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!

2015-04-27 10:50:00 | Okategoriserat

Växjö Lakers are Champions of Sweden

It took double overtime in game 6 of the 2015 SM-final for the Växjö Lakers to complete their historic and emphatic journey to the top hockey and be crowed the Champions of Sweden.

- It is so wonderful. It is such a great group with fantastic guys, said an emotionally proud team captain Tomi Kallio.

Vaxjö’s path to champion has been nothing short of inspirational. They came out at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season as one of the heavy favourites for the LeMat Trophy and rode the waves of expectation and criticism from start to finish and took what was expected of them. It was a deserving end for a team that has come together and matured as a group, from not only the beginning of this season but since their promotion into the SHL just 4 years ago.

It has been a unique group that has taken Växjö all the way in 2015 with a blend of many nationalities within the team’s line up, giving them strength and knowledge from many different hockey backgrounds, which has been a perfect potion for success. They have been able to draw on their individual experiences to develop an unbreakable bond within the group to conquer all that has been thrown at them.

"Handled it in a fantastic way"

- This year we have had expectations on us from all around, and maybe even from ourselves, but we have handled it in a fantastic way, explained assistant team captain Alexander Johansson.

- Especially after Christmas it has been a fantastic journey. What character in the group and vibe. It is many things that create that. There are many nationalities in the team, so there is no segregation. We have mediated and tried to get the same message to everyone, and it helps that everything in the locker room is in English. There is no one that falls out of context. So many nationalities and still be able to hold it together, it’s amazing.

Finnish team captain Tomi Kallio has been with Växjö since their advancement into Sweden’s most elite hockey league and could not be prouder to be the leader of the gold-winning team.

- It is such a great group with fantastic guys, to be the captain of this gang is simply wonderful, explained Kallio.

- It is always nicer (to win at home) you could say. Home is always home and I am glad for the fans who have supported us so well.

It may just be that little bit sweeter and a little more special for Växjö to knock over the double-reigning champions Skellefteå AIK in the final, after they have dominated Swedish hockey for the past five years, as a new generation of team and players look to begin their reign at the top. There was not much to separate the two teams in the 6 game series, but it was Växjö that won the little battles all over the ice to win and become champions.

"They were incredible matches"

- I think that we were a little stronger in the match series, but its small margins. Skellefteå have dominated Swedish hockey for a long time and they were incredible matches, said Växjö goalkeeper Chritopher Nihlstorp.

- We have an awesome dynamic in the group and have experienced the joy of each day to go to work.

From SHL.se English blog, a big congratulations goes out to everyone involved in the Växjö Lakers organisation on a well-deserved SM-Final victory.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-04-12 09:50:00 | Information

SM-Final preview: Skellefteå AIK vs Växjö Lakers

Here we go! It is finally upon us, what we have been waiting on for the last eight months. Two teams, the two best, head-to-head with the same goal, to lift the LeMat Trophy above their heads and be crowned Champions of Sweden.

This seven-game-series between Skellefteå and Växjö is arguably the most anticipated SM-Final in many years. A script for season 2014-2015 could not have been written any better than the way the year has unfolded, climaxing with a finals series that pits two-time reigning champions Skellefteå, who will play in their fifth consecutive finals, against Växjö, who are in unchartered territory, playing in their first ever SM-Final.

Växjö are the epiphany of what makes this sport so great in Sweden, working their way up from division 4, in 1999, taking the necessary steps through to HockeyAllsvenskan, in 2003, then onto the SHL, in 2011, to now have the chance to boast as the best team in the country in 2015.

It has been a long road to the top for the loyal Lakers fans who will be lifting the roof of VIDA Arena in game 2 of this series, and will hope to give their beloved team the extra boost that has seen them win both home games against Skellefteå this season. The ernes will then be on their men to try and snag a victory when they travel up north to Skellefteå Kraft Arena, a mission that has not been completed successfully this season.

Växjö crowd
The amazing Växjö supporters. Photo: Jonas Ljungdahl / Bildbyrån

– Växjö has never been in the finals and Skellefteå has never faced us in the finals, so it’s the first time for the match up in the finals, explains a fearless Tuomas Kiiskinen, who is Växjö’s leading playoff point scorer.

– I think we have more excitement and maybe get a little bit more energy from that, so I think that will help us, continued Kiiskinen on Växjö’s homepage.

Skellefteå will head into this final as favourite for the trophy after another impeccable season in which they were unexpectedly top of the league. A mass departure of playing personnel after their back-to-back championships last season brought forth many doubts about how Skellefteå were going to respond in 2014-2015.

But with some clever recruitment during the offseason and a rock solid coaching foundation in Norrland, all doubts were crushed and an all but familiar story once again played out for SAIK, making it to the end as the most feared team in the competition. Skellefteå will now attempt to do what no team has been able to accomplish in the league’s recorded history, by winning the regular season and becoming Swedish Champions in 3 consecutive years.

There are no questions that Skellefteå’s offence is the most clinical in the league if given any space to move or create opportunities. Their forwards have also transitioned into playoff hockey better than any other, a strong presence in front of goal by Captain Erik Forssell, has allowed his wingmen to run ragged from the outside-in and dissect their opponent’s defence almost at will throughout the 2015 postseason.

