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2016-04-25 21:10:00 | Okategoriserat
It has been 11 years between drinks but the wait only makes it all that much sweeter. Frölunda's 4-1 match series win over Skellefteå is their fourth championship in the club's history.
Frölunda showed in all of three of their finals series' that they were going to give whatever it takes to win the double crown and be the winners of the Champions Hockey League and become Swedish Champions.
Their interest in doing the tough jobs when it mattered most, the unglorified tasks of blocking shots, winning pucks in the corners and back-checking for example are what has made this team the best in Sweden.
Their stars stepped up in the playoffs, as stars should. Ryan Lasch continued his point scoring form all the way through to the final whistle of the year, tallying 19 points in the postseason with 8 goals and 11 assists. But what is more impressive is that he brought alongside him, 20-year-old, Artturi Lehkonen, who Roger Rönnberg has showed an abundance of confidence in, and rightly so. Lehkonen also topped the point scoring standings with Lasch on 19 points, but that is not where the accolades should stop. As the rest of the team in Frölunda, Lehkonen also had the same desperation to do the hard work lying in front of shooting pucks and hunting his man through the natural zone, which is no doubt why Rönnberg had so much belief in the young Finn.
Veteran minded defence was a highlight in Frölunda's quarterfinal and semi-final victories and it was no different against Skellefteå. Oscar Fantenberg, Henrik Tömmernes, Lukas Bengtsson, Jacob Larsson, Oliver Lauridsen and Elias Fälth all stepped up another level when it was needed. They limited their mistakes and dealt with the fore-checking pressure that Skellefteå had tormented teams with all season long. They also contributed offensively, firing pucks on the net and were the core of Frölunda's offensive movements.
And what can be said about the calmness and ice-cold composure of “back-up” goaltender Johan Gustafsson. Lars Johansson has been superb all season long and when he was injured in the middle of Frölunda's semi-final series against Luleå, Frölunda's chances of SM-Gold were expected to take a hit. But Gustafsson proved that he is also world-class and that he can be a first-choice goalie and lead a team to victory in an SM-Final.
– It went in waves but we found a way to win. It is as it was throughout the year when it is needed, we are best. We knew last fall that we had something special. We have the breadth and the squad. It's just to thank the management that built the squad. It was a while ago there was gold so it's really nice to feel the feeling again, said Joel Lundqvist to C More.
– It is fantastic. I haven't realized it yet. It's incredible. What efficiency we have and we have match winners who step forward when needed, says Roger Rönnberg to C More.
– Getting MVP is stuff you dream about when you are little. You need to pinch yourself in the morning to see if it is true, said Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy winner Johan Sundström as the playoff MVP.
2016-04-15 15:43:00 | Okategoriserat
After 52 games and another 5 weeks of playoff hockey the ultimate climax now awaits when teams one and two are left standing to face each other for the Le Mat Trophy. Skellefteå AIK and Frölunda HC spent the majority of the season fighting it out at the top of the table, jostling for position to finish the regular season on top of the standings.
Skellefteå won that battle, taking their fifth consecutive regular season title, but Frölunda were there the whole way pushing the issue until the final few weeks of the season. What happened throughout the year has been wiped clean and there is only one goal left for both teams, be the first to four in this best-of-seven-series.
Frölunda were the only team in the regular season to win their internal series against Skellefteå, taking 3-out-of-4 wins and outscoring the Northerners 16-11.
Travel will play its part in this series especially over the first two games that will be played on consecutive days, on Saturday and Sunday.
In the playoffs, depth is key, and both of these teams have shown in their respective quarterfinal and semi-final battles that they have the legs across all four lines to overcome the gruelling demand that postseason hockey requires.
Skellefteå: Since joining Skellefteå in November, Matias Ritola has been a point-per-game player and has not slowed down in the playoffs, with 11 points in 11 games. His combination with Andrew Calof and Patrik Zackrisson has needed to be constantly contained by their opponents during the playoffs, spending most of their time deep in their attacking zone controlling the puck, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
John Norman centers Skellefteå’s other attacking weaponed, with Jimmie Ericsson and Martin Lundberg who began to come to life in the playoffs in the final 3 games against Växjö. Ericsson’s presence on the ice, especially in front of the net, frees up Norman to fire pucks on net taking, advantage of his captain’s screen who also has the notion to bang in any scraps left behind.
Pär Lindholm has also showed that he is a menace that is not to be forgotten, creating chances wherever he can.
Frölunda: 2015-16 SHL Point King, Ryan Lasch has been up to his old tricks throughout the playoffs leading the league, once again, with his 6 goals and 7 assists in the postseason. Patrik Carlsson stands in the middle of Lasch and super-talent Artturi Lehkonen, the young Finn, who has set the playoffs alight with some flashy goals and postman-style deliveries. Lehkonen sits just under line-mate Lasch in the points tally with 7 goals and 5 assists.
Besides the super-power of Lasch, Carlsson and Lehkonen, Frölunda’s goal production has been evenly spread with their other three lines chipping in when needed. Spencer Abbott returned from injury in Frölunda’s final semi-final game, taking his place beside Joel Lundqvist and Joey Crabb. This trio’s ability to divert some of the attention from their top-line will be key in this series.
21-year-old, Andreas Johnson’s 2 goals and 2 assists these playoffs speaks that he has gone missing at times. He may be a dormant monster lurking in the shadows that awakens in the SM-Final.
Skellefteå: In their own zone, there is no safer pairings in the SHL than what Skellefteå has defending their own net. Their composure and ability to hold their opponents to the outside contains most offensive threats.
The pair of Tim Heed and Niclas Burström have become an attacking weaponed for Skellefteå. Their offensive vision through the neutral zone to find the best passing option creates space and chances for their forwards. They both possess a rocket and a quick release from the blue line that finds the net in one way or another.
Young prospect, Sebastian Aho has also looked dangerous offensively, getting intact with his attacking nature, as stay-at-home partner Anton Lindholm watches his back.
Frölunda: The defence of Frölunda has stepped up a level this postseason and has been a key to making their first final in 10 years. Their stubbornness in allowing both Djurgården and Luleå to enter their own zone with possession of the puck has allowed them to control a lot of the movement within their defensive zone.
