were not bothered to put up a fight when we met an even stronger opponent. 

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-04-09 08:33:00 | Djurgårdens IF

Örebro and Djurgården qualify to SHL


(Foto: Tobias Eriksson, Pic-Agency.com)

The final round of Kvalserien has been played and it is now clear that Örebro and Djurgården will be in the SHL in the 2014/2015 season, after a nail biting series that went down to the final minutes.

Örebro made sure that their destiny stayed in their own hands, already requalifying for the SHL last Tuesday with two Kvalserien matches to spare. It was a dominating performance by this season’s newcomers, winning six of the first eight matches in the series to give themselves early qualification and prove that they deserve to remain in Sweden’s top hockey league.

– It is absolutely amazing! There has been pressure on us to remain in the SHL and we went in as favourites. So it is nice to have it done in the eighth round already, expressed Örebro’s Daniel Sondell to orebrohockey.se.

– I think that we had the best team and probably the best offense also, continued Sondell.

Djurgården is back 

Djurgården’s quest back into the SHL from HockeyAllsvenskan was certainly done the hard way, leaving it until the final round and relying on goal differential to qualify. Coming in to the final match the Stockholmers sat one goal behind Rögle in the plus/minus statistic, but a 6-2 whooping of VIK Västerås, gave them the difference they needed to be welcomed back into Sweden’s top league after just one year in HockeyAllsvenskan.

– I am so happy, I am so happy. It is huge. Djurgården are back, they are home.  It is wonderful to get Djurgården back, said an overwhelmed Michael Holmqvist to Aftonbladet after their final match.

– Our fans have been so important, they came together every game.

With Djurgården’s qualification, Stockholm rivals AIK will now be left with the task to requalify for the SHL through HockeyAllsvenskan in the 2014/2015 season, after a disappointing year and a further disappointing requalification series.

– I can’t say much, because there is nothing really there, mainly just blank looks. There is not a lot to look at in there, replied AIK’s Mattias Janmark to Aftonbladet when asked about the feeling in his team’s change room after their demotion to HockeyAllsvenskan.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-03-28 11:45:00 | Linköpings HC

Defensive Linköping progress to semi-final


(Photo: Tommy Holl, Pic-agency.com)

Linköping continue to take advantage of the extra life they were given by the new addition of the Play In-series, shutting-out the second ranked Frölunda in the seventh game of the quarter-finals to win the series 4-3.

It has not been the most consistent year in Linköping, dipping in and out of form and finishing ninth after the regular season. They will be thanking the hockey gods though, that this was the year that the SHL decided to change it's playoff format, including a Play In-series between teams ranked from 7-10 after the regular season.

After taking care of MODO Hockey in the Play In-series, Linköping have now progressed to the semi-final, shutting down Frölunda in a back-and-fourth quarter-final meeting.

Frölunda were unable to take advantage of the defensive style of play that Linköping presented in the series, something that they have struggled with throughout the whole season when they have been put up against teams that have been less aggressive offensively.

– Linköping have changed their play to fit the playoffs, to play a defensive style of hockey that we know does not fit us well, explains Frölunda Coach Roger Rönnberg to Kanal 9.

– We have had problems with Örebro and Leksand the whole season, who play in that way. We have never really found a way against it.

"We work hard for each other"

Linköping coach Roger Melin is obviously satisfied with the way that his troops have worked for each other during their quarter-final win, and how they have executed their defensive plan.

– We are really happy, we work hard for each other, we have got a good understanding of our defensive play and I hope that it can take us a long way, said Melin to Aftonbladet.

Linköping will now be looking to be giant killers once again when they take on Skellefteå in a tantalizing semi-final replay from the 2013 playoffs. "The White Lions" will once again head into that series as heavy underdogs, as they have done throughout this post season.

– We believe in ourselves even if Skellefteå are going to be big favourites in the series. We are going to do everything to take them, says Linköping defenseman Magnus Johansson.

Linköping will be looking to create as many problems for the reigning SHL Champions as they did in 2013, where 4-out-of-5 games in the series where sent to overtime, although Skellefteå still progressed with a 4-1 semi-final win.