Junior Axel Holmstöm has been outstanding along with Patrik Zackrisson and Tim Heed, who have led the reigning champion’s offence thus far, and with firepower coming from all angles over the ice it will take a supernatural effort to diffuse what is the most productive offence in the SHL.

Markus Svensson
Outstanding SAIK goalie Markus Svensson. Photo: Ola Westerberg / Bildbyrån

Växjö’s defence certainly has what it takes to at least slow down the attack of SAIK, but they will need to lift to a new level in the final if they are to contain it. They will need to win the battle in front of their own net and force Skellefteå to play around them in their own zone, not through them, and look to move the puck quickly out of their defensive third and not let their opponents settle in there for long periods of time. A task much easier said than done.

A boost for Växjö is that they will see the return of offensive defenceman Noah Welch to their line-up after he missed his team’s game six victory over Frölunda for a check to the head of Max Görtz. Welch and counterpart Cory Murphy have been key men for the Lakers this season and will need to be at their best and lead the counter-attack of Växjö which has worked for them all season long.

Cristopher Nihlstorp has been one of the stand-out performers in this year’s playoffs of any player that has stepped out on the ice and has been a brick wall for his team, especially in their semi-final victory. His battle with rival net-minder Markus Svensson will be a deciding factor in the final with only .02 of a percent splitting the two goalies in save percentage in these playoffs.

Nihlstorp has held his opponents goalless 3 times in the postseason, where Svensson has been unable to record a shut-out. Whichever goaltender is able to stay the most consistent throughout this seven-game-series, under an undeniable amount of pressure from their opposing team’s offence, will likely lead their team to victory.

Related: Watch the final on Eversport in USA, Asia, Russia and South America

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-04-12 09:40:00 | Växjö Lakers HC

Växjö writing their own history

The Växjö Lakers continue to live up to their preseason expectations advancing to their first SM-Final by taking a commanding 4-2 match series victory against the Frölunda Indians. When the Smålanders go up against duel-reigning champions Skellefteå on Sunday they will be in unfamiliar territory, stepping onto the ice in the club’s first ever premier league finals series.

As their quarter final victory, it was a well-rounded performance that progressed Växjö past Frölunda in their semi-final match up. The depth within the Lakers top three lines was the overpowering factor in the series, with each player average an individual ice-time of close to 16 minutes. Their ability to spread the time within their roster and constantly diffuse offence and create attacking opportunities themselves allowed them to find the advantageous key line match ups they needed.

– We have had a lot of pressure on us and are happy that we have taken one step further than last year, said a relieved Robert Rosen. But we are not satisfied without giving Skellefteå a game.

VLH celebrates
Växjö celebrating with their home crowd. Photo: Jonas Ljungdahl / Bildbyrån

Heading into the series there was plenty of pressure riding on the shoulders of goaltender Cristopher Nihlstorp to perform consistently game after game to give his team a chance of to play off for their first Le Mat trophy. Nihlstorp answered all his critics and went far beyond any expectations completely stoning the Frölunda offence throughout the whole series by holding a measly 1.35 goals against average and a phenomenal 94.04 save percentage.

Frölunda are now left with a sour taste in their mouths after another season where their expectations were left unmet, and self-reflection is needed to once again find out where they fell short in their goal to win SM-Gold. Things just didn’t seem to fall into place for the Gothenburg club, as it hasn’t done for the last few seasons, falling one step short of the final and leaving there fans wanting more again in 2015.

Växjö now face the ruthless task of beating the two-time Swedish Champions if they are to continue to write in the club’s history books and win their first ever SM-Final. With their win against Frölunda, they have already gone on further than any Växjö troop has gone before in Sweden’s highest league, but the team is certainly not satisfied with their performance yet. They want to lift the Le Mat trophy above their heads.

– What we have done so far is ok, but it isn’t quite enough, explains Växjö veteran Tomi Kallio.

– We want more. We are not thinking about what we have done but what is in the future.

– There wasn’t a lot of celebration after our win against Frölunda which was good and shows that we are not satisfied yet.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-04-10 11:40:00 | Skellefteå AIK

Youth and experience advance Skellefteå to SM-Final

Skellefteå AIK advance to their fifth SM-Final in five consecutive years after another impressive semi-final win against Linköping. The defending champions wrote their wrongs after a small glitch in the system in game 4 to take the series comfortably 4-1.

It was a true display of the young and the old that saw Skellefteå take the semi-final in 5 games, sending Linköping on an unwanted early summer holiday. Team captain Erik Forssell was once again instrumental in front of goal throughout the entire series, proving to be an unmovable force, making life as difficult as possible for the opposing goaltending while putting away any scraps bouncing around the net.

Forssell’s 4 goals and 2 assists of productivity in this series was only bettered by the performance of break-out junior Axel Holmström, who hit the back of the net 5 times and assisted 3 times. Holmström has come of age in the 2015 postseason, scoring points in all of Skellefteå’s nine playoff games this year and leads his team with 13 points (6G+7A).

- It is fun to play, hockey life is blossoming right now, said an ecstatic Axel Holmström after Skellefteå’s semi-final win.

