The Champions Hockey League semi-finals concluded on Tuesday night with JYP Jyvaskyla and the Vaxjo Lakers emerging victorious over Czech opponents Ocelari Trinec and Bili Tygri Liberec, respectively.
The result means that the 2018 CHL Final will be contested between Finnish club JYP Jyvaskyla and Swedish club Vaxjo Lakers.
Based on accumulating a better record over the course of the competition, Vaxjo will host the final on 6 February.
In the first legs of the semi-finals, played last Tuesday, JYP beat Trinec 4-2 on home ice while Vaxjo visited Liberec and they played to a 1-1 tie.
The second legs were played in Trinec and Vaxjo. One of the games was full of drama, but unexpectedly wasn’t the one that was tied on aggregate going in.
Ocelari Trinec vs JYP Jyvaskyla 4-3 (SO)
JYP entered the second game with a two-goal lead. Both teams scored twice over the first 40 minutes, but Trinec scored twice again in the third to even the aggregate score and force overtime, to the delight of the 5,048 in attendance.
After a scoreless 10-minute overtime period, JYP won the shootout, with Jarkko Immonen and Antti Suomela both scoring and Jussi Olkinuora denying all four Trinec shooters he faced.
“I’m sure the fans got their money’s worth at least,” Olkinuora told championshockeyleague.com after the game. On the shootout, he said: “I saw from these last two games that they are very skilled, so even if it had gone past five shooters I’d have to do my best. They had some good ideas and they made me work hard today.”
“It was a really, really hard game,” agreed JYP head coach Marko Virtanen. “We knew they were going to really come at us and they really pressured us the whole game and the fans here were great, but I’m really proud of our team.”
Vaxjo Lakers vs Bili Tygri Liberec 6-1
In both the CHL quarter-finals and semi-finals, Liberec lost the first legs by one goal and then went into Gothenburg and Zurich and completed comeback victories to advance. They had no magic left in Vaxjo, however, as the Lakers scored three times in the first period and then cruised to a 6-1 victory in the game, winning on aggregate 7-2.
“We started really good,” said 19-year-old Elias Pettersson, who scored the game’s first and last goals. “We made Liberec work really hard and after we got the first goal, we just kept it going.”
Pettersson, who just lost in the gold medal game for Sweden at the IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game in Buffalo a couple weeks ago, now gets a chance to play in another final.
“I always like to play in big games and it’s great that we’re going to play it here at home.”
The road to the final
Vaxjo had previously faced Liberec in the group stage, winning both meetings, albeit once in overtime. Vaxjo topped that group, which also included HC Davos from Switzerland and the surprising Cardiff Devils from Great Britain – who handed the Lakers their only defeat of the group stage. The Lakers then beat Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in the round of 16 and Swiss champion SC Bern in the quarter-finals.
JYP finished tied for first with EV Zug of Switzerland in a tight group that also included Neman Grodno and the Vienna Capitals – champions of Belarus and Austria, respectively. Seeded second in the group, they drew Tappara Tampere, the reigning champion of their own Finnish league, in the round of 16 and won, and then beat Czech champion Kometa Brno in the quarter-finals before facing another Czech team in Trinec.
Both of this year’s finalists are relative newcomers to the top echelon of European club hockey. Both have been dominant in their domestic leagues for much of the past decade – with JYP winning its first two Finnish titles in 2009 and 2012 and Vaxjo winning its first Swedish title in 2015 – but it is their first trip to the CHL final.
Established in 1997, the Lakers have never played in a major European tournament final before, but they did advance as far as the semi-finals in the CHL last season, where they lost to Sparta Prague. JYP won the European Trophy, the forerunner to the current CHL, back in 2013, beating Farjestad Karlstad in the final.
Looking ahead to the final matchup with JYP, Vaxjo coach Sam Hallam said: “I don’t think we’ve met them for a couple of years, but we have met a lot of Finnish teams. We have good contacts in Finland, so we can use our channels to check them out as well as possible.”