– We played against them last year, so we just need to play against them the same way, it went pretty well, said goaltender Christian Engstrand.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-03-27 15:55:00 | Växjö Lakers HC

Växjö Lakers continue to write history


(Photo: Fredrik Sundvall, Pic-Agency.com) 

Last year’s finalists Luleå Hockey are the latest team to exit the 2014 playoff series, doing so at the hands of the Växjö Lakers who now move on to their first semi-final in the club’s short SHL/Elitserien history. ¨Everybody gave their bodies and their minds to win these matches¨ said goalie Teemu Lassila.

Växjö entered the 2014 playoffs as a rookie team that had never played in a finals series in Sweden’s highest league in the club’s existence. Their inexperience or hype of their achievement didn’t cause them any nerves, outclassing their opponents Luleå in a 4-2 series win.

 It was a very tight and controlled Växjö who took the quarter-final series, the Smålanders came together as a group and were dangerous all over the ice, proving too much for Luleå who could not continue to match their rivals.

– We met a really good Växjö, I can promise you that, explained Luleå Coach Jonas Rönnqvist to Kanal 9 after their series loss.

– Many say that they are not a dangerous team, but they could be the most dangerous team in the entire SHL. Their team staff have done a fantastic job. When you face them you feel that they are together as one, and they know what todays hockey is all about. We couldn’t come up to our opponents level. 

Växjö’s Finnish goaltender was the hero for Smålanders in their quarter-final win, Teemu Lassila recording three shut-outs in four of Växjö’s wins in the series. Lassila allowed no more than 8 shots go into his net, in the 6 games he protected his team’s goal, topping the league with a goals against average of 1.43. The modest net-minder could only give credit to the whole team after their quarter final win. 

– It wasn’t just my effort that got us the win, it was the whole team. They gave everything in every situation, it feels really good. Everyone gave their bodies and their minds to win these matches, said Teemu Lassila.

The Smålanders first line also played their part in taking their team to the semi-final, the forward pairing of Rhett Rakhashani, Dennis Rasmussen and Tomi Kallio led their team with 15 points this series while the defensive pairing of Noah Welch and Cory Murphy, continued to pull their weight offensively, as they have done all season long, producing 3 goals and 4 assists of their own.

The Norrbotteners were never up to the level that was expected in this quarter-final meeting. Luleå Hockey continued to find it difficult to come back from their poor end of the season, hitting the bottom of their form curve at the wrong time of the year, losing their final 5 matches heading into the playoffs to drop down to sixth place in the league.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-03-25 10:40:00 | Färjestad BK

Färjestad outmuscle Brynäs in series win


(Photo: Jan Bulér / Pic-Agency)

Form strong Färjestad and Brynäs came together in a tough and physical series, that produced many crushing hits against the boards and spectacular open-ice contact, but it was the men from Karlstad that got on top of their opponents and took the series comfortably 4-1.

The meeting between the fourth and fifth ranked teams, after the 55 game season was always going to be one of the most exciting contests in the 2014 playoffs and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with five tight encounters.

It was Färjestad that outmuscled their opponents all over the ice and won the important battles in-front of the net, moving them into the semi-finals, which is an overwhelming achievement after their ordinary start to the season.

The Karlstad club where flirting with Kvalserien danger after their worst start to a season in modern times, ranking tenth in the standings as recent as November and looked as though they would have been fighting for survival in the SHL at this time of the year, not moving into a position to play off for the Le Mat Trophy.

- We have had a really tough season, but we have patiently worked our way forward and now we have made it to the semi-final, top four, it’s fantastic, said Färjestad Coach Leif Carlsson.

"We have come together since our trip"

Färjestad came back a new team from their exhibition matches in North American during the Olympic break, becoming the form strongest team in the SHL, winning 5 of their last 6 games, and carried that streak into their quarter-final meeting against Brynäs.

- We don’t have any special line or special guy that does everything, we are a team that work hard. We have come together since our trip to North America, continued Carlsson.

One performance that has stood out for Färjestad, is that of goaltender Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, who has been a saviour for his team in net. ”PW” has stopped 142 shots this series to top the league with a 94.04 save percentage. Many expectations were placed on ”PW” before the start of this season and he has answered in the most crucial time of the year.

For Brynäs it has been another year of what could have been, ranked fourth after the regular season to then go on and drop out in the first round of the playoffs, for the second year in-a-row after winning the Le Mat Trophy in 2012.

