Mountfield Hradec Kralove def. Djurgarden Stockholm 6-1 (3-1, 3-0)In three previous appearances in the CHL they had never advanced past the group stage, and this year’s domestic season hasn’t gone all that great, as Mountfield sit ninth in the 14-team Czech Extraliga. But after finishing second in its group, Mountfield has played phenomenal team defence and received great goaltending from former NHLer Marek Mazanec, outscoring Adler Mannheim of Germany, EV Zug of Switzerland and now Djurgarden by a combined score of 13-3 over six total games.
Djurgarden possesses a potent lineup that includes ex-NHLers Patrik Berglund and Jacob Josefson, draft prospect Alexander Holtz and Ottawa Senators defence prospect Olle Alsing and is especially dangerous on the power play, but the Mountfield players helped themselves by taking only four minor penalties over the two games. Djurgarden’s only goal of the two-game semi-final came early in the first game in the Swedish capital courtesy Gustav Possler but Mountfield came back to win that game thanks to two goals from Matej Chalupa and 21 saves by Mazanec.
After a scoreless first period in the return game, Mountfield took a stranglehold three-goal aggregate lead early in the second when Jakub Lev scored a highlight-reel goal on an end-to-end rush.
“It’s a great feeling, especially that we’re able to enjoy it with our great fans and we hope we can give them more in the final,” Mazanec said after his 24-save shutout. “It’s like a cliche but it’s about teamwork. Our team played a great hockey game today both offensively and defensively – we hardly gave the puck away.”
Frolunda Gothenburg def. Lulea Hockey 5-4 (2-3, 3-1)Meanwhile, Frolunda earned its fifth CHL final berth in six years by coming from behind yet again. In the round of 16, the Indians trailed Farjestad Karlstad 5-0 in the second period of the first game but eventually won 11-8 on aggregate. In the semi-finals against Swiss club EHC Biel-Bienne, Frolunda lost the first game 3-2 and trailed by two on aggregate with less than three minutes to go in the second game before coming back to win in overtime. So after losing the first game at home to Lulea by a 3-2 score, there wasn’t a lot of panic in the Frolunda dressing room.
“It was a tight game as usual against Lulea. We had some chances and so we’ve just got to bury our chances and we’ll be fine,” said Samuel Fagemo two days after winning a bronze medal and a scoring title with Sweden at the World Junior Championship. “We need to forget this game and focus on the next one and then we go from there.”
Despite Frolunda’s penchant for comebacks, Lulea looked to be in good shape starting with a one-goal lead on home ice. The 2014/15 CHL champion is currently leading the Swedish Hockey League while Frolunda has been slumping lately, and when Juhani Tyrvainen scored in the first period of the second game to make it a two-goal difference and Frolunda failed to convert on a two-man advantage late in the period, it looked like the reigning CHL champs might be out of magic.
But that’s where experience stepped up for Frolunda. Captain Joel Lundqvist, playing in his 1000th career game in a Frolunda jersey, got the ball rolling by assisting on his team’s first goal in the second period and then he scored the aggregate-tying goal early in the third. Halfway through the third period, Ryan Lasch – the CHL’s all-time scoring leader – took a pass in the slot and went top corner with a wrister to send Frolunda back to the final.
The final: Mountfield vs. FrolundaMountfield and Frolunda have previously crossed paths at this year’s CHL, as they both advanced out of Group H, in which Frolunda finished first and Mountfield second. In the two head-to-head meetings, each game was decided by one goal and won by the road team. On 1 September in Gothenburg, Frolunda got two goals by Rhett Rakhshani but that wasn’t enough, as Mazanec made 30 saves in a 3-2 Mountfield victory. Six days later in Hradec Kralove, Anders Gronlund and Rudolf Cerveny had two points each for their respective teams as Frolunda earned a 4-3 victory.
“They’ve got a lot of skill and speed and they also play a physical game so it won’t be easy at all,” Mazanec said about facing Frolunda again. “We’ve gotta get ready for that.”
Due to earning more total points throughout the competition (26-22), Mountfield has earned the right to host the final, which will be played in the Czech Republic for the first time.
“It’s a big thing for the city, for the team and, I think, for the whole Czech Republic,” Mountfield defenceman Richard Nedomlel said about playing the final at home. “We’re gonna go there and try our best.”
The final will be played on Tuesday, 4 February at the CPP Arena in Hradec Kralove. Faceoff time and ticket information will be announced soon. For more information on the Champions Hockey League, visit championshockeyleague.com.