Swedish hockey rises to top of Europe
Four Swedish teams are a step closer to winning the Champions Hockey League.
Frölunda captain Joel Lundqvist sends Berlin defenseman Kyle Wilson tumbling during the second period of the Indians' 6-1 win November 1 in the Round of 16 of the Champions Hockey League. Bildbyrån photo
While the exodus of Swedish hockey talent to North America continues unabated, the rest of Europe isn’t shedding many tears for the Swedish Hockey League.
Four SHL clubs reached the Round of 16 in the 2016-17 Champions League and two — Frölunda and HV 71 — came away with crucial road wins. Linköping played to a 1-1 tie on home ice against HJK Helsinki of Finland while the Växjö Lakers dropped a tough 3-2 decision to SaiPa Lappeenrata of Finland.
Frölunda is the defending Swedish and European champion. The Indians knocked off Linköping in an all-Swedish final in the inaugural Champions League season. So far, this season could also end in a duel between Swedish teams as both Frölunda and Linköping look primed to advance to the semifinals.
"It's absolutely our goal for the season to win this league again and I really like the way we performed today," said Frölunda head coach Roger Rönnberg. "We have to stay humble and we have to continue playing good hockey, so if we play the next game as effectively as we did today we should be fine."
The Indians absolutely dominated Eisbaren Berlin, skating circles around the Germans in a 6-1 road win. American Casey Wellman led the way for Frölunda, with a goal and two assists. Wellman joined the Indians for the start of the 2016-17 SHL season and has fit in perfectly with Rönnberg’s up-tempo style of hockey. Wellman had six points in nine games in the SHL and against Berlin, was nearly unstoppable.
The former Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals prospect set up the Indians’ second goal at 11:02 of the first period when, on the power play, he made a nifty pass to team captain Joel Lundqvist, who buried the puck behind Berlin net minder Petri Vehanen. Sebastian Stålberg opened the scoring for Frölunda at 5:49 of the first. After Sven Zeigler tallied at 16:04 of the first, Wellman made it 3-1 when he fired a shot past Vehanen at 18:06.
Frölunda continued its onslaught in the second period with Lundqvist netting his second goal of the game at 7:36 of the period, again off a pass from Wellman. Christopher Ehn and Johan Sundström scored in the third period to close the game at 6-1. Sundström is Frölunda’s leading scorer in the SHL with 14 points.
The game marked a reunion of sorts for Wellman, who skated against his former Hershey Bears teammate Kyle Wilson. The Canadian left the Capitals’ organization in 2014 when he joined Berlin.
"I think we played a pretty solid game," said Lundqvist. "It's always good to have some extra goals for the next game too, so overall a pretty good game for us."
The return match in Göteborg is set for November 8.
If Frölunda reaches the final, it could face HV 71. The Blue Bulls used a three-goal third period to knock off Sparta Prague 4-2 in the Czech capital. SHL leading goalscorer Martin Thörnberg tallied twice in the second period as HV 71 broke open what had been a tight affair. Defenseman Dylan Reese, a Pennsylvania native and former New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes prospect, scored the only goal of the first period to stake the Blue Bulls to a 1-0 lead. Thörnberg made it 2-0 just 29 seconds into the second period. After Miroslav Forman pulled a goal back for Prague at 5:11 of the period, Törnberg put HV 71 up by two once more when he tallied at 9:57. Kevin Stenlund made it 4-1 as time ran out in the period.
Linköping has a slightly tougher road if it is to reach the final for a second-straight year after its 1-1 tie with Finnish champions IFK Helsinki. Linköping took a 1-0 lead just 2:28 into the first period, but that was all Helsinki goalie Niclas Bäckström would allow. Ohio State product Corey Elkins, a former Los Angeles Kings prospect, tied the game at 6:55 of the third. Bäckström finished with 25 saves.
In a battle of teams stocked with American and Canadian players, SaiPa eeked out a 3-2 win over the Växjö Lakers. Brock Trotter, a native of Manitoba, Canada and a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, scored two first period goals to stake the Finns to a 2-0 lead. Linemate Curtis Hamilton, a Tacoma, Washington native, set up both goals. SaiPa also features defenseman Brett Carson, a Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes draft pick.
After a scoreless second period, Växjö rallied to tie the game. Linus Fröberg put the Lakers on the scoreboard at 1:26 of the third. Pontus Netterberg tied the game at 13:50. SaiPa, however, used an odd-man rush to snatch the win as Tomi Leivo scored at 15:57 to give the Finns the win. Americans Corey Murphy and Josh Hennessey and Canadian Geoff Platt skate for Växjö.