The Gävle club looks set to rebuild in the off-season, with many key players going off contract. The point producing pair of Ryan Gunderson and Johan Harju have, by rumors, already signed for new KHL club Jokerit. Brynäs will be hoping to bring in some new faces that will take them back, deeper into the playoffs next season.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-03-24 13:40:00 | Skellefteå AIK

Skellefteå finish a brave HV71’s season

If you took a look at the series score between Skellefteå and HV71 it would appear as business as usual, the 4-1 win by the regular season champions against the tenth best team in a seven game series was what was expected. The score doesn’t tell the story in what was a tough quarter-final win for Skellefteå, HV71 forcing the Västerbotten team to produce their best to be the first team to progress into the semi-final.

It has been somewhat of a chaotic year for HV71, spending a good portion of the year fighting their way from the bottom of the standings. When Coach Torgny Bendelin took over the job in December his goal was to ensure that the Jönköping club stayed in Sweden’s highest league and did not face unpredictable Kvalserien playoff.

Bendelin and HV71 achieved that goal and also produced one of the bravest and impressive showings in recent times in the SHL, pushing Skellefteå right to the end and finishing their season with a performance to be proud of.

– I feel an enormous pride for the team, said coach Torgny Bendelin to C More. They have all battled the whole way, it was just small margins.

– I have been with the team three months; it has been an amazing experience.  A wonderful trip for an old man, every day during the last few month have been filled with happiness.

As impressive as HV71 were, Skellefteå were better and never looked like losing control of the quarter-final series. Beside their double overtime loss in game 4, that could have whitewashed the Jönköping club, the 2013 LeMat Trophy winners were mechanical in their play and gave a dominant series result that was expected.

Skellefteå’s big names have not wasted any time in the playoffs to hit their stride, a frightening fact for their unknown semi-final opponents. Viktor Arvidsson has already proven to be a playoff weapon, just as he was last year, along with the Oscar Möller, the pair both involving themselves in 7 goals throughout their series with HV71.

Their production, and also Captain Jimmie Ericsson’s 5 goal haul in the quarter-finals can mainly be credited to the flawless powerplay of their team. Its 43 percent efficiency was one of the margins that gave Skellefteå the edge throughout this series.

– We have played together a long time (on the powerplay), and have had the same people, explained Joakim Lindström after their series win. We know each other well and have different variations. We talk about it a lot during training and games.

Lindström has also been inspirational in Skellefteå’s first step to a back-to-back Le Mat Trophy, taking up the role of provider and playmaker, scoring 1 goal and 5 assists of his own. The home-grown talent controlled the play during long periods in this series and could be Skellefteå’s most dangerous weapon heading into the semi-finals.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-03-13 12:40:00 | Okategoriserat

Big news regarding SHL in the future

An agreement has been reached between the boards of SHL and Hockey Allsvenskan where a complete solution for the development of Swedish icehockey has been presented. The arrangement includes new models for future qualification system and greater synergy between the leagues SHL and Hockeyallsvenskan in both sporting and other issues. 

14 teams in SHL 2015/2016

Kvalserien, where team 11 and 12 of SHL qualifys against teams from the league HockeyAllsvenskan, will be played as usual this season. Next season big changes are coming up when the winner of the league HockeyAllsvenskan goes to play in the SHL the upcoming season. By a qualifying league and a playoff another team also moves up to the SHL and the season 2015/2016 will consist of 14 teams.

Promotion and relegation between SHL and Hockeyallsvenskan will occur after the 2015/2016 season but then in two playoff series in best of seven games.

"We are very pleased with the cooperation"

- From SHL we are very satisfied with the cooperation with Hockeyallsvenskan to find a system that is good overall for all Swedish hockey, says Jörgen Lindgren, CEO of SHL:

- The development we want for SHL as a league continues, a program that began last summer with changing the name to SHL and the new vision of ”The complete sports experience”.

 
SHL
 

2014-02-11 11:56:00 | Weekly reviews

Skellefteå and Frölunda battling perfection

This week in the SHL gave us everything that it promised heading into the Winter Olympics break, a record was broken, Patrik Hersley now the highest goal scoring defender in the history of Sweden’s top league, two veterans in Frölunda continue their hot form to lead their team on a point streak and a North American makes a break in his blight to be the SHL’s most effective goal scorer.