Oscar Fantenberg has found a maturity this postseason that he has not displayed earlier in his career. He has been one of the best players on a team of superstars during these playoffs. Also lifting is Henrik Tömmernes, who has been dangerous on and off the puck creating chances from his back position.
Skellefteå: Markus Svensson has started every game in this year’s playoffs, and don’t expect anything to change. He has been a rock all season for Skellefteå and has got the job done, so far, in the postseason.
Svensson, for the most part, was able to diffuse the SHL’s most dangerous forward trio, Växjö’s Robert Rosén, Richard Gynge and Tuomas Kiiskinen, which will give him a confidence moving into the final.
There still is another consistency level that Svensson will need to hit in this final if he is to insure a win for Skellefteå. He has been a brick wall at times, but has lacked a concentration that sees his form lapse occasionally and will need to eradicate it out of his game.
Frölunda: The big question heading into the SM-Final is the fitness of Frölunda goaltender Lars Johansson. Johansson has been the SHL’s best goaltender during the season and has posted incredible numbers this postseason with a 1.43 goals-against-average and a 0.946 save percentage.
Johan Gustafsson did his part coming into Frölunda’s semi-finals in game 3 and led his team to the series win against Luleå, allowing an average of 1.70 goals per game.
Although, Gutafsson played well, there is no replacing the importance of Lars Johansson in the final. His fitness, which Frölunda have been very tight-lipped about, will be put under the microscope under the first two back-to-back final games on the weekend.
Skellefteå: Saying John Norman has had a breakout year is an understatement, racking up 42 points (17G+25A) this year compared to the 13 points he managed the previous two seasons.
He has become one of the best shooters in the league this year and finds his space by utilizing his speed to give himself a shooting lane or a clear path to the goal.
Norman can change momentum in a split-second and continuing his hot playoff form may break the series for Skellefteå.
Frölunda: The more Henrik Tömmernes gets involved the better Frölunda become. His offensive vision has been a highlight through these playoffs, creating danger with his passes out of the defensive and neutral zones.
The 25-year-old, is also a danger in the offensive zone, finding ways to get involved and open up the opposing defence. He creates space for himself giving him time to put pucks on net, taking advantage of the presence of his forwards in front of the goaltender.
If Skellefteå do not keep one eye on Tömmernes he will cause damage.
2016-04-14 10:21:00 | Okategoriserat
Skellefteå were one second away from moving on to the SM-Final in game six, but a green mushroom appeared and Växjö took their 1-UP extra life and pulled off a miracle to take the win. In game 7 every fan's hair on their skin, in Skellefteå's Kraft Arena, must have been standing on its end with a sense of déjá vu when Växjö once again tied game 7, with just 36 seconds left in the game. But the Smålandingers fortune run out there. They were unable to take advantage of a 4 minute powerplay at the beginning of overtime, which resulted in the inevitable, when Erik Forssell sent Skellefteå into their sixth-consecutive final, 7:44 into the extra-period.
It was a series full of special moments that gave a feeling of what playoff hockey is all about. A series that could have just as well been the SM-Final itself, giving both teams a rollercoaster of emotion riding euphoria and bitter disappointment within what must have felt like just seconds apart.
Växjö came into this series with nothing to fear, and fret they did not, taking the regular season champions all the way to the wire. The loss of number one goaltender Christopher Nihlstorp to injury in the dying seconds of game 4 didn't help his team's cause, however, Stefan Stéen did not do anything wrong in relief. Växjö showed multiple times in this series why they were the 2015 Swedish Champions, showing the heart of giant and a composure that got them through the high pressure situations (besides the final overtime, of course). Robert Rosén, Richard Gynge and Tuomas Kiiskinen showed their class once again through this semifinal, but, unfortunately, fell just one goal short of a consecutive SM-Final berth.
– Skellefteå once again find themselves, better yet, have worked themselves into another SM-Final. They almost had it taken from them by the never-say-die Växjö Lakers, but, as usual, SAIK found a way to get the wins they needed and give them a chance to regain their reign from 2014, as the champions of Sweden. Defensively, Skellefteå were clinical in this semi, not allowing their opponents many quality scoring chances. Växjö were able to take advantage of the few and far between chances that were on offer, giving a false read on the complete control that the Västerbotteners had in their own zone, and on the forecheck throughout most of this series.
– This series has been an emotional rollercoaster, explained a relieved Skellefteå coach, Hans Wallson after the game 7 victory. This series has been tremendous. Two teams that have used up every millimetre on the ice.
2016-04-14 09:33:00 | Okategoriserat
There is certainly no love lost between Frölunda and Luleå and this semifinal only escalated those feelings, especially from the Northerners side as they exit the playoffs with a bitter taste in their mouths, leaving the 2016 season empty handed at the peril of their new archenemy.
Just as they did earlier this year in the Champions Hockey League, Frölunda sent Luleå out of the playoffs in the semifinal, although, this time in game 6 of the best-of-seven-series. This rivalry between the two clubs only made this semi even more of a grit-and-grind, giving their fans their moneys worth. Frölunda took the opening game of the series 1-0, with a late third period goal by Elias Fälth increasing the pressure for Luleå to come out at Coop Norrbotten Arena and equalize the series. The tension already boiled over half way through the warm up with both teams coming together on the centreline for some good ol' push and shove, before the game had even began.
Even though Luleå came out and tied the series at home in game 2 and once again in game 4, they were unable to consistently match that determination and fight that they had leading into their first home game of the series. Luleå had been their best all year when they played hard and with a bit of mongrel and they were able to snatch two victories from Frölunda in this semifinal when they unleashed the wild dog and pressured Frölunda. But the hunger they needed to take them to the SM-Final went missing in periods throughout this series, no more so than in game 6 when they saw their season end with an 8-2 loss at home.
Frölunda booked their first trip to an SM-Final in 10 years by continually putting the pressure on their opponents, forcing them to step up and play big to make things happen. Depth is the most important thing in the postseason, when you have to play on every other day. Frölunda's entire roster contributed throughout this series, consistently doing the job that coach Roger Rönnberg set them out to do. Even, back-up goaltender Johan Gustafsson did his part in the final 3 games, filling in for the SHL's top goalie, Lars Johansson after he went off late in game 3 after a collision with Luleå's Victor Hedman.