Axel Holmström
Axel Holmström, Skellefteå AIK. Photo: Ola Westerberg / Bildbyrån

Linköping didn’t make things easy for SAIK, largely due to some big-time play from goaltender Marcus Högberg in the final two games of the series. Högberg stood strong facing a barrage of Skellefteå shots as they tried to put away the series as quick as possible. But the 20-year-old didn’t make the task easy, saving 33-of-35 in his team’s lone win, to then save the first 33 shots of game 5 before Skellefteå broke the goaltender down to take the series.

American Broc Little continued his emphatic season throughout these playoffs, but his 5 goals and 9 assists still was not enough to take Linköping to the last stage of the finals series.

After their semi-final victory coach Hans Wallson lifted his team’s patience and ability to stick their game plan while Linköping put up a strong resistance during periods throughout the series.

- I think we stuck to the plan and were consistent, explained Walsson. We held our patience. It is easy that you can get stressed and lose your patience when you don’t reap the benefits. We have a strong belief in what we do and we showed that today.

Växjö will stand in the way of a third straight LeMat Trophy for Skellefteå, but a preferred opposition was not a factor in the SAIK change room where self-belief is the only ingredient necessary.

- Whichever team we meet will know us and we will know them. We know that the quarter final is one thing, the semi-final is one thing, and the final is something completely different. I think that we have quite enough experience to handle the situation, stated Hans Wallson.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-04-09 10:05:00 | Information

Watch SHL online worldwide

Camera
Photo: Andreas Sandström / Bildbyrån

The quest for the LeMat trophy is almost over, only the final battle between the reigning champions Skellefteå AIK and the first-time finalist Växjö Lakers remains. The struggle will be fought in a series over seven games. Skellefteå starts at home and will be having the home advantage in game seven.

A happy piece of news for all our international SHL fans out there is that the final will be available at EverSport in USA, Asia, Russia and South America. Check it out!

If you have any knowledge in Swedish (or can use a translating service), also take a look at the article about the growing international interest in SHL.

 
Tobias Josefsson
Editor
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-29 12:43:00 | Weekly reviews

Semi final previews, part two

Frölunda vs. Växjö

Season Series: Frölunda 3-2
Most recent result: Växjö 3-0 (17/02/15)

VLH-FHC

Photo: Jonas Ljungdahl / Bildbyrån

Frölunda and Växjö began the season as two of the favourites to challenge Skellefteå’s dominance and take SM-Gold. Now, as it stands, one of them will get a shot at the Le Mat Trophy when they face off in a best-of-seven semi-final series.

Both clubs have spent the majority of the season fighting over who was going to place second in the table behind reigning champions Skellefteå, where eventually Frölunda got the ascendency by one point. In their season series, Frölunda looked to have the Smålanders all figure out early, winning their first three matches of the year between the two clubs. But as the season grew older, Växjö became the wiser and were victorious in the last two encounters.

Frölunda just survived what was an epic playoff battle against a very determined Luleå hockey club, when the Norrbotteners forced the Indians to go all the way to a full seven game series. A young Frölunda team showed plenty of playoff maturity to bounce back from a 3-1 game deficit, while managing a growing list of injuries to eventually win the series by 4-3.

Luleå lured Frölunda into some good ol’ nitty-gritty hockey which slowly but surely unveiled a grinding character that had not been seen previously in the repertoire of Roger Rönnberg’s men. Frölunda will take plenty of belief and momentum into their semi-final match-up against Växjö, after their comeback win in the quarters, and will need ex-Växjö forward Ryan Lasch to stay in the form that almost single-handedly won them game 7 in their last series.

Special teams will also play a big part in the success of either team in this semi. Frölunda’s box-play has a perfect 0-for-16 record against the Växjö powerplay during their 5 games this season. Although, Växjö’s record against the Indians has been impressive in its own right, on top of only allowing 3PP goals in 23 opportunities, which isn’t a bad kill rate, they have scored 2 short-handed goals of their own within that time. Both clubs will be looking for some vast improvements from their special teams units than how they have performed so far this postseason which may give them the key edge over their opponent in this semi-final.

Växjö’s defensive set was put to the test in their quarter-final against a firing Örebro offence, where they were able to shut down arguably the league’s most clinical forward trio of Derek Ryan, Daniel Viksten and Martin Johansson. Their courage and bravery to help out goaltender Christopher Nihlstorp, by blocking 83 shots in the six-game-series, shows that every player on the team knows what it is going to take if they want to go even deeper into these playoffs.

If they are to progress to the final, goaltender Nihlstorp will need to stay consistent in each game against Frölunda, an aspect of his game that let him down in the quarter finals. Nihlstorp is the only goalie to record 2 shutouts in the postseason but as brilliant as the 31-year-old has been, he has also been as equally unimpressive and will need to iron out the kinks in his game in this series if Växjö are to advance to the final stage of the playoffs.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-29 12:40:00 | Växjö Lakers HC

Courageous defence key to Växjö advancement

ÖHK-VLH

Växjö Lakers advances. Photo: Johan Bernström / Bildbyrån

Örebro Hockey Club have been eliminated from the 2015 playoff series by a better Växjö Lakers team, but their departure can be done with their heads held high after a strong second year in the SHL and an impressive first showing in the postseason. Örebro were always going to be a difficult opponent for Växjö to overcome in the quarter finals, but the Lakers did all that was required of them, winning the series 4-2.