After a relatively slow start to the season for Frölunda veterans, Dick Axelsson and Magnus Kahnberg, the pair has begun to show their experience and peak at the right time of the year. Frölunda have taken all points on offer in their last six games, something that no other club has been able to do this season, and it has been the leadership of Axelsson and Kahnberg that have set the example. The veteran duo have combined for 7 goals and 9 assists in the Gothenburg club’s 6 game streak, Kahnberg doing the scoring with 5 goals and Axelsson being the provider with 6 assists.

Although Frölunda have been flawless in their hunt for the top spot in the league, the Swedish Champions, Skellefteå, have responded themselves. It was a tough start to 2014 for the league leaders, losing 5 games straight, but they have bounced back with force, taking 20 of 21 points in their last 7 games after their slump. This week it was Oscar Möller who was the difference for Skellefteå, the Los Angeles Kings prospect scoring a hat-trick in his team’s 4-2 victory over Örebro and then followed it up with a double against HV71 just two days later. The Norrlanders still maintain a 10 point lead at the top with just 18 points left on offer for the remainder of the season.

Hersley in the history books

Patrik Hersley’s quest for the goal scoring record for a defenseman is now conquered after, the 27 year-old, rocketed a slap-shot top corner from the face-off circle in Leksand’s 3-1 win against Örebro on Saturday, scoring his 22 goal of the season. The previous record for a goal scoring defenceman was also held by a Leksand defender, Jan Huokko, with 21 goals in a single season. Hersley has almost appeared out of nowhere this year to take Huokko’s record and with six games still left to play after the Olympic break, you can expect Hersley to increase his count from 22. 

Linköping, as a team, have undeniably had their problems this season, positioned ninth in the standings, but on an individual level things have not been going bad at all. Pär Arlbrandt has been at the top of the point scoring list for most of the season and appears to have the title of point king in the bag, leading by 10 points over Luleå’s Linus Klasen with just 6 games left. The goal scoring race is proving a much title battle, where American Chad Kolarik now moves in control of that category, taking over from teammate Simon Hjalmarsson and Linus Klasen. The former AHL star has come alive during the back-end of the season, despite his team’s lack of form, this week finding the back of the net four times, giving him a buffer of three in the goal scoring standings after 27 goals throughout the year.

The hockey world now has a break for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the SHL returning on the 25th of February for an intensive 6 game stretch to the playoffs.  

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-02-05 10:42:00 | HV71

Christensen: “It was just instant chemistry”


Christensen in the game vs AIK (Photo: Sami Grahn / Pic-Agency.com)

Erik Christensen took some time to get settle in to the SHL having a slow start to his career in Sweden, to his standard, with just 13 points in 22 games. But with the inclusion of young Swiss talent Kevin Fiala in January the sparks have flied and there chemistry has boosted the Canadians production to over a point per game. “It was just instant chemistry, sometimes chemistry you just can’t explain,” said Christensen.

The impact that Kevin Fiala has had on HV71 has been unimaginable, especially the way that the 17 year old has been able to lift the game of his line-mates Erik Christensen and Ted Brithén. His positive impact was no more noticeable than in their 3-1 loss to AIK in Stockholm on Tuesday night, when Fiala was scratched from the line-up. To make matters worse, Ted Brithén was injured just 2 minutes into the game to completely destroy HV71’s most current productive line and coincidently any real offensive creativity.   

– To not have Kevin and lose Ted early and not come back was just disappointing because we have had a lot of success lately in the last ten or fifteen games, said a dispirited Erik Christensen.

To say that the line of Christensen, Fiala and Brithén has been a success is an understatement, the combination scoring just under half of the team’s goals since Fiala joined the roster on the 8th of January. The treble have mounted a pile of points for HV71 since forming a line, scoring 12 goals and 18 assists between them and have become a real force the Jönköping club.  

– Kevin has added a whole new dimension to our line with his skill level. Ted and I are both fairly skilled guys ourselves and we are a bit bigger and skate well, but Kevin, his skill is at another level, explained Christensen.

 – He makes so many plays and creates so much room for us with the way he can pass the puck and see the ice. Right away we found ourselves getting a lot of chances and scoring a lot of points.

Christensen explained that Fiala’s ability to draw attention and players to him and create scoring chances has been a direct result of the increase in his own personal scoring of 6 goals and 7 assists in nine games since the young Swiss winger arrived.

– A lot of the time when Kevin has the puck he brings people to him and then passes it off when we are wide open. A lot of goals have been scored that way. He can have two guys on him and keep holding onto the puck and then just throw a pass and find us open.

