CHL returns today
by Derek O'Brien|26 AUG 2021
photo: Andreas Pranter / GEPA pictures
After a year’s absence, the Champions Hockey League – Europe’s major cross-league club hockey competition – is back for the 2021/22 season. The CHL, which was restarted in 2014/15, is now entering its seventh season since the relaunch. Frolunda Gothenburg, which has won four of the first six editions, enters this season as the defending champion. The Swedish powerhouse will begin its title defence in the same country it won the last CHL game to date back in February 2020 – the Czech Republic – when it faces off against BK Mlada Boleslav on Thursday, 26 August at 17:00 CET.

“It feels great to bring European club ice hockey back into the spotlight after last season’s cancellation of the competition. The Champions Hockey League is a great opportunity for clubs, players and coaches to prove themselves against the best – and for fans to experience high-class ice hockey straight away at the beginning of the season”, CHL CEO Martin Baumann said. “Of course, it is a challenge to run a pan-European competition in 14 countries during a pandemic, but the teams are keen to battle for the European Trophy – and health and safety protocols will help us create a safe environment for everyone involved.”

The 32 teams that are competing this year include five teams each from Sweden and Switzerland, four each from Finland and Germany, three from the Czech Republic, two each from Austria and Denmark, and one each from France, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. 

The teams are divided into eight groups of four:
  • Group A: Vaxjo Lakers (SWE), Sparta Prague (CZE), TPS Turku (FIN), Fischtown Pinguins Bremerhaven (GER)
  • Group B: Frolunda Gothenburg (SWE), IFK Helsinki (FIN), BK Mlada Boleslav (CZE), ZSC Lions Zurich (SUI)
  • Group C: Lukko Rauma (FIN), Adler Mannheim (GER), Lausanne HC (SUI), Cardiff Devils (GBR)
  • Group D: EV Zug (SUI), Rogle Angleholm (SWE), Red Bull Munich (GER), SonderjyskE Vojens (DEN)
  • Group E: Eisbaren Berlin (GER), HC Lugano (SUI), Skelleftea AIK (SWE), Tappara Tampere (FIN)
  • Group F: Ocelari Trinec (CZE), Leksands IF (SWE), Fribourg-Gotteron (SUI), Slovan Bratislava (SVK)
  • Group G*: KAC Klagenfurt (AUT), Rouen Dragons (FRA), Rungsted Seier Capital (DEN), HC Donbass (UKR)
  • Group H*: HC Bolzano (ITA), Red Bull Salzburg (AUT), Frisk Asker (NOR), JKH GKS Jastrzebie (POL)
  • *Groups G and H will not begin play until 2 or 3 September due to the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament, which takes place 26 to 29 August.

During the group stage, which begins Thursday and finishes on 13 October, each team plays its three group opponents once each home and away for a total of six games. At the conclusion of the group stage, the top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage, which consists of three rounds – the round of 16 in November, the quarter-finals in December and semi-finals in January – in which teams are paired off and play two-game, home-and-away series, after which the winner on aggregate score advances. 

The two semi-final winners advance to the one-game final, which this year is to be played on 1 March, after the Olympic break, marking the first time the CHL will be played in March.

Frolunda is one of three teams that are competing in the CHL for the seventh straight time. The others that have qualified for the seventh straight time are Tappara Tampere from Finland and EV Zug from Switzerland. At the other end of the spectrum, seven teams are competing in the CHL for the first time, including HC Donbass, which becomes the competition’s first team from Ukraine. Additionally, Slovan Bratislava is competing in this incarnation of the CHL for the first time but competed in the original Champions Hockey League in 2008/09.

Due to Frolunda’s past success, it’s no surprise that it has some of the more recognizable names in this year’s CHL, including the competition’s top two scorers all-time: American Ryan Lasch and captain Joel Lundqvist, the identical twin brother of recently retired goaltender Henrik. 

Other names that should be recognizable to hockey fans around the world include Danny aus den Birken and Yannic Seidenberg of Red Bull Munich, Lauri Korpikoski of TPS, Yannick Weber of the ZSC Lions Zurich, Leonardo Genoni of Zug, Tom Kuhnhackl of Skelleftea AIK, Mikkel Boedker of HC Lugano, Valtteri Filppula of Geneve-Servette and Danish netminder Sebastian Dahm of KAC Klagenfurt.  

In the past, the CHL has been a good place to see prospects play before they became big names internationally, such as Joonas Donskoi, Elias Pettersson, Rasmus Dahlin, Patrik Laine, Elvis Merzlikins, Moritz Seider and Tim Stutzle. American centre Auston Matthews played two CHL games for ZSC Lions Zurich as an 18-year-old in 2015/16 prior to being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Young players – including some recent first-round NHL Draft picks and some who probably soon will be – that may appear for their clubs in the CHL this season are Frolunda’s Simon Edvinsson, Leksand IK’s Isak Rosen, Skelleftea’s Elias Salomonsson, Slovak teenagers Samuel Knazko and Juraj Slafkovsky of TPS, goaltender Samuel Hlavaj or Bratislava, Lausanne HC’s Benjamin Baumgartner, Eisbaren Berlin’s Lukas Reichel, and Munich’s John Peterka and Justin Schutz. 

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