A tight road win by Sparta Prague over Vaxjo and a convincing 5-1 victory for defending champions Frolunda Gothenburg over Friboug-Gotteron opened the semi-final round of the Champions Hockey League.
Vaxjo Lakers 1 – Sparta Prague 2
The lone Czech club to have made it this far in the CHL playoffs took another big step towards the final, as Sparta Prague edged Vaxjo Lakers 2-1 in Sweden.
A pair of first period goals was all it took for Prague to earn the win over Vaxjo. Slovak nationals Martin Gernat and Andrej Kudrna each had a score in the opening 13 minutes. Tomas Netik set up his team with the lead early on, getting the puck into the Laker zone and getting a shot on net before gathering his own rebound and making a cross-crease pass to Gernat for the opening score 1:16 into the period.
Sparta doubled its advantage just over ten minutes later, as Lukas Cingel got he puck to an open Kudrna at the side of the net for the 2-0 lead. Sparta goalie Tomas Popperle held the Lakers off the scoresheet for most of the game, playing over two and a half periods of shutout hockey before giving up a late goal to Josh Hennessy.
That late goal by Hennessy gives the Lakers a lifeline heading into Prague for the second leg, set for 17 January. Heading into their home arena Sparta should be feeling confident as it looks to become the first Czech club to reach the CHL Final.
Frolunda Gothenburg 5 – Fribourg Gotteron 1
The Frolunda Indians took care of business in their home leg, dominating the Swiss club Fribourg to the tune of five goals to one.
Fribourg battled hard in the opening period, but a tying goal from Caryl NBeuenschwander of a deflection near the end of the period was all the offence the Swiss could muster, as Frolunda goalie Johan Gustafsson held the fort the rest of the way, stopping 21 of 22 shots on net.
On the other end the Frolunda offence was rolling, scoring four unanswered in the second and thir period to put the game away. The Indians will now take a commanding advantage into Frobourg, as the teams get set to play the second leg of the semi-final on 17 January.
Should Frolunda advance, it will be the third straight CHL Finals appearance for the Sedish club, which has struggled in the Swedish domestic league. It is also the second straight year that Frolunda Gothenburg is going up against a team from Switzerland in a CHL Semi-Final. Last year, the Indians traveled to Davos in the first leg and came away with a 5-0 win en route to winning the CHL trophy.