Örebro were an opponent that trouble Vaxjö dramatically during their regular season series, but the Smålanders were able to put their woes behind them by putting on a strong defensive performance which advances them to the semi-finals. Växjö were able to hold Örebro to an average of just 23 shots per game displaying brave and courageous defensive play, blocking 83 shots throughout this six game series.

Even more outstanding was their capability to completely depress the offensive prowess of the 2015 point king Derek Ryan and goal scoring machine Martin Johansson. The formidable pair were unable to register a single goal between them, going missing in action during large parts of this series.

Växjö’s Head Coach Sam Hallam was happy with his team’s performance, believing that they deserved to win the quarter final due to their positive play.

- Really nice. Now we want to build and try and win the next (match series) as well, said Hallam. I think that we got poorly paid sometimes for our game in this quarter final series. We won two overtime games, that’s why we are here. We are very pleased with our game, even if there are things we need to improve.

The Växjö power play is one key aspect that will need to improve if they are going to make their first ever SHL final. Scoring just 1 goal in 15 attempts against Örebro with the extra-man is a statistic that Hallam will be deeply concerned with and will be sure to come up in the team’s preparations for their semi-final meeting.

Christopher Nilstorp is the only goaltender with 2 shut-outs in the 2015 playoffs, but his consistency during the quarter finals has been under question. As brilliant as the 31-year-old has been, he has also been as equally unimpressive and will need to iron out the kinks in his game in the next series if Växjö are to advance to the final stage of the playoffs.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-28 12:20:00 | Skellefteå AIK

Semi final previews, part one

Skellefteå vs Linköping

Season series: Skellefteå 3-2
Most recent result: Skellefteå 2-1 (27/02/15)

SAIK-LHC
Photo: Ola Westerberg / Bildbyrån

History tells us that this playoff series is going to be no walk over for a Skellefteå team on their quest to a third straight SM-Gold. Past playoff battles between these two heavy weights of Swedish hockey has taught us to expect a long nail biting series with little between the two sides, just as their meetings throughout this season.

Skellefteå have had plenty of time to rest and recuperate after their 4-0 whitewash of Brynäs in the quarter finals. The reigning champions have had a total of ten days wait between rounds which can sometimes have an adverse effect during a playoff campaign, although it is expected that Skellefteå’s coaching trio will be well prepared and have their team feeling spritely heading into Saturday’s game 1 clash. The Västerbotteners' powerplay was in full force against Brynäs, converting fifty percent of its opportunities, and will need that success to continue against a box-play that has had the better of it this season, scoring only 1-out-of-14 with the extra-man against Linköping.

Markus Svensson has once again started this postseason in blistering form and will need to be at his best to diffuse the barrage of offensive talent that Linköping has in its ranks. Broc Little has been in fine touch already in these playoffs, scoring 3 goals and assisting 7, and will no doubt be a menace for his opposing goaltender once again. Little’s North American compatriots, Jeff Taffe and Jacob Micflikier, had a quiet quarter final series to their standards, but it is not envisaged that they will stay dormant for too long.

To note in the Linköping power forwards versus Skellefteå goaltending battle is that first choice net-minded Svensson has only faced the White Lions once this season, with back-up Erik Hanses standing between the pipes for the other 4 games. The goaltending pairing have had the better of their opponents with a 93.75 save percentage and only allowing an average of 1.6 goals against.

Linköping will head into this series as clear underdogs and will need to scrap it out physically if they are to rattle the reigning champions. Nichlas Hardt played superbly against HV71, using his body to open up opportunities for himself and is team offensively. Hardt and fellow hard-man Daniel Rahimi will need to continue to be strong along the outskirts and give their speedy offence the possibility to capitalize on the loose puck and turn defence into offence.

Linköping’s defensive pairings will need to be dominant in front of goal, forcing a dissecting Skellefteå offence to play around the perimeter. If Janne Pesonen or Andrew Calof are able to get even a sniff inside the shooting area they will not make a mistake and Linköping will become Skellefteå’s next victim in the 2015 playoffs.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-28 12:15:00 | Linköpings HC

Hardt takes Linköping to the semi-finals

It was another historic E4 derby between Linköping and HV71 that did not disappoint, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats for six hard-fought and tense games. As many series between these two ferocious rivals it was a back-and-forth battle that was not short of physical play and emotion, which this time around worked in the favour of Linköping who overpowered the Jönköping club to take the quarter final 4-2 on matches.

Many expected Linköping would be driven by their North American signings who carried them through the season with their devastating offensive productivity, although it was an unlikely import who played the hero for the White Lions, scoring the game-winning-goals in matches 5 and 6, progressing his team to the semis.

Nichlas Hardt
Nichlas Hardt. Photo: Stefan Persson / Bildbyrån

Danish forward Nichlas Hardt proved to be the key ingredient in Linköping’s success against HV71 in this year’s playoffs, scoring 2 GWG’s plus another 2 goals which already halves his scoring tally of 8, which he scored during the entire regular season. It is not only the scoresheet where Hardt has impressed, he also proved to be a menace to his opponents by throwing his weight around, leading the league with the most playoff hits.

- I think we played awesome. I am so proud of the team, explained an ecstatic Nichlas Hardt after the series win.