– It was our depth that (won) it, said Frölunda captain, Joel Lundqvist to CMore after they booked their ticket to the final.
– We have four lines and two good goalkeepers. That "JG" (Johan Gustafsson) came in and played so good as he did when Lasse (Lars Johansson) was injured is huge for the team. Everybody did their share in this, continued Lundqvist.
2016-03-31 13:55:00 | Weekly reviews
Season series: Skellefteå 3-1
To be honest, the thought of a northern derby in the semi-final was a hair-tingling one, but to have a final replay in the postseason the following year makes us hockey fans run on the spot on our tippy-toes squealing like school girls. The thought never crossed my mind heading into the postseason that Skellefteå wouldn’t be there in the SM-Final fighting for the Le Mat Trophy, but when the realization hit that they were to face a piping-hot Växjö, who are full of confidence, I saw the image for the first time in my head.
There is not a team in the SHL that doesn’t second guess their chances when going up against Skellefteå AIK, but if there is a team that is allowed, maybe, to lack that type of respect, it is Växjö, especially in the playoffs. That is definitely not to say that Växjö do not need to respect the regular season Champions, quite the opposite, but they are the only team that has proven that they have what it takes to out-class the classiest over a seven-game-series since Brynäs, in 2012.
After their storming four-straight victories in the quarterfinals against Linköping HC, who had the reigning Champions pinned down after the first two games of the series, it feels as though Växjö’s eyes have glazed over and they are ready to make a similar run at the Le Mat Trophy as they did in 2015. Robert Rosén, Richard Gynge and Tuomas Kiiskinen were back doing what they do best and will need to terrorise Skellefteå AIK as they did in last year’s final. But, as important as Växjö’s top 3 are, it is the next three lines that will make the difference in this series. Against Linköping, the series-changer was the Lakers ‘less-known’ that played just as an important role as the top three. Patrik Lundh, Erik Josefsson and Alexander Johansson (just to name a few) were instrumental in not only shutting down LHC’s best players, but also creating offense and shifting momentum as well. Their task will be that much harder against Skellefteå, but they will need to be just as effective if Växjö are to continue their run.
Hans Wallson and his coaching staff have not created a dynasty in Skellefteå on the back of not learning from their mistakes. Sure, Växjö can come in to this semifinal with a little psychological advantage after last year, but there is no doubt that Wallson knows how to right the wrongs of 2015, which they have already shown with 3 convincing wins from 4 meetings during the 2015-16 season. It was no fluke that Skellefteå casted aside HV71 in the quarterfinals 4-0, and it can’t be forgotten that they too are high on confidence and are full of focus, as usual. They were once again clear front-runners during the regular season and have the deepest roster in the SHL.
The goaltending battle between Christopher Nihlstorp and Skellefteå’s Marcus Svensson will once again make or break this semi for either team. Svensson’s quarterfinal performance against HV71 got them through the series, but it wasn’t spectacular, although, conditions can be difficult when your team is in such command as Skellefteå were. Nonetheless, Rosén, Gynge and Kiiskinen will not be as forgiving when chances pop up as the HV offence was, therefore, Svensson will need to be at his best if he is to diffuse the firepower thrown at him. Nihlstorp, on the other hand, was in vintage form in his final three games of the quarterfinals, and will need to transform into a brick wall each night when he stands against the relentless Skellefteå offence.
2016-03-31 13:53:00 | Weekly reviews
Season series: Frölunda 3-1
Since the Champions Hockey League Final in 2015, a rivalry between two unlikely foes has begun to erupt and boil over into one of the most competitive matchups in the SHL. Frölunda got their revenge for Luleå’s 2015 CHL final victory when they knocked the Northerners out of the semifinals in the corresponding tournament, in 2016, with a come from behind victory over the two match series. Although Frölunda have dominated their 2015-16 series results in the SHL their victories have not come cheap, in the back-and-forth battles between the two clubs. They will now meet in their toughest war yet against each other, a best-of-seven-series for a place in the 2016 SM-Final.
This series has playoff hockey written all over it. It is going to be flashy and fast, with both teams packing some of the most in-form forwards in the league. But the series is set to be a grind, a tough physical battle between two teams that, when both on their days, are evenly matched.
Frölunda HC took care of Djurgården with a matter of ease in a 4-1 series victory in the quarterfinals. Luleå HF are a different kind of competitor and are what you could fairly say, deliver a much more complete game than the Stockholmers. The Frölunda defence won the majority of the battles in the corners and in front of the net against DIF and will need to be on top of it once again, against a stronger and more physical Luleå. Frölunda’s defensive pairings will need to be fast, slick and precise when moving the puck out of their own zone to avoid the heavy Luleå forecheck.
As it was against Färjestad, the forecheck of Luleå will be vital if they want to get past Frölunda. They constantly pressured the Karlstad club into mistakes forcing turnovers that eventually led to goals. Frölunda’s defence was instrumental in their victory over Djurgården, moving the puck almost flawlessly from the back. Luleå will need to shut down their movements and contain the flow of the puck through the neutral zone. Lucas Wallmark’s six goals was forty percent of Luleå’s scoring in the quarterfinal, which is a bit of a worry. The Norrbotteners will need to find a broader strike power from Jacob Micflikier and Toni Rajala.
As in the other semifinal goaltending will be key. On one side will stand SHL’s best goalkeeper in the 2015-16 season and to this point in the playoffs, Lars Johansson. On the other side will stand Joel Lassinantti, who has been arguably the most in-form goaltender since returning from injury at the start of 2016. It is not going to be easy for either offence to break past this goalie matchup. Whichever team can take advantage of the few chances that present themselves, will go on to win this series.
2016-03-29 08:41:00 | Okategoriserat
Winning 7-of-their-last-8 games in the regular season rang alarm bells in the SHL. The 2015 SM-Champions, Växjö had that winning feeling and were peaking at the right time of the year once again. Linköping were tipped to be somewhat of a surprise contender for the title in 2016 heading into the postseason, on the back of their fine regular season where they displayed not only offensive depth, but had now developed a solid defensive system that they had lacked in previous years.