– It was just instant chemistry, sometimes chemistry you just can’t explain.

Christensen’s NHL experience a plus for Fiala

The 30 year old, Edmonton born, center, has played 387 games for various clubs in the NHL and has a world of experience to pass on of Kevin Fiala, himself and line-mate Ted Brithén doing their best to guide the young talent in the right direction.

– We try to talk to Kevin a lot, it is a different game from playing junior to playing pro hockey. This is a big jump from junior and there is lots to learn and we try and help him out. He can make little mistakes that you need to weed out of your game when you get to higher levels.

– When I was 17 years old I was playing junior hockey in Canada, I wasn’t playing professional hockey like him. Just goes to show that he has got a pretty bright future.

“There is more detail”

Despite their most recent loss in Stockholm, HV71 have saved what was looking like their worst season in the recent times, turning a losing season into a winning one since coach, Torgny Bendelin joined the club during the Christmas break, taking over from the departed Ulf Dahlén.

Christensen puts the vast change of form down to Bendelin’s attention to detail defensively and the time he takes during practice to perfect the team’s systems.

– There is a little bit more detail with the stuff we do, especially with our systems, defensive zone coverage, neutral zone fore-checking and offensive zone fore-checking. There is just more detail to it and we practice it more often so we are ready when the games come.

Erik Christensen is contracted with HV71 only until the end of this season but is keeping closed lip about any contract talks, although he does admit that he is loving life in his new home, Sweden.

– It has been brought up (contract talks) but I just want to focus on next year, I don’t want it to be a distraction.

– I really enjoy it here. It was a tough year when I started out in Prague, playing in the KHL, things didn’t work out. This has been a much better situation for me. Sweden reminds me a lot of Canada and I live in a small little town that reminds me of home. I feel really comfortable and everyone has been really great to me. Playing in our home building, a sold out building, I really couldn’t ask for anything more right now. 

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-02-03 16:00:00 | Weekly reviews

Top four build towards the playoffs

It now appears that the top four teams in the SHL are in a league of their own, fighting it out amongst themselves, while the rest of the league scuffle below them with a desperate desire to find consistent form which will qualify them automatically into the playoffs. Linköping on the other hand are trying to discover what went so wrong that they now sit just one place out of Kvalserien.

Skellefteå, Frölunda, Växjö and Luleå continue to show why they are the top four teams in the league, as they look to hold their strong position coming up to the Olympic break next week. The only points that were dropped by these four clubs in each of their own three games this week were against each other.

Skellefteå returned to their top form with wins against AIK and Brynäs 1-4 (Highlights) after thumping Luleå 5-1 (Highlights) earlier in the week. Frölunda were also undefeated, finishing the week with an important 1-2 (Highlights) win against Växjö on Sunday, given them a 5 point buffer to their third place rival. Växjö’s goal production continues to be their strength, scoring 13 goals in their two wins against Brynäs and Örebro while Luleå focus on things at the other end of the ice, only allowing 1 goal in their two wins against Brynäs and Linköping.

Even though MODO Hockey also had a strong week, moving into fifth in the standings with their three wins, it now appears that the league is now split into two, with just 9 rounds of games left to play before the playoffs. The top four will be jostling for position amongst themselves as Frölunda, Växjö and Luleå do their best to catch Skellefteå at the top. Meanwhile, the rest of the league will be fighting it out for automatic qualification into the playoffs as some look over their shoulder, beware of the Kvalserien cut-off.

Linköping going backwards

You could not be blamed to think that by having the league’s highest point scorer and its’ top three goal scorers you would be competing with the SHL’s best, at the moment this is certainly not the case. At the beginning of the season many expected that Linköping would be fighting at the top of the standings especially now with three of the most productive forwards in the league, instead they are now the team in a full throttle reverse.

– I’ve had trouble finding good sources of motivation for the team this year and also finding ways to reverse negative trends, said Linköping coach Roger Melin to C More after their latest loss to Luleå.

– We have panicked in situations in some games, simply because we cannot keep calm in crucial moments, continued Melin.

The White Lions had another tough week this week letting in 15 goals, while scoring only 4 themselves, in their 3 losses to Färjestad, Frölunda and Luleå. The poor week now sees Linköping with one eye forward and one eye backward sitting in tenth position, just 9 points above the Kvalserien line with just a little over a month left in the regular season.

