Crunch time for CHL group stage
by Derek O'Brien|06 OCT 2022
Grizzlys Wolsburg is playoff-bound after defeating TPS Turku
This week, the Champions Hockey League played the fifth round of its six-game group stage and it went a long way toward determining who is moving forward.

Entering play on Tuesday, six teams had qualified for the round of 16, but nine more teams joined them on these two days, leaving just one spot up for grabs next week.

Ten games were scheduled on Tuesday but only nine were played. Sparta Prague was unable to travel to its Group A game in Finland due to a mechanical problem on its charter flight. The result was a 3-0 forfeit win to Jukurit Mikkeli, advancing the Finnish squad and eliminating Sparta. 

In Group B, EV Zug and Grizzlys Wolfsburg both won their games to secure advancement, as was the case in Group F with Farjestad Karlstad and the Straubing Tigers. The Tigers’ away win in Villach was especially big. Entering the two-game, home-and-home with a six-point lead over Villach, the Austrian squad had a 1-0 lead after one period but Straubing tied it late in the second and then won it with a pair of goals in the third.

“An enormous win for our club,” said Straubing head coach Tom Pokel. “We just wrote history again. We’re really proud of our organization, our players, and we’ve gotta give a lot of credit to our fans tonight. They really pushed us in our time of need. We didn’t have a great first period but we picked it up in the second and the third. A lot of sacrifices, some great shot blocks, and some great goaltending.”
Straubing went into Villach and upset the Austrian club to advance. 
In Group G, there was little drama in perennial favourite Frolunda Gothenburg’s 10-2 win over the Bruleurs de Loups de Grenoble, but Mountfield Hradec Kralove entered their game against Eisbaren Berlin with a narrow three-point lead. On home ice, Die Eisbaren jumped out to a 3-1 lead but the Czech visitors bounced back to win 7-3, thanks to two goals and an assist from Canadian defenceman Jeremie Blain, to secure their spot in the sweet 16.

“It was awesome,” said Hradec Kralove assistant coach Petr Svoboda. “We won the third period 5-0. We had a lot of energy, there was still a lot of time left, we believed we could win and we finally scored a couple of goals and now we’re very happy.”

In Group H, HC Davos and Skelleftea AIK both advanced with wins. Davos’ 4-0 win over Ocelari Trinec was rather routine but Skelleftea’s 4-2 win over the Belfast Giants was less so. The side from Northern Ireland needed a regulation win on home ice to stay alive and led 2-1 in the third period but Skelleftea scored three straight, with Andreas Wingerli netting the game-winner on a rebound with 2:57 to play.
“I’m very proud of the guys’ effort,” said Belfast coach Adam Keefe. “A little gutted for them; we couldn’t get that little push at the end. The margin for error against these teams is very little and, ultimately, we gave up too many chances at the end. But, of course, if we had scored on our chances, it could have been a different game and we could have put them on their heels a little bit more.”

The 15 teams who advanced so far are:
Group A: Lulea Hockey (SWE), Jukurit Mikkeli (FIN)
Group B: EV Zug (SUI), Grizzlys Wolfsburg (GER)
Group C: Red Bull Munich (GER), Tappara Tampere (FIN)
Group D: Rogle Angelholm (SWE), ZSC Lions Zurich (SUI)
Group E: Fribourg-Gotteron (SUI)
Group F: Farjestad Karlstad (SWE), Straubing Tigers (GER)
Group G: Frolunda Gothenburg (SWE), Mountfield Hradec Kralove (CZE)
Group H: HC Davos (SUI), Skelleftea AIK (SWE)

The one spot still up for grabs is in Group E, but that could have been settled this week as well. Ilves Tampere entered its home game on Tuesday against the Stavanger Oilers needing a win to stay alive. Tampere stormed out of the gate to take an early 3-0 lead before the eight-minute mark and then cruised to a 4-1 win. That, combined with Fribourg-Gotteron’s 1-0 road win against Red Bull Salzburg means that Fribourg advances but one spot remains, and three teams have a shot at it.

Group E standings

Fribourg-Gottéron — q 12 2.4 5 4 0 1 0 9 3 + 6
Red Bull Salzburg 7 1.4 5 0 3 1 1 10 9 + 1
Ilves Tampere 6 1.2 5 1 1 2 1 10 10 0
Stavanger Oilers 5 1 5 1 0 2 2 6 13 -7
Next Wednesday, Fribourg hosts Salzburg and Stavanger hosts Ilves. Salzburg definitely advances with a regulation victory but the Austrian champion could also go through with less, depending on what happens in the other game.
Red Bull Salzburg remains in contention for a playoff spot.
“We’re in a really tight division,” said Salzburg head coach Matt McIlvane. “There have been a lot of one-goal games. Each team brings a unique element but they’re all fights.”

Neither Ilves nor Stavanger are in control of their own destinies, as either could be eliminated even with an overtime win. At a bare minimum, Ilves need at least one point but Stavanger can do with nothing less than a regulation win.

In the event that Salzburg loses in regulation time and Stavanger defeats Ilves in extra time, the teams would finish in a three-way tie and Stavanger would be done in that case as three of its points come from a win over Fribourg. Who would advance between Salzburg and Ilves depends on the final goal differentials of the two teams. Salzburg currently has a one-goal advantage.

After the group stage concludes, the 16 advancing teams will participate in the playoff draw on Thursday, 13 October at 16:00 CEST in Zurich, Switzerland, which will be streamed live across all of the CHL’s digital platforms.