- Of course it’s nice to score goals and points. Someone must score goals out there, if it is not me then it is someone else. To win is the most important.

Linköping’s ability to play playoff style hockey and grind out a result proved to be the true difference between the two the clubs. With each and every match having more swings than a moody teenager, Linköping were able to harness the momentum, when it was on their side, and turn that into a result for their club. Moving forward, Roger Melin’s men will need to embody their dexterity to ride their waves of momentum when they come up against a stronger and more dangerous opponent in the semi-finals.   

For HV71 it was a familiar story, crashing out of the playoffs in the quarter finals for the fourth straight year. Another disappointing result where expectations were left unmet after a season, which in stages, promised so much. Erik Christensen was a clear stand-out in a beaten team, scoring 5 goals, in clinical, highlight reel fashion, while shooting with fifty percent efficiency during the series.

Goaltender Gustaf Wesslau once again had an under-par playoff performance in comparison with his regular season. Going against an offence that was always going to test the 7 year veteran, Wesslau could not come up with the big performances that his needed him to provide if they were going to progress further in these playoffs.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-23 13:15:00 | Teams

Skellefteå flex muscles in series whitewash

SAIK
Skellefteå AIK clinched the semi finals. Photo: Ola Westerberg / Bildbyrån

There were no surprises in the quarter final between Skellefteå and Brynäs, the reigning champions giving the 10th place Gävle club an expected 4-0 match series hiding.

It was a typical dominant performance from Skellefteå who took command in each of their games by scoring the all-important first goal, which eventuated into unassailable leads. It was an impressive beginning to their title defence, out-classing their inferior opponents in every sense of the word.

– In the first three games our effectivity was not even close to theirs, said Brynäs coach Thomas Berglund to C More after the series loss.

– Their goalie (Markus Svensson) also did great. In the last match we were not able to muster the energy to pressure Skellefteå.

Markus Svensson has proved in 2014 that he can lead Skellefteå, from between the pipes, all the way through the playoffs and he has started the 2015 campaign in sensational form. When called upon, Svensson showed that he will be up for it once again and will be hard to beat night in and night out throughout his team’s playoff run. His 93.33 save percentage illuminates his quality against Brynäs and his striking form will be expected to be maintained throughout the postseason.

Special teams was also a large contributor in the series whitewash with both SAIK’s power play and box play in scintillating form. A 50 percent PP conversion will have Skellefteå’s unknown semi-final opponents up for hours, going through tapes of what has become a clinical man-advantage set. While the coaches are having their sleepless nights they will also be spending time trying to work out how to deconstruct the impenetrable penalty-killing unit, which only allowed one goal against after 15 possible opportunities.

Although it was a complete domination throughout this quarter-final, Brynäs were not ever in the same realm of quality as the two-time running champions. Skellefteå did what they needed to do to make sure that only 4 games were needed in this series, but there is still room for improvement. At times poor puck control let them down and forced them to rely on their goaltender to save them from any trouble, they also found it hard to shut-down a menacing Anton Rödin, who managed to score 4 goals in the quarter final.

Not a completely refined performance may give their next opponents a glimmer of hope, but with time to rest and recover and buff out any blemishes in their game you can expect a focused Skellefteå in the semi-final with one goal on their minds, a third Le Mat trophy.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-12 13:38:00 | Okategoriserat

Quarter final previews, part two

Two of the game series in the Quarter final round begin Friday night, and it's time to take a look at the four teams involved.

Växjö vs. Örebro

Season series: Örebro 4-1
Most recent result: Örebro 3-2 OT (10/02/15)

VLH-ÖHK
Photo: Alexander Viktorson / Örebro Hockey

It is the unknown that ignites the anticipation as two playoff amateurs go head-to-head in what could be the most exciting quarter-final matchup in the 2015 postseason. Växjö have only appeared in one playoffs previously, bowing out in the semi-final to Färjestad just last season, meanwhile Örebro will make their first appearance in the club’s history in 2015.

If their regular season series is anything to go by then we are set for a neck and neck battle that has the possibility to swing either way. Even though Örebro won 4-out-of-5 games between the two teams during the season only one match was won by a margin larger than 1 goal, while both teams manage to turn a 0-2 score line into a victory.

Växjö to progress: Växjö have shown enough class season long to nullify any critics that their poor record against Örebro is enough for them to stumble on the first step of the 2015 playoffs, but they will have to show loads of improvement against their season bogey.

Goal production is the obvious area were improvement is needed for the Lakers, after only scoring 11 goals in the 5 meetings this year. A large contribution to the poor goal scoring form has been their inability to convert with the extra-man against Örebro, with a horrific 8.33 percent success rate off 12 opportunities. If they are to progress they must find a way to put the puck past goaltender Julius Hudacek and into the back of the net.

Örebro to progress: 2014/15 Point King Derek Ryan has found a liking to playing Växjö, scoring 3G+4A against the Lakers in their 5 games this year, but late season bloomer Marko Anttila could be the key to Örebro’s success. Anttila has come alive since joining the top-line late in the season but has always caused trouble against Växjö this year, scoring 4g+1a in 4 games, 2 of those goals in their last meeting in February including the OT winner.

Julius Hudacek has had a 92.79 save percentage against Växjö this season and will need to continue his good form if Örebro are to progress to the semi-finals.