It was Linköping that took the early 2-0 lead in the quarter-final and all hope of a chance for the Champs to defend their title beyond the first round were lost, except in the Växjö dressing-room. The Lakers came out in game 3 with a look in their eye that said that they were not going to let this series slip away from them. With the score locked at 1-1, Växjö killed off a 5 minute major penalty, after Josh Hennessy was sent from the game for checking-to-the-head, which shifted the momentum, not only in game 3 but in the entire series. Växjö went on to win the third encounter and never looked back, winning 4 straight games to move on to the semi-finals by a 4-2 series victory.
– Amazing effort! When we killed that five minutes, it is those things that change a match-series. This is what we needed to keep this series alive, explained Växjö’s Richard Gynge to CMore after their first win of the series.
After game 2, Växjö’s mischievous 3, Richard Gynge, Robert Rosén and Tuomas Kiiskinen awoke from their beauty sleep, pulling the Lakers out of their 0-2 series crises. The trio accounted for 16 points between them in the quarter-finals, including a late game-tying-goal from Gynge in game 6, and the OT winner from Rosén that sent the Växjö Lakers into the semis. Key goals from the Laker’s second, third and fourth lines was something that was missing throughout their season, but goals from Liam Reddox, Linus Fröberg and Patrik Lundh and the likes during this series proved priceless. Also, after allowing 9 goals in his first 2 starts, goaltender Christopher Nihlstorp reacted positively to being benched in game 3, letting in just 1 goal in each of his next 3 starts in games 4, 5 and 6. In the last 3 games of the series, Nihlstorp looked in the same form that took Växjö all the way in 2015, making game-changing saves while holding a 0.95 save percentage.
Although, the early exit from the 2016 SM-Playoffs reeks of disappointment for Linköping HC, the club has never looked stronger and the systems that Coach Dan Tangnes has put in place this season is a winning formula. To knit-pick, their loss in the quarter-finals was due to a master-class defence and goaltender that shutdown Linköping’s dangerous forwards, after games 1 and 2, and with the loss of their leading point scorer, Andrew Gordon to suspension after game 4, their task of breaking through only got harder.
Växjö now set up a 2015 SM-Final replay against Skellefteå. They will go into that semi-final high on confidence, not only from their top QF performance, but because of the know-how on taking down the Northern giants from last season.
2016-03-26 21:04:00 | Okategoriserat
This series began as any typical 4th place versus 5th place quarter-final with both teams taking their home victories in the first three games. Physicality and emotions flew far and wide from both teams, but it was Luleå HF who were able to keep control of their own game and take a comfortable 4-1 series victory over Färjestad BK, on the back of a superstar performance from Carolina Hurricanes prospect, Lucas Wallmark.
Wallmark, 20-years-old, has been a key to Luleå's success in 2015-16, already highlighting his worth in the postseason with 6 goals in 5 playoff games. Offensively, Wallmark has been more of a provider this season with just 8 of his 32 points coming from goals, but his usual playmaking skills have been put in his back pocket for the moment, deciding to shoot pucks on net instead. And it is paying off.
– I feel that I am in good form so I am putting pucks on net. It is great that they are going in, explained Lucas Wallmark to C More after his team’s final 5-2 victory, where he scored 2 goals.
Luleå's continued aggressiveness on the forecheck is what led them to overpower Färjestad in this series. They did not allow the Karlstad club’s big guns, Milan Gulas, Johan Ryno and Magnus Nygren any space to move or create opportunities, holding them to just 1 goal each in the quarter-finals. Joel Lassinantti also proved why he is one of the country’s best goaltenders and why he is an important part of Luleå’s plans to push for the Le Mat Trophy. The 23-year-old displayed his agile and spectacular manoeuvres between the pipes multiple times this series and kept his team in the fight or in the lead over and over again. His solid numbers of a 93.08 save percentage and 1.82 GAA are just the tip of the iceberg of how much Lassinantti offers his team, and his form alone may determine the fate of Luleå HF in the semi-finals against Skellefteå or Frölunda.
Färjestad's inability to diffuse Luleå's offence and compete on a physical level with them was their ultimate undoing. Mikael Johansson (2G+4A) provided some spark and was generally in the mix when Färjestad showed signs of being an SM-Final team, passing the puck with a gracious flow and creating chances. The problem was that those moments were just too long and far between as a result of the pressure defence that their northern opponents played.
Luleå's aggressive playoff style hockey, strong goalkeeper and in-form forwards will make them a tough beat in the semis.
2016-03-26 00:16:00 | Okategoriserat
Frölunda HC join Skellefteå in the semi-finals of the 2016 SM Playoffs after 4-1 series win against Djurgårdens IF. The Göteborg club were too strong for their Stockholm opponents at home, and took a crucial away win at Hovet in game 4 to take a stranglehold on the series that they did not let go.
Frölunda’s Finnish talent Artturi Lehkonen came to life, after a slow end to the season, scoring 5 goals and 3 assists to lead his team to victory in this series. The 20-year-old, Lehkonen, who scored points in all 5 games, took a lot of the heat off Frölunda’s big time scorers creating a depth in the roster that could not be matched by Djurgården. The ability of Lehkonen and Mats Rosseli Olsen to score for Frölunda allowed SHL Point King Ryan Lasch to pop his head up and bury the puck into the back of the net at the vital times for his team. Lasch was his usual self throughout this series, terrorising Djurgården’s defence, but he also became more important to Frölunda than he has ever been. Lasch scored at key moments in this series netting the first goal in games 3 and 5 and also the game-tying-goal in game 1 at the end of the second period giving the momentum back to his team who went on to win 5-3.
Although they had a good crack, Djurgården could not come up the level required of them to match the powerhouse that is Frölunda HC. There were times in this series where they gave themselves a chance, showing that they did have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Frölunda, especially in game 2 of the series. But, unfortunately, for the Stockholmers they could not keep the level up day in and day out. Djurgården were at times their own worst enemy, coughing up pucks in their own zone and giving Frölunda dangerous opportunities that they do not waste. Djurgården’s deep offensive talent found it difficult to create enough chances, and when they did they were usually shutdown by the SHL’s best goalkeeper Lars Johansson, who held a 94.33 save percentage throughout the 5 games.
Djurgården can leave 2015-16 season with their heads held high after having a strong second year back in the SHL, which is not an easy task.
– I think this group (Djurgården team) have developed a lot this year. They have taken enormous steps, say Djurgården coach Hans Särkijärvi.
