The Vaxjo Lakers took the club’s third Swedish championship when they beat Rogle Angelholm in five games in the final and they did it simply by finding ways to win.
Pontus Holmberg won the scoring race with seven goals and 14 points in 14 games averaging under 17 minutes a game. He was on the score sheet in all five games of the final, notching five goals and seven points.
”We wanted to play defence first, both as a team and as a line. And then we capitalizd on our chances,” said the 22-year-old who was awarded the Stefan Liv Memorial Tropy as the playoff MVP.
Vaxjo, the regular-season winners, were favourites entering the playoffs, even though Rogle, the runner-up, were only four points behind, and had amassed the same number of regulation wins as Vaxjo. But this was Vaxjo, a team that had won the title in 2015 and 2018.
They had Viktor Fasth, the league’s best goalie, who dominated all statistical categories during the regular season. They had Emil Pettersson, who finished fourth in regular season scoring and wanted to do what his brother Elias did in 2018: hoist the Le Mat trophy as Swedish champion (and win the playoff scoring race).
And they had Sam Hallam, who’s been behind the bench since 2013 and had a proven track record of winning. He had also managed to put a stop on the downward trend Vaxjo had been on, after a tenth-place finish in 2020 when the SHL playoffs were cancelled due to the pandemic, and a seventh-place finish and a quarterfinal loss the season before.
In Game 1 of the semi-finals against Orebro, the team lost their starting goaltender Fasth to an injury, but Erik Kallgren stepped in, made 30 saves and led the team to a 3-2 OT win. Kallgren, who only played two games for Vaxjo last season before being loaned to TPS Turku in Finland, took over the rest of the way, and posted a 93.02 save percentage and an 1.74 goals against average.
Vaxjo also lost defenceman Ilari Melart when he received a five-game suspension after a hit to the head in Game 2 of the best-of-five semi-finals.
Emil Pettersson found himself in a six-game coreless streak. But Vaxjo found ways to win. Two of the five semi-final games had 1-0 scores and they found scoring on the bench. In the quarter-final, the hero was Fredrik Karlstrom, who scored two OT goals and three game-winners in the series.
All in all, the team played five overtimes during the playoffs, and won them all, and got goals from four different players. The others were Richard Gynge, Hardy Haman Aktell, and Karlstrom’s linemate Holmberg.
In the semi-finals, it was Marcus Sylvegard who scored the game’s lone goal in Game 3 and in Game 5, Brendan Gaunce scored two of his three playoff goals and led the team to a 3-1 win, and to the final.
The line with Holmberg, Karlstrom and Sylvegard, originally Vaxjo’s third line, scored 16 of Vaxjo’s 40 goals in the playoffs and combined for 34 points in 14 games.
“I never imagined I’d get to be here, it’s wonderful. I can’t believe it’s true. We had the game under control all the way, even when we were trailing in the game,” said Holmberg, as he was handed the traditional Swedish championship symbol.
A golden helmet.
In 1999, Vaxjo played in Division 4 in Sweden, and got promoted to the SHL in 2011.
Since then, they’ve played in three SHL finals and have won them all.