The Vaxjo Lakers won the SHL regular season title with a 21-point margin to Djurgarden Stockholm, the runner-up. That they’d beat the fifth-seeded team in the final wasn’t a shock, but nobody could predict that they’d sweep Skelleftea AIK and only allow one goal in the process.
But that’s exactly what they did.
The goal difference in the four games was an astounding 20-1, the largest margin in Swedish hockey league history.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team. We’ve had a fantastic season, we kept on winning and we’ve had to live with these expectations. People have said we’ll win the title since Christmas,” said coach Sam Hallam, who was also behind the bench in 2015 when Vaxjo won the its first championship.
“We began the season well and our confidence has grown with the success. We were simply the best team,” Hallam added.
The best team also had the best players. This season was the breakthrough season for Elias Pettersson who won the scoring title both in the regular season and in the playoffs. The 19-year-old scored 10+9=19 points in the 13 playoff games, having scored 24+32=56 points in 44 games, one more than Ryan Lasch collected in 49 games with Frolunda.
Four of his ten goals in the playoffs were game-winners.
The final series turned into an Elias Pettersson Show as the Vaxjo centre scored six goals and ten points in the four games.
“I’m speechless, this is fantastic, it’s all I can ask for. My playoffs started slowly but I think I got better and better the longer we advanced,” Petterson told Aftonbladet.
He was also the unanimous choice for the Stefan Liv Memorial Award as the playoffs MVP.
Naturally, one player doesn’t win a playoff series on his own, not even Elias Pettersson. One of Vaxjo’s strengths was the fact that the team had firepower in several lines. Five Lakers players finished in the Top 10 in playoff scoring, including Eric Martinsson who led all defensemen in scoring, with 3+8=11 points.
And things were just as great at the other end of the rink. All in all, the Lakers allowed only 13 goals in 13 playoff games. Their powerplay was number one, penalty kill number two. Of the thirteen games they played, Lakers only trailed after two periods in one of them – their second game against Brynas Gavle, also their only loss in the playoffs.
Nothing could stop Vaxjo this season, not even the fact that Olympic goaltender Viktor Fasth had to sit out a few games after he hit the back of his head on the ice halfway through the second period in the last semi-final game against Malmo.
Viktor Andren came in, shut Malmo out and Pettersson scored the OT goal that sent Lakers to the final.
Andren then recorded two shutouts in a row in the final, let in one goal in Game 3, and shut out Skelleftea in the last game of the final. His playoff save percentage was 99.09.
“I wanted to prove to people that I was good enough but was this my breakthrough … I hope I’ve shown what I can do. There have been doubters along the way, that I can’t play at this level but here I am wearing a golden helmet,” Andren said in Aftonbladet.
Pettersson, also sporting the golden helmet that are traditionally handed out to the players in Sweden, wasn’t sure how the team would celebrate the championship.
“I’ve never won the Swedish championship, so I don’t know. But there’s going to be a party,” he said.
And on Monday, a parade at the centre of town that’s painted orange and blue.