– We have had a great season, we have not fallen apart at all this season. The most games we have lost is just 2-in-a-row and we have had many streaks where we have taken points in 10 games-in-a-row and that is in the second, and what they call the hardest year. Fantastic job from the boys, said a proud coach Särkijärvi.
2016-03-23 13:16:00 | Okategoriserat
Expectation of HV71 getting through a 7-game-series against regular season champions Skellefteå were always low, and a 4-0 series whitewash was always the likely result. But, the clean-sweep certainly doesn’t tell the story in this instance with the Jönköping club pushing Skellefteå to two overtime games and a final 1-0 victory that knocked HV71 out of the 2016 playoffs.
Skellefteå’s depth is a challenge for any team to face, and after a 6-1 victory to the Northmen in the first game of the series, where John Norman reeked havoc with a hat-trick, it looked as though it was going to be a quick but painful death for HV71. The end may have come quick for the Jönköping club, but it was more than honourable, they exchanged blows with their gigantic opponent in games 2 and 3 of the series, where any bounce of the puck could have seen this fight go for another round or two. Even facing elimination in game 4, HV stood up strong again with another tough performance, going out on a 0-1 loss that had their fans showing their support late into the night long after the game was over.
A dominant series result was what was expected of 5-time-consecutive-finalists Skellefteå, who had to show their depth of game-winners in this series. A champion team always finds a way to win and its superstars step up when called upon. John Norman single-handedly took control of game one, thereafter, Andrew Calof, Jimmie Ericsson and Janne Pesonen sealed victories in the clutch situations magnifiying the length of the Skellefteå roster and solidifying their claim as the team to beat in the 2016 post-season. It will now be a familiar extended time of rest and recovery for Skellefteå until they meet their semi-final opponents.
– Over these four games we have been a little stronger and a little more effective, but it has been four tight games. We met a very good team, but, nonetheless, we found a way to win, explained Skellefteå coach, Hans Walson after the series win in Jönköping.
HV71, who have been knocked out of the playoffs in the quarter-finals for the sixth consecutive year, will now be looking towards the summer to re-evaluate their rebuilding process, to come back in 2016-17 with a team that is more consistent and diverse that can give their deserving fans something to cheer about longer into next season’s playoffs.
2016-03-16 10:42:00 | Okategoriserat
Linköping vs Växjö
Season series: Växjö 3-1
Växjö’s defence of their 2015 title will begin on Thursday against one of the preseason favourites, Linköping HC, who did not disappoint, having their best season in recent years by placing third in the regular season behind the two front-runners Skellefteå and Frölunda.
For the Växjö camp, you would have to say that their season as reigning champions has not gone completely to plan, with a form curve that goes up-and-down more time than the Jetline rollercoaster at Gröna Lund. That being said, it just so has it, that their form heading into the playoffs is of top class, losing just 1 game in their last 8 outings and winning 6 of their 7 victories in regular time, which becomes a very important statistic come longevity in the postseason. No matter what has happened during the season, coach Sam Hallam will be telling his men that their defence starts now and they need to ride the momentum of their late season form heading into their quarter-final match up against another form stark team in Linköping.
Linköping HC, who have also won 4-of-their-last-5, have been struck with injury throughout the year, but when they have had their full squad on the ice they have been one of the most dangerous teams in the league. As it was last year, although with different names on the roster, their North American contingent has led the team in scoring and has been the core of their offensive style of play that has work for them over the last few seasons, producing the second most goals in the SHL this year. The difference since head coach Dan Tagnes took over at the start of the season is that he has made sure that his flashy, goal scoring imports are two-way players and not just single-minded point producers, which has helped his team have the third least amount of goals scored against them in the regular season.
Linköping to progress: It is obvious to say that the Linköping’s forwards need to continue to produce, just as they have all season, but it is going to take more than that when it comes to playoff time and a best-of-seven-series. The presence of the top two defensive pairings of Chad Billins and Daniel Rahimi and also Jonas Junland and Gustav Forsling will be the key to LHC getting past Växjö and even moving on to the final. Rahimi will need to bring up his team’s physical presence and lead his defensive group in the body-on-body grinding style that it takes to win a playoff series. The corners is where many playoff series are won or lost and with Rahimi’s other 3 top-line defenceman only tallying 24 hits between them all season, it is time that they lift their physical game or live in fear of getting outmuscled in this series.
Växjö to progress: Depth has been an issue for Växjö this season, and it is what is going to make them or break them in this postseason. There is no doubting the talent of their top guys Robert Rosén, Richard Gynge and Tuomas Kiiskinen, but throughout most of the year that was pretty much where any consistent goal scoring stopped. The good news is that in their 10 game run to the playoffs there where some unlikely and unknown faces that were getting the wins for Växjö. 286 NHL game veteran Ville Leino, joined the Lakers in mid-January and has since been the spark that his new team has needed to fine some productivity throughout their line-up. If Leino, and the likes of Finnish teammate Sakari Salminen and Alexander Johansson, can continue to make it hard for Linköping to defensively match up against Rosén and Gynge then Växjö may find themselves on another miracle run through the playoffs in 2016.
Luleå vs. Färjestad
Season series: Färjestad 4-0
Luleå HF had high hopes for themselves at the start of the season and had plenty of the Swedish hockey world thinking that they were ready to win all three titles on offer to them, the Champions Hockey League, the SHL regular season and the SHL title. As we all know things have not gone as planned for the Norrlanders, who crashed out in the semi-final of the CHL against Frölunda, and their miserable, luck-lustre start to the SHL season gave them no real hope of winning the regular season title. That leaves them one last shot to not completely strike-out on any silverware this year.
From the halfway point of the year, Luleå have been the league’s second best team, tallying 51 points and falling just two points behind Skellefteå. Since they found continuity within what was a new-look roster at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, chemistry began to develop between the playing group, and coach Joakim Fagervall began to get his team playing a more committed and defensive style of game that he intended to deliver from the get go. The physicality and defensive game was the igniting factor that turned Luleå’s season around it is what will need to continue if they are to get past Färjestad who have found the better of them in their four meetings this season.