There is no more important week than the week ahead in this year’s schedule, every team knowing that it is vital to perform well in their three matches before a 17 day break during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Their will only be 6 games left after the return from the Games and a poor week this week could make things a lot tougher in the final run for playoff position. 

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-01-28 16:35:00 | Weekly reviews

Hot HV71 seems out of Kvalserien race

After last week all eyes were on the battle at the top of the standings as Skellefteå’s uncharacteristically stumbled momentarily, this week all eyes have turned to the bottom where it appears that HV71 have finally removed themselves from any talks of seeing them in Kvalserien this season. Meanwhile the return of Patrik Hersley and a clinical power play have helped Leksand and Växjö improve their place in the constant battle for playoff positioning

The return of Patrik Hersley gave Leksand IF a boost this week, now having three wins from their last three outings. Hersley returned in the Dalarna club's 1-2 win against Brynäs on Thursday, providing the defensive stability and firepower that they have missed whilst the goal scorer had been injured. Hersley then moved to just 2 goals away from his club’s goal scoring record for a defenceman, currently held by Jan Huokko, when he fired home a slapshot to give his team a 2-0 lead in Leksand’s 3-2 win against Frölunda..

The three win run of Leksand now puts them right in the middle of the fight for a direct playoff birth, sitting just above the automatic qualification line in sixth position.

Växjö were once again at their best this week after their two losses the previous week, beating MODO Hockey 3-1 and Färjestad 4-2 to regain third place in the standings. The vast improvement of the Smålanders power play has been the key to their return to form, scoring 5 extra man goals out of 6 opportunities in their two wins this week, the 83 percent success rate a big step above the 15 percent of power plays they were converting before this week’s two matches.

Also to note in Växjö is the return of Czechoslovakian center Jan Hlavac to the team. Hlavac has been signed once again by the club after playing 13 games last season where he scored 5 goals and 2 assists. The Czech comes in as a replacement for the injured Robert Rosén who is set to be out for another five weeks with a fractured leg.

HV71 looking up

The battle to stay out of Kvalserien looks to be over for HV71 after another strong week with two wins. The Jönköping club have now moved to four full-point wins ahead of Örebro, who occupy the last position into Kvalserien with AIK. Under new Head-Coach Torgny Bendelin, who joined the club on the 15th of December, HV71 have turned their season around, wining 7 from 11 games while taking points in their last five.

– There is constant development where you get to work with small pieces of the puzzle at a time, and sometimes it goes up. The most important thing in the long run is that it goes in the right direction, said Bendelin to HV71.se when talking about some of the improvements of the team before their match against Skellefteå.

This positive reverse in the play of HV71 saw them take down league leaders Skellefteå 4-2, whilst later in the week they secured another 2 points against Färjestad with an overtime win 3-4. Their two wins this week and their consistent form has begun to give them hope of an automatic place in the playoffs, just 8 points away from Leksand in sixth, something that was unimaginable just a short time ago.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-01-21 18:57:00 | Weekly reviews

A new SHL star is born

The fight for the season champion has been given a spark of life this week after current run-away leaders Skellefteå fell against their opponents for their fourth straight loss, while contenders and Norrland rivals Luleå continued their hot start of 2014, winning twice and moving 6 points closer to the league Champions. Meanwhile, HV71’s fight for survival has been given a boost by the arrival of young Swiss talent Kevin Riala into their top team, and impressing significantly in his first four starts for the Jönköping club.

Luleå’s resurgence as an SHL contender continued this week, being the only team to take the maximum 6 points in their two games, and a now riding a three win run. A home victory against Skellefteå 2-1 and an away win against Linköping 3-2 now move them into third in the standings with 69 points, just 2 points from Frölunda in second.

The rejuvenation of the Norrbotteners, who have won six of their last seven matches, has been built around their outstanding goaltender pairing of Mark Owuya and David Rautio and their new defensive demeanour, allowing 0.71 goals against per game in their last 7 games this season.

League leaders continue slump

Skellefteå have continued their dip in form this week, after their two losses Thursday and Saturday to finish off the previous week. Those that expected that the SHL Champions would bounce back and come out firing this week, were completely caught off guard by the Norrlanders continuing their uncharacteristic form, losing both games against Luleå and then MODO Hockey 1-2 to extend their streak to 4 matches without a win. Skellefteå AIK has only managed to score 4 goals in their four latest losses, which is well below their season average of 3.54 goals a game before their losing streak began.