Linköping vs. HV71

Season series: Linköping 4-1
Most recent result: Linköping 4-2 (21/02/15)

HV71-LHC
Photo: Stefan Persson / Bildbyrån

No matter what part of the country you live in you can appreciate and enjoy the excitement of the E4 playoff derby between Linköping and HV71. Rivalry is what takes playoff hockey to the next level and with no love lost between these two clubs it is sure to be feisty battle up and down the motorway. Linköping have certainly had one over HV in their season series, but don’t let the 4-1 scorline fool you.

In 3-of-4 LHC victories  they have trailed or the score has been tied heading into the 3rd period, when HV71 have forgotten that they were in an arena playing hockey, allowing their rivals a 2-9 scoring differential. While in HV71’s one win this season they also game back from a 3-4 deficit after two periods to take the game 6-4. 

Linköping to progress: Slow starts will need to be taken off the agenda in Linköping as they cannot expect HV71 to let them back into games in the third period during the postseason. A key to their season dominance over HV was the efficiency of their power play which converted at a 26% success rate.

If their power play or top two scoring lines can get off the mark early and rattle opposing goaltender Wesslau, then this playoff series could mirror the one had over the regular season. David Rautio (95,33SA%, 0,97GAA against HV71) will need to continue his strong performances against HV, which has given his team the opportunity to come back late in their victories this season.

HV71 to progress: It is now Gustaf Wesslau’s time to shine in Jönköping and may be the last time he gets a chance to prove himself as a playoff goaltender in Jönköping, the 30-year-old going off contract at the season’s end. His record has been far from great against Linköping this season (88,66SA%, 3.26GAA) but has the opportunity in the postseason to redeem himself and silence his critics.

It will not only be Wesslau that will need to be on guard, but also the defence that will need to be on top of their game if they are to progress. With the likes of Taffe, Little and McFlikier causing as much mischief as they have all season long, it is going to take a special effort from the HV blue-line to contain them, down low and in front of their own net.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-11 15:38:00 | Okategoriserat

Quarter final previews, part one

The regular season of SHL has ended and it's time to take a closer look at the first two quarter finals, starting Thursday night.

Frölunda vs. Luleå

Season series: Frölunda 3-2
Most recent result: Luleå 3-0 (05/03/15)

LHF-FHC
Photo: Peter Skaugvold / Bildbyrån

Statistically there is no closer series in the 2015 playoffs than the match-up between Frölunda and Luleå, and it can be expected that this will directly translate out on to the ice during this best-of-seven-series. Throughout the year Frölunda have merely squeaked by Luleå, winning 3-of-5-games, including 1 win in OT and one in a shoot-out.

Over the course of the 5 games Frölunda outscored their northern opponents by 9-8 after being outshot 112-115. Both teams box-play have been outstanding in their series, holding their opponents to 5 percent effectivity.

Frölunda to progress: Unnecessary and untimely penalties have been the bane of Coach Roger Rönnberg’s existence this season, which have constantly killed any forward momentum that his team has been able to capture and has ultimately lost them games. If they can stay disciplined and the likes of Mathis Olimb and Andreas Johnson build some confidence early in the series the Indians will be hard to beat.

The fans in Gothenburg will also certainly play their role in possible victory by creating the daunting atmosphere that has not allowed Luleå to take a win in Scandinavium this season.

Luleå to progress: It has not been the best year for Luleå this season, only qualifying for the playoffs through a 2-0 in matches win over Djurgården in the play-in qualification. But now they have arrived in the final eight, it would be foolish to count them out in the quest for the Le Mat Trophy. Goal scoring has let LHF down all season, scoring an average of only 2.3 goals per game, and will need to improve if they are to progress.

One of the most eagerly anticipated performances of the playoffs will be that of goaltender Joel Lassinantti, who will cap off an incredible rookie season with a chance to lead his team through the playoffs.

Lassinantti has impressed all year long during his first season in the SHL and heads into the quarter-final coming off a strong postseason debut, allowing only 1 goal in his team’s two play-in victories. If Luleå are to progress, Lassinantti will need to continue his phenomenal form through the entire quarter-final series.

Skellefteå vs. Brynäs

Season series: Skellefteå 5-0
Most recent result: Skellefteå 5-4SO (10/02/15)

SAIK-BIF
Photo: Ola Westerberg / Bildbyrån

It wasn’t so long ago that Brynäs were involved in discussion about the Qualification Series, but now, after a 2-1 in matches win against Färjestad in the play-in, are now in the conversation of taking on reigning champions Skellefteå in the quarter-finals.

If the whole season was an uphill battle for the Gävle club, then they have just hit base-camp at the bottom of Everest. Skellefteå have had the complete ascendency over Brynäs this season and it will be a big ask for Thomas Berglund’s men to produce another miracle.

Skellefteå to progress: The new-look Skellefteå have already ticked the box of SHL regular season winners and will be looking to continue to prove their point by becoming SHL Champions. It will be business as usual as they head into this quarter-final battle against their familiar playoff foe.

SAIK have had time to rest and recoup their energy and focus everything they have on winning a third SM-Final in consecutive years. Saying that, they must not look too far ahead. They must perpetuate what they have done all season long and exhibit the depth offensively and defensively that has them heading into the playoffs as short-priced favourites.

