Belarus has had teams come close before, with both Yunost Minsk and Neman Grodno in various seasons often playing well on home ice but having a difficult time on the road. This time, in a very competitive Group D where all four teams were still mathematically alive with one game to play, Minsk managed to win a game on the road, in Finland over the Lahti Pelicans. That set the team up for a chance to advance this Tuesday at home. They lost 3-2 in a shootout, which meant they needed Trinec to lose in regulation time later in the night and they did, 5-3 to Lausanne HC, who are also going on for the first time.
“It’s definitely good for the team. We just have to keep it going and see what happens,” said Ronalds Kenins, Lausanne’s Latvian forward. When asked how far the team can go, Kenins answered: “I don’t know about that. We’re just enjoying this victory right now and we’ll see who our next opponent is.”
“We needed those three points,” Bern coach Kari Jalonen said after the win in France. “We knew that would get us into the playoff round, so I’m happy, of course. The guys did a good job. Grenoble is a well-coached, hardworking team so it was a tough game for us.”
Heading into Wednesday night’s action, 15 of the 16 playoff spots had been decided with Bili Tygri Liberec hosting the Augsburger Panther. With the score tied 2-2 and needing a regulation win to advance, Liberec pulled its goalie in the late going and conceded an empty-net goal, resulting in an Augsburg victory.
The bad season for Finland means that the Finnish Liiga, which already lost a place in the CHL League Ranking and a spot in the CHL to Switzerland for this season, may drop further down in favour of the German DEL and the Czech Extraliga.
Individually, Frolunda Gothenburg’s Ryan Lasch led all scorers with 15 points in the group stage, including14 assists, thanks to a five-assist night in Tuesday’s 9-2 win over the Cardiff Devils. The 32-year-old American forward is the competition’s all-time scoring leader by a wide margin with 84 points in 53 career CHL games, and has already won two scoring titles and one MVP.
Following Lasch is HC Plzen’s Milan Gulas, who is second in points with 12 and first in goals with eight. Liberec defenceman Ladislav Smid leads everybody in ice time, averaging 28:57 per game, and a pair of Adler Mannheim players – Matthias Plachta and Sinan Agdag – are both plus-8.
In goal, a couple of internationally-known names topped the stats – Jonas Hiller of EHC Biel and Danny aus den Birken of Red Bull Munich. Hiller led with a 98.48 save percentage and 0.50 average while aus den Birken posted 97.12 and 0.97. Grenoble’s Lukas Horak was a man under siege, forced to make 214 saves per game. And despite his team not advancing, Klagenfurt’s Norwegian netminder Lars Haugen was the only goalie in the group stage to post two shutouts.
The eight group winners are EHC Biel (SUI), EV Zug (SUI), Lulea Hockey (SWE), Lausanne HC (SUI), Skelleftea AIK (SWE), Adler Mannheim (GER), Red Bull Munich (GER) and Frolunda Gothenburg (SWE). The eight group runners-up are Tappara Tampere (FIN), HC Plzen (CZE), Augsburger Panther (GER), Yunost Minsk (BLR), SC Bern (SUI), Djurgarden Stockholm (SWE), Farjestad Karlstad (SWE) and Mountfield Hradec Kralove (CZE).
The group winners and runners-up will be paired up against each other in the CHL playoff draw, which takes place on Friday at 13:00 local time in Helsinki (12:00 Central Europe Time). It will be streamed live on www.championshockeyleague.com and the league’s Facebook page. A team can’t be drawn against the other team that advanced from its group, but it can be drawn against another team from its domestic league. From Friday’s draw, an entire playoff bracket will be formed, so no further draw will be necessary.
The round of 16 takes place in November (12-13 & 19-20), the quarter-finals in December (3-4 & 10) and then the semi-finals in January (7-8 & 14-15). All three of those rounds will be two games each, home and away, with the winner on aggregate score advancing. The one-game final is scheduled for Tuesday, 4 February 2020, with home-ice advantage for the finalist with the better record.