– It’s just not bouncing our way right now, we need to do some things so it does go our way, we are going to work on things to score goals, explained Skellefteå Assistant Coach, Bert Robertsson, in a press conference after his team’s latest loss against MODO Hockey.

The slump in performance by the current SHL leaders has diminished the mind-set, that Skellefteå were a ‘sure thing’ for the regular season win, their gap to Frölunda, in second, cut to just 12 points along with the disposition that they can’t be beat.

Fiala takes his chance

17 year old, Kevin Fiala, has taken full advantage of his opportunity of moving up into HV71’s SHL team from J20, after being a star for Switzerland in the World Junior Championships in Malmö during December and January. The young Swiss winger found his groove in just his third and fourth match in Sweden’s top league, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist in HV71’s 2-4 win against Leksand and 1 goal and 3 assists in their 4-5 penalty shoot-out loss to Brynäs.

– I just try to play hockey and do my best, I have good players around me and they help me to score points, said Fiala to C More after his 4 point haul.

The chemistry between Fiala and Canadian Erik Christensen was put on show for the rest of the league to sweat over, in HV’s loss to Brynäs, the pair combining for 7 points between them, sending out warning signals to their opposition of things to come. The new found partnership will hopefully lead the Jönköping club away from Kvalserien danger.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2014-01-17 09:18:00 | AIK

Hurtubise: "Stay positive and play physical"

It was AIK’s first win since the 12th of December, on Thursday evening against Växjö, the Stockholmers hitting a season record of 8 matches without a win. AIK looked much more energetic than they have in recent times, playing physical and putting their opposition under pressure in their win against the Smålandiens. A performance that will help them to stay positive in their current situation of last place in the league.

– Obviously it was a frustrating stretch there, the guys were down on each other but we are just trying to stay positive, said Mark Hurtubise after AIK’s 3-1 victory on Thursday night.

The biggest issue for AIK has been their inconsistency over three periods of hockey, something that Hurtubise believes they overcame against Växjö.

– Everyone played for sixty minutes, a lot of our troubles and why we were losing was we were not putting sixty minutes together, tonight we did and it payed off.

"We need to play physical"

In their previous match against Brynäs, AIK showed similar signs of life like they did on Thursday against Växjö, but could not string it together for sixty minutes. The Stockholmers are their best when they play a physical style of hockey, but the challenge is keeping up the energy they need for the entire game.

– We need to be more physical out there. I think the last couple of games we have been doing a better job at it, but sometimes it has been in spurts. Tonight (against Växjö) we did it for sixty minutes, everyone was very physical and knew what they were doing out there for the whole game and it really helped us.

– We need to play some physical hockey, we want to be tough to play against. We don’t want to have teams coming in or going there and they are just doing what they want. We want to be physical with them and be a tough team to play against, Hurtubise continued.

– We want to get in on the forecheck and create some chances and score more goals. We want to spend as much time in their zone as possible.

AIK have been struck with quite an injury list, most recently the news that Fredrik Carlsson will not play the rest of the season due to concussion problems, adding to their depth issues for the final third of the year. AIK have been relying on their young junior talent to help them through their injury filled period, but certainly appreciated the return of Jonathan Andersson, Christian Sandberg and Michael Lindqvist, who were back in their line-up on Thursday.

– Obviously injuries hurt but I think every team has to go through it, obviously we are going through it with a couple of guys down, explains Hurtubise. The young guys that are coming in are doing a really good job.

"Still a lot of points to be had"

There are still 15 rounds of hockey to be played before the end of the season and AIK sit well below the Kvalserien cut-off line. HV71 currently occupy the final safe position in the league with 53 points, meanwhile, AIK sit 11 points back with 42.

The club is doing all that it can do in its current position, avoiding any negative train of thought and staying optimistic about the outlook of the rest of their season, a mind-set that the coaching staff are trying to embed into their players, while leading by example.

– We know that there is still a lot of hockey to be played. If we start being negative and stuff like that it won’t help us. We have been trying to stay positive and the coaches have been really good and they have been staying positive with us, explains Hurtubise.

– We know that there are still a lot of points to be had out there. I think they have been really good with us by keeping the mood up and trying not to get too down, cause that won’t help us if we start getting negative.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

 

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