Brynäs to progress: Brynäs have impressed, fighting their way back from a disastrous season to now making an unlikely playoff berth, but the fighting cannot stop, a sense of satisfaction cannot be tasted yet. First-liners Bill Sweat, Greg Scott and Anton Rödin have doubled the productivity of any other player in Gävle this season and if there is any glimmer of hope for Brynäs this series, it will ride on the backs of these three men.

Defensively, Brynäs has definitely struggled this year and a miraculous turn-around needs to take place if they are to be any chance of progression. Goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum has faced more shots than any other goalie in the SHL this season and has been a shining star in net and will now have to be a superstar if Brynäs are to get even a sniff of a semi-final spot.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-03-03 15:00:00 | Okategoriserat

Playoff picture takes shape

It has been a a very revealing week that has told the fortune of many clubs, the future looks glum for some but has glistened for others as the playoff picture in the crystal ball begins to come clear.

Facing many serious question marks at the beginning of the season, after the mass-departure of key players, reigning champions Skellefteå AIK answered those questions with exclamations all year round. It has been another machinelike performance that has won the men from the north another SHL regular season title for the third year running, after their 6-2 victory against Leksand assure that they will finish the season with the best record in the league.

It is impossible to breakdown and pinpoint any one specific aspect of Skellefteå's game that has once again marked them as the hot favorite for SM-Gold, and there are not enough fingers or toes to count how many ways they impress above the rest in the competition. It has been once again their all-round ability to make every cog turn in cohesion all season long that is based around a winning culture driven at the helm by the coaches and leaders of the club.

The success of GM Lars Johansson's off-season signings replaced all that was lost from the club after their title defence in 2014, while coaches Hans Wallson, Bert Robertsson and Stefan Klockare maintained and managed the standard of the on-ice performance like there was never a reshuffle of personnel within the team.

The mid-season signing of Janne Pesonen has proven to be vital to the end of season success for the SHL Champions. The Finn has been in scintillating goal scoring form since settling in to the club, adding 3 goals to his tally this week, making it 15 goals in just 18 games, just one goal behind team-topper Andrew Calof, who has played 51 games.

Leksand and MODO to Direct Qualification

From one end of the table to the other, Leksand IF and MODO Hockey are guaranteed to be fighting for an 2015-16 SHL contract in the reformatted Direct Qualifying Series (DirektKval). Both clubs showed moments of brilliance throughout the year, but they were only just moments, as consistency proved to be the biggest challenge and an unachievable task. Although the format is different in 2015, it is a familiar challenge for Leksand to be fighting for a place in Sweden's top league, finding themselves in a qualifying series for the eleventh time in the last twelve seasons. For MODO it will be the first time since 2011 they will need to save the pride of Örnsköldsvik from elimination from top-flight hockey and only the second time in the club's history. 

Securing their places above the direct qualification line, assuring their spot in the SHL next season, was Brynäs and Djurgården. Both teams flirted with danger in spurts this season but now live to fight another day (or year) in the SHL and even get a shot at the playoffs through the play-in series. Luleå HF will also join in in the play-in fun but the final place is the only position not assured in the playoff picture for 2015. Färjestad look the most likely candidate, needing a small miracle to take the final direct playoff spots from the grasp of HV71 and Örebro HK.

Point king down to wire

The race for the individual honor of 'Point King' brings plenty of excitement to the final two rounds of the regular season with late-season bloomer Derek Ryan taking over the top rung on the table this week from fellow North American Jeff Taffe. Taffe has lead the league in point proficiency for what seems like the entire season, but now risks being pipped at the post by compatriot Ryan. Örebro's Ryan leads the league with 43 assists and with his 1g+1a against Skellefteå on Saturday, now has a one point lead heading into the final week of the season.

By Thursday night all will become crystal clear and the process of expansion to a 14 team league will begin, not to mention a thrilling post-season.

 
Jeremy Darke
English Blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-02-24 12:40:00 | Weekly reviews

Momentum building towards playoffs

There are just five rounds of hockey before the play-in and playoffs are upon the league and it is evident that all teams are jostling for vital position, thrusting themselves as high up in the pecking order as they can before the regular season concludes.

If it wasn't apparent earlier in the year, it is as clear as day now, that the Växjö Lakers have their eyes set on SM Gold in 2015. There is no hotter team at the moment in Sweden than the men from Småland, who are riding a wave that is gaining in stature with each and every drop of the puck. It has been over 11 games since Växjö walked away from an ice-rink point-less, losing only once in that timeframe in overtime. It has been a phenomenal 28 point stretch that has taken the Lakers to second in the standings which now puts them in an ideal position for an all important home final. 

It has been a magnificent offensive display over the last seven weeks by Växjö, lead by 2011/12 leading point scorer Robert Rosén, who has posted some prolific numbers in his team's charge, reminding the fans just how good he really is, after a some-what quite 2012-13 campaign. Rosén has scored 10 goals and 3 assists in the 11 game run, highlighting his flourishing connection with Canadian Nick Johnson which has blossomed all season long. Johnson contribution has also been significant (6 goals + 5 assists) along with fellow North American Cory Murphy (9 goals + 1 assist) throughout the point streak, illuminating the current depth that is within their squad. Also adding more American firepower to the lineup since January has been Josh Hennessy. The playmaking center has fit into the Växjö system with ease, finding his feet with 4 goals and 6 assists in just 15 games.