Färjestad had their best start to a season in many years now, but since then they have gone a bit unnoticed and have simply cruised along under the radar with a bag of mixed results that has avoided any fuss of the good or bad kind, which is certainly a rarity for the Karlstad club. Milan Gulas has had his best season since moving to the SHL, scoring 20 goals and tallying 25 assists, but most importantly he has finished the year hot and takes some good form into the playoffs, scoring 9 points in his last 9 appearances. Gulas has been helped this season by prodigal son Mikael Johansson, who has had his most productive pro season after returning to his beloved Färjestad after a 2 year stint away.
Luleå to progress: Something needs to change for Luleå against Färjestad if they are going to be able to take a win against a club that has whitewashed them in their season series. Goaltenders, Joel Lassinantti and Daniel Larsson, have shared the duties in the four games with both of them having horrible days at the office when up against FBK. Both goalies have a goals against average of over 3.3 and save percentages less than 85, when up against the men from Karlstad. Special teams have also been a problem for Lulea against Färjestad (15.38% PP, 54.55% PK) and will need to go up much closer to their season averages if they are going to get past what is always a tough playoff opponent in Färjestad BK.
Färjestad to progress: A lot will be expected from both Gulas and Johansson along with captain Magnus Nygren in this quarter-final meeting against Luleå. Along with their productivity on the score sheet it will be just as important for the team’s veterans to get the most out of the young up-and-coming stars if they are to have any hope of getting through this series. Joel Eriksson Ek, Mikael Wikstrand and Rasmus Asplund, could be key pieces to Färjestad’s playoff puzzle if they can get going and give their team an energy and depth that is needed to win a playoff series. All three players have had their shining moments this season but will need to take the next step and put in a solid playoff performance for their team.
2016-03-16 10:39:00 | Okategoriserat
Frölunda vs. Djurgården
Season series: Draw 2-2
Frölunda had a record start to their season in 2015-16 and it certainly looked like they were going to push 3-time regular season champions Skellefteå all the way for the series title. But with a little up-and-down form (to their own quality standard) after Christmas, they saw their northern rivals SAIK slip away in the race once again, finishing an agonising second. Frölunda may be excused for letting the regular season title fall out of their grasp, being under the distraction of winning the second annual Champions Hockey League final throughout the start of 2016.
A successful season with silverware has been on the back of an overall, combined effort from what is a team that has strength in both offence and defence. The combination of Ryan Lasch and veteran Joel Lundqvist has led a group of young forwards, that have matured over the last few seasons, and now look be hitting their stride as they make a run at the Le Mat Trophy. American, Lasch has been in the SHL system for the last four years but has never looked at home as much as he has in Göteborg, winning the league’s point scoring title for 2015-16. Lasch had plenty of help from Joel Lundqvist, who had his best point productive season of his professional career, even though he was injured for the final 7 games of the year. Goaltender, Lars Johansson played his part leading the SHL in both important net-minder statistics with a 1.74GAA and a 92.74 save percentage.
Djurgården’s year has been a successful one and has solidified their spot back in the SHL after returning to the top division last year. It is no surprise that their season series with Frölunda drew at 2-2 with both wins coming at home in Hovet, where they have been strong all season long. They once again showed in the round-of-sixteen series that they are a force to be reckoned with at home, getting both their victories in Stockholm and giving Brynäs an early summer break. Patrik Thoresen and American-born Matt Anderson have been the consistent scorers for Djurgården throughout the year and will need to continue to produce if they are going to get past Frölunda in this quarter-final.
Frölunda to progress: It is a simple matter of playing their own game and shutting down Djurgården’s danger men, Thoresen, Anderson, Marcus Sörensen and Tomi Sallinen. If coach Roger Rönnberg can find the right match ups, especially early in the series, and take away the confidence of their scorers then there may not be too much trouble for them in this series. If this is possible, it will be the front of the net battle that will need to be won by Frölunda’s defenders. Djurgården are at their attacking best when they camp in front of their opponents net and look for screens and tip-ins, and if allowed to do so, it will be no surprise if Frölunda find themselves trailing. It will be important for the Indians to take an early lead when playing at Hovet and do their best to shut out what will be a boisterous crowd willing their team on.
Djurgården to progress: The Stockholm club’s biggest problem this season has been getting consistent wins away from home. In a series where the 4-3 home game numbers are not in your favour, you are going to have to find a way to travel a little better. The round-of-sixteen against Brynäs only made this a more of a puzzling thought for coach Hans Särkijärvi and the Djurgården fans, after a less than impressive 2-5 performance in Gävle. Their ability to defend their own lead will also need to be addressed heading into their quarter-final against Frölunda. Against Brynäs, Djurgården almost let both of their wins slip through their fingers, after having very comfortable leads, through simple panic and a lack of patience and control of the puck. If these issues are resolved and their forwards get going, a Djurgården series victory may be the first surprise of these playoffs.
Skellefteå vs. HV71
Season series: Skellefteå 3-1
In 2015 Skellefteå fell at the final hurdle losing to a more energetic and hungry Växjö Lakers team. Many thought that that would be the beginning of the end for Skellefteå and their time as being the best club, and without question, the most dominant club in this most recent era would be over. Well haven’t they proved all their critics wrong, by once again taking out the regular season title for a record breaking fourth consecutive time.
Their season may have started a little shaky to their own standards, and most likely was the result of their unlikely loss in the SM-Final five months earlier, but it didn’t take long for the ship to steady and find its course again. It is hard to put a nail through one, or even a few things that make Skellefteå the imperious power that they are. It is just that though, there is not any specific characteristic that makes them so good, as cliché as it sounds, they are a complete team and that is what has made them so great. Their depth on paper, in offence and defence is unmatchable in the SHL. Any forward trio or defensive pairing can play as a first-line group, it is more to the detail of which match up coach Hans Walson and his coaching staff want to find out on the ice. Danger comes to their opposition over the whole 60 minutes and their ability to sniff out a win and take it, is what has made them so unbeatable throughout long stretches of this season.
HV71 have had a disruptive year, some of which has been out of their control and some that has been self-inflicted. Scraping into the postseason in 9th position clearly represents how the Jönköping club year has gone after finding it difficult field the same line-up night in and night out due to constant injury trouble throughout the season. If injuries were not the issue then the team took it upon themselves to disturb the roster by taking a visit to the disciplinary committee and receiving over 52 games worth of suspensions and fines throughout the season. HV71 have had to rely heavily on their defence in 2015-16, which has fared fairly well when the team has been at equal strength. Although, with the disciplinary issues that the club has had, they have found themselves a man short too often and their penalty-killers have only managed a 75.66 kill rate, which is where 25 percent of their total goals against have been scored on them throughout the season.
