For Frolunda Gothenburg captain Joel Lundqvist, this is nothing new. Since the competition restarted in 2014/15, Frolunda has played every season except in 2020/21 when it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Nobody has played more than Lundqvist’s 81 CHL games and only Frolunda teammate Ryan Lasch has more than his 66 points.
“It’s huge to play games like this before the start of the league,” said Lundqvist. “Playing good teams in competitive games instead of just exhibition games makes a big difference, both in terms of the quality of the games and for the team, travelling together.”
In terms of CHL success, Frolunda is in a class by itself. In seven previous seasons, it has won the title four times, lost in the final on one other occasion, and only failed to reach the semi-finals once. That’s a remarkable record, considering that while the team has also been successful in the Swedish Hockey League during that time with two national championships, it has not been outright dominant domestically.
“We always make it a team goal to go all the way in this, from management to coaches to players,” Lundqvist said about Frolunda’s approach to the CHL. “It’s a big tournament with a lot of good teams, so we really focus on these games and, of course, we’ve had some luck on the way over the years.”
Lundqvist arrived at Frolunda in 1998 at the age of 16 along with identical-twin brother Henrik, the famous goaltender. A few years earlier, the story goes, Joel played a role in putting Henrik in net.
“That’s an old story,” Joel chuckled. “Back when we started playing, when we were eight or nine years old, we were pretty quiet and the coach asked if there were any goalies. I took his hand and raised it. It’s a funny story but, yeah, that’s how it started. We helped each other and pushed each other to be good.”
Both brothers were drafted by NHL teams in 2000 – Joel in the third round by the Dallas Stars and Henrik in the seventh round by the New York Rangers – and then made their journeys overseas a few years later.
Henrik, of course, became a fixture on Broadway. Until 2005, the twins had always played on the same team but after that, they were occasionally reunited on the Swedish national team. Of course, they have always stayed close off the ice, even when far apart.
“He spends the summers in Gothenburg so we spent some time together there, but now he’s back in New York,” Joel said of his brother. “He has his life there with kids and family, and just starting his new job as an ambassador for Madison Square Garden. He’s really excited about that.”
Last season, Frolunda was knocked out in the CHL semi-finals by Swedish up-and-comer Rogle Angelholm, who went on to win the European title, giving the team some motivation to return to the top.
In this year’s group stage, one of its opponents is Mountfield Hradec Kralove, its opponent in the 2019/20 final, which Frolunda won 3-1. When the teams met again on 10 September at the same CPP Arena, it was the Czech team that got a bit of revenge by winning 5-3. Still, the game was a reminder that you can never count Frolunda out. The team has a history of making late comebacks in the CHL and this time, trailing 4-1 with five minutes to play, goals by Max Friberg and Petteri Lindbohm made it a one-goal game before a late empty-netter finished it.
“We know the game is 60 minutes,” said Lundqvist. “Especially in this tournament, we have a history of coming back in games, which is the key to being successful. Today we were up against a good team that made it hard for us to create a lot of scoring chances, but we did push to make it pretty close.”
The loss was Frolunda’s first in the CHL so far, after one win at home against Hradec Kralove and two against German team Eisbaren Berlin. Frolunda sits tied for first in Group G with nine points and has two games remaining against French champion Grenoble, so the team looks to be in good shape in terms of advancing to the round of 16.
“We’ve gotta respect the teams we’ve played, both Berlin and Mountfield,” said Lundqvist. “They’re two really good teams, so taking three out of four is pretty good. We could have done some stuff better today but overall, it’s an okay start.”
Lundqvist is now in his 20th SHL season – all with Frolunda – and in his 23rd season of professional hockey. Whereas Henrik was forced to cut his career a bit shorter than he wanted a couple of years back, Joel is still playing at age 42 with no immediate plans to stop.
“I take it year by year now,” he said. “I don’t want to look too far ahead. I know the end is around the corner but I don’t know exactly when it’s gonna be. Right now I’m just focused on this season but I don’t know if it’s the last one or whether I’ll keep going.”