Örebro continue to gain respect

This season's surprise packet has undoubtably been Örebro HK, and after turning some heads during the course of the year, are now making a remarkable push as a true contender for the Le Mat Trophy. Last seasons newcomers have been on a run of their own in recent times, winning 8 of their last 10, and look set to make their first playoff birth in the club's fairy-tale history. It has been Örebro's first-liners, Derek Ryan (4G, 15P), Martin Johansson (4G, 11P) and most recently, Finn Marko Antilla (6G, 7P), who has taken the place of inured Daniel Viksten, that have lead from the front during the past 10 games. With the first line producing, as a scoring line should, it has been an all-round team effort that has taken the scalps of all of the other current top-six teams, excluding league leaders Skellefteå, during their most recent meetings, creating a real sense of hope in castle town.


Foto: Johan Bernström / BILDBYRÅN /

It has not only been Örebro's on-ice performance that has gained the respect of the hockey community this week, but their public display of support for Sweden's Pride Festival. The club left their usual red and black jerseys in the change room, when they took on Frölunda on Saturday, in exchange for a symbolic multi-colored strip that represents the gay community, on their day of celebration. But that was not all, after the win the Huda-Show took center stage again, led by fearless leader Julius Hudacek, a six man contingent performed a rendition of 'YMCA' for the home fans.

Deep in the mid-table battle, Linköping, went undefeated this past week, building their confidence heading into the pointy end of the year with a four-game winning streak. With Jeff Taffe leading the point scorers this season and tallying 9 assists in his last 8 games, and current highest goal scorer Broc Little scoring 7 goals in just as many games, it is no surprise that Linköping are making their claim as one to watch out for heading into SM-Slutpel 2015. 

Favorites falter 

Adding to the excitement and uncertainty of the lead up to the playoffs was the uncharacteristic performances of both pre-season favourites Skellefteå and Frölunda. Sitting first and second to begin the week, both top of the table teams hit a stumbling block, losing 2-of-3 games this week, proving that they are not immortal and can beat. Although, Skellefteå did bounce back in their third match of the week against Djurgården to be the first team to reach the coveted 100 point mark with a 5-2 victory. 

And on a positive note for Frölunda, late-season signing Ryan Lasch continued his astonishing return to the SHL with the Indians. It has been a dream two week induction for the fast-flying American, who has already won the hearts of his new fans in Göteborg. Lasch had the crowd cheering his name after being on the ice in Scandinavium for just 30 minutes, wasting no time scoring his first goal for the club. He has then gone from strength to strength since that moment, scoring 3 goals and 6 assists in his 7 games for Frölunda after making the move from Finland. Although it was a rocky week, it would be a bold move to count out Lasch and his Frölunda teammates in the final spurt towards the playoffs.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

2015-02-11 12:05:00 | Weekly reviews

Big announcements in SHL

CHL Champions
CHL Champions Luleå Hockey. Photo: Carl Sandin / Bildbyrån

It has been a quiet week on the ice with almost all teams getting a week off for a little rest and recovery during an international competition break. It also gave them a chance to watch the Champions Hockey League final which saw Frölunda HC take on Luleå HF in the inaugural competition, and it was the men from the north that became champions with an amazing third period comeback victory, beating their SHL counterparts 4-2.

There has been plenty of important housekeeping going on around the SHL this week with the announcement of the official SHL Awards 2015 that will be held on the 27th of April 2015. The awards will be broadcast live on C More and will showcase all of the high-profile personalities of the league and will award all of the year's top performers and stars.

The winners will be chosen by a jury of the league's twelve head-coaches and captains as well as twenty-four carefully selected ice-hockey profiles and journalists from both national and local media.

– It is time to recognize the amazing achievements as a player and leader for an official award of the SHL. We have now found a good format and the opportunity to do it together with C More, something I'm excited about, says SHL's CEO Jörgen Lindgren.

SHL Awards 2015

The evening will be highlighted by the following awards:

  • Best goalkeeper
  • Best defenseman
  • Best forward
  • Best coach
  • Best rookie
  • Most Valuable Player

To qualify for the year's best rookie a new criteria will now have to be met compared to previous years.

- To qualify a player cannot turn any older than 25-years-old the year in which the season begins.

- The player cannot have played more than 30 games in any top-tier professional league.

- Players can only be nominated as rookie of the year once.

- Winner's junior development club receives 50 000kr.

The presentation will also congratulate the year's:

  • Regular season winner
  • Swedish champion
  • Highest point scorer
  • Highest goal scorer
  • Best save-percentage goaltender
  • C More's Fan favorite
  • Best Referee (voted by the SHL players)
  • Best Goal
  • Best Save

It is a jam-packed agenda for the SHL Awards 2015 and it is set to be an unforgettable evening to cap off what has been a fantastic season so far.

It was also announced early last week that the schedule for the 2015/16 season will be reduced from 55 to 52 games in the regular season, containing 14 teams. The season will also entail the spectacle of back-to-back games, where two clubs will play at each other's home arena in two consecutive days.

 
Jeremy Darke
English blog
red@shl.se
 

 

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