Skellefteå to progress: This quarter-final is Skellefteå’s for the taking and should be done with quite ease. Their well-rounded game and depth all over the ice should dominate HV71 without running into too many speed bumps. With Zackrisson, Calof and Norman leading the offence and Markus Svensson holding tight between the posts, HV71 will find it hard to detain and counter this star-studded roster. Skellefteå have the league’s best powerplay and will no doubt be looking to make life easy for themselves and take advantage of what is struggling HV71 penalty-kill.
HV71 to progress: It is never an easy task to go up against the league’s best team in the quarter-finals, and the odds are definitely stacked against you. This is certainly the case for HV71, who will have to play out of their skin to get through this one. Penalties will have to stay at a minimum, for obvious reasons, if they are any chance of moving on. They are also going to need Erik Christensen to lift his game after a quiet season from the NHL-merited Canadian. If HV can stay disciplined, yet bring an aggressive and physical game to upset SAIK, they may be able to put up a resistance.
2016-03-01 14:56:00 | Okategoriserat
There are just 4 rounds left until the SHL season moves into its postseason, beginning with the round of 16, which only includes the four teams ranked 7-10, where the last two quarter final spots are up for grabs and a chance to win the Le Mat Trophy at the end of the 7 game quarter, semi and final series. It has taken 48 rounds but the playoff picture is now starting to take place, with just a few vital position changes still on the cards.
If we begin at the top, Skellefteå AIK are almost a shoo-in for their fourth consecutive regular season win, after being the most consistent team throughout the second half of the schedule. It would take a miracle, or more so an absolute disaster, for Frölunda HC to make up the 10 points they need in 4 games, to win their first season title since 2005. The Västerbotteners need to secure just one win in their remaining four matches to once again guarantee themselves the series title.
All positions from 3-8 in the standings are all still, theoretically up-for-grabs, but practically, it is hard to see that Luleå HF and Linköping HC will drop out of the top 6 and miss out on an assured playoff berth in 2016, (although I will not be betting my house on it).
From spots 5-8 is where things really start to get interesting over the next 4 games, and is where anything can happen and ultimately where the most risk and pressure lies in the standings to finish out the season. Last season Färjestad missed the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, even though they finished the regular season in 7th place, after losing the play-in series 1-2 against Brynäs, who finished the year in 10th spot. Finishing the season in the in the top six is vital and guarantees a quarter-final appearance, and the door is wide open for all four teams, Färjestad, Djurgården, Växjö and Brynäs to snatch a secured playoff position. Counting out any of these four teams is tough to do in their own right.
Färjestad has the leading position, but after a run of good form, have now recently found it tough to take all 3 points on offer going 1W-1ETW-1ETL-2L in their last 5 games. Djurgården have also been a mixed bag when it comes to wins and losses in their last 5 games, with 2 wins and 3 losses, although all of their defeats have been in extra-time and they have managed to take away a point. Växjö are still within a stone’s throw of 5th placing after what has been a disappointing follow-up season to their maiden championship, although, all could be forgiven if they continue to finish the year strong and secure a quarter-final berth. Brynäs IF had everything to make them a true contender in this year’s playoffs but, unfortunately, they got smacked in the face with the injury curse and have been bedridden ever since. The good news is that Anssi Salmela is back on the ice training and will hopefully be back by the weekend. And, if no news is good news, then captain Anton Rödin is still an outside chance to return, if Brynäs can last long enough in the post-season.
Both HV71 and Örebro are almost certain to find themselves in the round of 16 series with little possibility of dropping out or moving up into the top 6.
One win for Rögle BK and a loss for MODO Hockey would assure that both Skåne clubs (including Malmö Redhawks), will be in the SHL next season.
After being out with concussion to begin 2016, last year’s goal scoring leader, Broc Little has come back with vengeance and put his season back on track. Little had a somewhat slow start to the year following, his 2014-15 goal haul of 28, where the American had netted just 13 goals in 31 games. Since his return to health, Little has found the back of the net 6 times and has recorded two assist to score an average of a point-per-game in his last 8 appearances. Little even managed to score his first hat-trick of the year when Linköping beat Brynäs 6-3 on Saturday and is now just 2 goals away from the league’s leading goal scorer Nick Johnson who has a tally of 21.
Karlskrona had looked to have turned a page on their season’s form a couple of weeks ago, and appeared ready for the fight that they will be having to win an SHL contract next season in the Qualification Series. Although, what momentum they had from their late season winning streak has now disappeared after another winless week. With four games to play Karlskrona need to find some form and snag a couple of victories so they once again find the motivation and momentum heading into the do-or-die series.
Four players were sent to the disciplinary committee this week and are expected to learn their fate in the near future. First was Färjestad’s Oskar Steen who will have to defend a diving charge after he fell to the ice with very little contact from HV71’s Lias Andersson in their round 47 clash. Rögle’s Taylor Matson will also be fighting off a diving charge after he appeared to over exaggerate a touch as he entered the offensive zone against Växjö on Saturday. Both North Americans, Greg Squires (Örebro) and Chad Billins (Linköping) are up against slew footing charges, after being sighted for taking out the legs of an opponent from behind while putting pressure on the upper-body in the opposite direction.
2016-02-23 16:39:00 | Okategoriserat
With the SHL regular season title being a two-horse race between Skellefteå and Frölunda, the now more interesting and most exciting battle is at the other end of the standings. Karlskrona are almost guaranteed of meeting the winner of HockeyAllsvenskan in the Direct-Qualification Series, but the other unfortunate spot for survival is still wide open between MODO Hockey, Rögle BK and Malmö Redhawks. Last week’s results have emulated how important it is to stay out of the qualification series with the best of HockeyAllsvenskan, as all three teams put in a somewhat impressive performance one of the final weeks of their fight for ensured survival in the SHL.
