The Champions Hockey League completed its quarter-finals on a thrilling Tuesday that saw one series decided in overtime and another in a shootout. Also, the defending champion was dethroned but two former champions advanced – and will face each other in the semis.
Tappara Tampere def Rogle Angelholm 7-4 (2-3, 5-1)Rogle’s one-year reign as European champion came to an end at the hands of the team it defeated in last year’s final. Tappara was in a tight spot down three goals heading after 40 minutes of the first game in Angelholm but scored twice in the third period to make things a lot more manageable.
On home ice in Tampere, Tappara still trailed by a goal on aggregate after a scoreless first period but struck twice in the second to take the lead. The total score was tied with seven minutes to go in the return game but Niko Ojamaki’s first of two on the power play was the eventual series-winner. A pair of empty-net goals sealed Tappara’s return trip to the semi-finals.
“It was a pretty great performance on home ice against a high-quality team,” said Tappara head coach Jussi Tapola. “We started from one goal behind and luckily got the first goal as it would’ve been harder to come back from a two-goal margin, but we handled it well and went back and forth in the second period and they got some momentum. (Christian) Heljanko made some big saves and we scored an important power-play goal after a good shift.”
“It was a tough matchup,” said Rogle head coach Cam Abbott. “There was an element of bounces. Obviously, they were able to score on their power play and we weren’t and that was the difference.”
EV Zug def Mountfield Hradec Kralove 4-3 OT (2-2, 1-1, 1-0)This matchup couldn’t have been closer. After a 2-2 last week in Czechia, the two teams were tied 0-0 after one period and 1-1 after the second and third periods. Former Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader briefly gave Zug the lead at 23:15 after taking several whacks at a puck that finally went in, but Ales Jergl tied it for Hradec Kralove just 4:31 later when his shot from right in front hit Leonardo Genoni and then slowly dribbled across the line. Brian O’Neill won it on an amazing overtime goal – taking a drop pass from Dario Simion, then beating a defender with a spinorama move before beating Henri Kiviaho on a forehand deke. It was O’Neill’s 17th point in 10 CHL games this season.
“This year I’ve aged like a dog – I’m probably seven years older biologically,” Zug head coach Dan Tangnes joked after the game. “But this is what hockey’s all about. Mountfield was a very worthy opponent – they had our number last week and it was a very even hockey game today that could have gone either way so I’m really happy to go through and really proud of our guys too.”
“We played against an excellent team; this was a great experience for us,” said Hradec Kralove assistant coach Petr Svoboda. “There were a lot of good teams in the CHL and we proved that we could play with them and keep up. Today it was one goal, we didn't give many clear chances. Unfortunately, we were a bit unlucky. We had some good chances that didn’t result in goals, and that was the deciding factor.”
Frolunda Gothenburg def Skelleftea AIK 4-3 SO (0-1, 3-2, 1-0)Four-time CHL winner Frolunda was the other team to advance in extra time. After losing 1-0 last week in Skelleftea, Frolunda outscored its Swedish Hockey League rival 2-1 to level the aggregate score heading into the third period. Mans Forsfjall put Skelleftea back in front but Filip Johansson’s long shot from the point tied it back up with 11:40 to go.
After a scoreless 10-minute overtime period, Ryan Lasch and Max Friberg scored shootout goals to put Frolunda into the semi-finals for the seventh time in eight seasons. After registering a goal and an assist in regulation time, the shootout-winner was Lasch’s third point of the game, upping his CHL-leading season total to 22 points and his career total to 131 in 81 games.
“Overall, I think we played a good tournament,” said Skelleftea head coach Robert Ohlsson. “It was so close tonight but we just didn’t get the right marginals from our side. I thought we had our opportunity on the 5-on-3 but we didn’t execute on that and maybe that was the difference tonight.”
Lulea Hockey def Jukurit Mikkeli 8-2 (5-1, 3-1)Lulea had the clearest path to the semis with a four-goal aggregate lead heading into the return game, but still left nothing to chance with a dominant first period, scoring twice to widen the difference to six. Jesper Piitulainen got one back for Jukurit on a second-period power play but Finn Juhani Tyrvainen got it back for Lulea in the third. Tyrvainen and Einar Samuelsson each had two points in the return game, while Brendan Shinnimin scored three goals across the two games.
“I think we played a good first period,” said Lulea head coach Thomas Berglund. “We were a bit sloppy after that, but we got the win and that’s what we wanted. This is big for us and I hope we reach the final. It’s an important tournament for us and we really wanted to win it.”
“The right team is advancing and that was pretty much decided last week,” admitted Jukurit head coach Olli Jokinen. “I am in a way disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to play our best this matchup. This was our seventh game in 12 days, which isn’t ideal, but our young players put up a good fight.”
Semi-final matchups:All four semi-finalists have plenty of CHL experience and three have made it to this stage before – the exception being Zug, which has finally made it to the final four in the Swiss team’s eighth CHL season.
- EV Zug (SUI) vs Tappara Tampere (FIN)
- Lulea Hockey (SWE) vs Frolunda Gothenburg (SWE)
Based on the matchups, we know that one finalist will come from Sweden and the other from either Switzerland or Sweden. Sweden has been represented in every CHL final and has won the championship all but once, Finnish teams have been in three previous finals and JYP Jyvaskyla won the 2017/18 title. Tappara made it last year and Zug is aiming to become the first Swiss team to do so in this incarnation of the CHL, although ZSC Lions Zurich won the European title back in 2008/09.
Lulea and Frolunda have both won the title before and met each other in the 2014/15 final, which was won by Lulea 4-2. That was still Lulea’s only final appearance but Frolunda has returned on four occasions, winning each time.
Just as in the previous playoff rounds, the semi-finals will be played in two legs, with the winner on aggregate score advancing. The first games will be played 10-11 January with the return games a week later on 17-18 January. The one-game final is scheduled for Saturday, 18 February.
For more, visit championshockeyleague.com.