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Third time’s the charm

Unlike in 2011 and 2012, Skellefteå AIK goes all the way

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The Skellefteå celebrate with the trophy and the traditional golden helmets. Photo: Fredrik Sundvall / Pic-Agency Sweden / hockeyligan.se

LULEÅ, Sweden – Nothing could stop Skellefteå AIK this season. The two-time finalist lost only one game in the playoffs, and finished its sweep over Luleå in the final with a 4-0 win on Thursday. The championship is the second in the club’s history.

Skellefteå’s route to the championship was impressive. The club went 12-1 through the post-season, with a 45-17 goal record, and even kept Luleå to just three goals in the four games in the final series. And yet, it wasn’t easy. It just looked that way.

“Luleå is a good team, and it’s not easy to come here and win, but we played a disciplined game and the team just kept on going like a train,” said Oscar Möller, whose goal at 3:33 turned out to be the championship-winning goal.

“We have an unbelievable depth on the team, everybody can contribute,” he added.

Depth sure has been Skellefteå’s strength this season, and it was obvious in the final series.

It was Bud Holloway, the regular season leading scorer, who scored the game winner in first overtime in game 1 – having gone seven games without a goal prior to that.

In game 2, it was Viktor Arvidsson – who turned 20 during the playoff run – who saved SAIK with his three-point night, and in Game 3, it was the same kid who scored the game winner, and yet, Arvidsson was a fourth liner who averaged ten minutes a game during the post-season, and played just under ten in game 4.

Skellefteå had a plan, and they stuck to it.

In game 4, they got goals from Oscar Möller, two from Erik Forssell on the second line, and one from Johan Forsberg who had been out of the line-up since the second game of the semi-final, and played in just his fifth playoff game of the year.

And of course, a shutout in the last game of the season also speaks volumes of the team’s defence, and goaltending.

Skellefteå started the post-season with two goalies, alternating Joacim Eriksson and Markus Svensson until the Linköping series, the semi-final, in which Joacim Eriksson took over the net. He finished the post-season with three shutouts in ten games, a 95.22% save percentage and a 1.06 goals against average.

And if that’s not enough proof of SAIK’s depth, consider this: We haven’t even mentioned Oscar Lindberg, the winner of the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy that goes to the playoffs most valuable player. Lindberg lead his team in scoring with 12 points in 13 games, and was third in post-season scoring.

“I’m so proud to be able to win this with the players I’ve played with all season. I’ve grown as a player, and in the post-season, our line has been clicking really well,” Lindberg said.

There were some bumps on the road during the season. The usual, injuries to key players, didn’t bother but as team captain Jimmie Ericsson said, “they forced our young guys to step up.”  In February, SAIK, then in first place in the standings, fired their head coach Anders Forsberg, after it had become clear that he had signed with another team for next season.

SAIK set in place their new coaching constellation with Hans Wallson taking over as the head coach, and Lars Johansson, the GM, working closer with the team.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal inside the dressing room. It was probably a bigger thing in the media,” said Jimmie Ericsson.

New coach, old coach, nothing changed. Call that organizational depth. SAIK has also had depth in their junior ranks, and have been able to call up new players as replacement of (a little) older ones, like Adam Larsson, David Rundblad, and Tim Erixon, who have left the club for the NHL.

Nine players on the championship team were born in Skellefteå, a city of about 30,000 people in northern Sweden.

SAIK won its first championship since 1978, and a lot has happened between the two titles.

SAIK got relegated from the Elitserien in 1990, was on the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s, and didn’t return to the top division until 2006. Since then, it’s been one success story after the other. In 2008, they played in the playoffs for the first time, but got ousted in the quarter-finals. In 2009 and 2010, they made it past the first round, and in 2011, and 2012 they played in the final.

“The first time around, we were probably a little too happy just to be in the final, in the second one we were hungrier, but Brynäs played their best hockey in the final,” said Jimmie Ericsson, the team captain.

This year, they went all the way.

“We, everybody, have believed in ourselves, and our way of doing things, and we’ve done a lot of things right. We don’t really care about what others think,” said Ericsson, and then rushed to receive the Le Mat Trophy, given to Swedish champions.

The last time SAIK hoisted the trophy, the team captain was Hardy Nilsson, who has since won two Swedish titles as head coach of Djurgården Stockholm, and several World Championship medals as head coach of the Swedish national team.

“I’m tired of carrying that trophy. It’s Jimmie’s turn now,” said Nilsson.

Jimmie probably won’t mind.

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