Malmö, who sit in 11th spot in the standing and 8 points from the qualification line, had their best week in the SHL this season, by going on a three-game-winning-streak for the first time this year. It was a huge turnaround in form for the Skånsk club after striking out 0-3 in their three games the previous week. Their victories certainly didn’t come cheap either, taking the skulls of Luleå HF and Färjestad, who have had recent hot form of their own, and also last season’s reigning champions Växjö. Their desperation wins now put them in a commanding position heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, but their survival is certainly not guaranteed with 21 points still on offer.
Twelfth placed Rögle BK won the theoretical six point game against thirteenth placed MODO last Tuesday, which helped them finish the week with an extra 2 point buffer on the Örnsköldsvik club. They also took all 3 points with a 1-0 win over Brynäs which bumped them up to 5 points over the qualification line which MODO sits under.
For MODO Hockey the odds are stacked against them after another torrid season and a place in the Direct-Qualification-Series for the second year running does look imminent, especially if you look at their tough run home. This week could not be any harder for them, having to face series leader Skellefteå in a home-and-away series on Tuesday and Thursday, to then have to host second place Frölunda, it would be no surprise if MODO walk away with very little or with if any points at all. Their last 4 games against Djurgården, Växjö, Karlskrona and Örebro will be life-changing, and with good results in the final 8 days of the regular season, even if this week is a write-off, they still may be a chance. If the point-strongest team of Malmö and Rögle can take all 6 points in their own back-to-back series next weekend, it may just open up the window for MODO to fly through, like a swift cold spring-time breeze.
Frölunda HC’s J20 talent, Kristian Vesalainen, from Finland, scored his first SHL goal in his 12th game for the Gothenburg club this season. Vesalainen, born 1st June 1999, is now the youngest non-Swedish player to have scored a goal in Sweden’s highest division and is the fourth youngest player overall in the league’s recorded history. The Helsinki native, who has 15 goals and 34 points in SuperElit for Frölunda this season, has experienced a steep change in his development curve since moving to Sweden and Frölunda this season, and will be hoping that it will continue over the next year before his eligibility in the NHL Entry Level Draft in 2017.
Brynäs IF slipped out of a guaranteed playoff spot after a nightmare week. On Tuesday, after having a 2-1 lead after the first period against HV71, the Gävle club lost the game 2-3 with just 3 seconds remaining in the match. Again, on Thursday, with just 36 seconds remaining on the clock, Rögle stole the game from Brynäs with a 0-1 victory. They then, once again, let go of a 3-3 third period situation against Djurgården to lose 3-5 and finish the week with a big round doughnut. The three tight loses simply ooze the pain they are feeling of not having players like captain Anton Rödin and Anssi Salmela on the rink in clutch situations of the game and more importantly the season.
On Saturday, in Kinnarps Arena, the game between HV71 and Karlskrona was delayed approximately 30 minutes due to a water leakage beside one of the goals. When drilling into the ice to stabilise the goal brace, a cooling pipe was struck, leaking copious amounts of water up onto the ice that made the conditions unplayable. With fears that the rest of the match was going to have to be postponed, the pipe was repaired and the water scraped away. Although, for the home team, the delay couldn’t save their game, going down to Karlskrona 1-4.
2016-02-11 14:29:00 | Okategoriserat
Foto: OLA WESTERBERG / BILDBYRÅN
After a rocky month of January for both Skellefteå AIK and Brynäs IF, both clubs got their season back on the rails with a 9 point week to start February. The new month saw Skellefteå turn back to their old clinical ways, disposing of their opposition with an ease and confidence that has made them such a dominant force during the last few years. With routine wins over a struggling reigning champion Växjö and qualification fighters Malmö, the Northmen’s true test came against their top of the table rival Frölunda, although, goaltender Markus Svensson ensured the 4-1 victory with his match winning performance.
Brynäs IF looked to be one of the top competitors this season, riding on the back of a stellar year from their captain Anton Rödin, who led both the point and goal scoring statistics before he was ruled out for the rest of the regular season with a thigh injury, after a collision with a teammate at training. Since Rödin’s injury Brynäs have generally found themselves on the wrong side of the score line, losing tight matches and clearly missing the finishing class of their captain. The past week has been a different story as their young talent has begun to step up in the absence of the team’s missing stars. The Westerholm twins and 18-year-old defender Lucas Carlsson have risen to the occasion for the Gävle club, becoming the driving force behind a flawless week for Brynäs.
– Before this positive trend we haven’t played bad. We had four games where we have created more chances than our opponents, but the result just didn’t go our way, explains Brynäs coach Thomas Berglund.
– We have had games where we haven’t played well and the results have gone our way. Our play has been consistent but the results could have gone both ways, in our losing and our winning streak actually. I’m also happy that the young players that have come in as replacements have done so in a great way.
For the second year in a row, an SHL team has been crowned the Champions Hockey League winner. Frölunda HC took revenge for last year’s second place finish in the tournament to Luleå HF, taken out the championship in enemy territory in Finland against Kärpät Oulu. The game was played in a typical finals like fashion, with both teams giving their all and putting their bodies on the line. Frölunda raced out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period with goals from league MVP, Ryan Lasch and fellow North American Spencer Abbott. The Indians were then able to shut the game down on the back of solid goaltending from Lars Johansson, to eventually get the win 2-1, after a third period goal from Kärpät’s Juho Keranen.
– It’s awesome. A great feeling to win with these guys, said Ryan Lasch in the victors' dressing room after the game to the league’s webpage. We’ve worked together all season. Everyone put in a maximum effort and this is the result.
With the Champions league final on their minds last week, Frölunda HC had their worst week in the SHL all season, losing all three of their games in regulation time, adding zero points to their standings total. After Skellefteå’s perfect week, the Västerbotteners have now opened up and 8 point window between themselves and the Gothenburg club, with just 10 games left to play in the regular season. Frölunda had what you could say was a defensive lapse in their three games last week, allowing 11 goals against, which is well above their season average of 2.28 GA per game. Now that the CHL is over, the Indians will need to put in a 10-from-10 performance if they are going to be any chance of denying Skellefteå their fourth straight regular season win.
Malmö Redhawks Andreas Thuresson missed his team’s games against Skellefteå and MODO and will not be allowed to dress against Luleå after the international break, as a result of a slew-foot
that he was disciplined for, against Örebro’s Joel Mustonen. Thuresson was suspended for three matches after the incident, hurting Malmö’s fight for survival immensely with MODO on a mission to bridge the gap and get over the relegation line.