Clubs from six countries advance
by Derek O'Brien|17 OCT 2019
All five Swedish clubs advanced but only one Finnish team. Skelleftea AIK eliminated Karpat Oulu on Tuesday in a cross-border Polar Circle clash.
photo: Jussi Maatta / Karpat Oulu / Champions Hockey League
The Group Stage of the 2019/20 Champions Hockey League season is finished and 32 teams have been reduced to 16. Six different countries are represented among the remaining teams, including five from Sweden, four from Switzerland, three from Germany, two from the Czech Republic, surprisingly just one from Finland and for the first time one team from Belarus reached the round of the last 16 teams.

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.”
Former Continental Cup winner Yunost Minsk is the first team from Belarus to advance to the round of 16 in the Champions Hockey League.
photo: Yunost Minsk / Champions Hockey League
In addition to Group D, another group that went right down to the end was Group E, which featured three strong teams – Skelleftea AIK, Karpat Oulu and SC Bern – fighting for two spots. In the last game for both teams, Karpat beat Skelleftea in a shootout and later in the day, Bern beat French champion Grenoble Bruleurs de Loups 3-1 to force a three-way tie in points. 

“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.
Augsburger Panther was the last team to advance after winning at Bili Tygri Liberec.
photo: Jiri Princ / Bili Tygri Liberec / Champions Hockey League
Surprisingly, only Tappara Tampere is going forth from Finland, with HPK Hameenlinna, Karpat and Lahti all bowing out. Even Tappara started by losing its first two games on home ice before winning four straight to finish second in Group A.

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). 
Among the remaining teams, five have advanced to the round of 16 for the first time – Biel, Lausanne, Augsburg, Yunost and Hradec Kralove. A total of four Champions Hockey League titles and six European club championships have been previously won by the remaining teams – Frolunda has won the CHL three times including last year and Lulea once in 2014/15. As well, Djurgarden won back-to-back IIHF European Cups in 1990/91 and 1991/92. 

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 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.