Lulea’s semi-final against Swedish Hockey League rival Frolunda Gothenburg couldn’t have been any closer, with the two teams deadlocked after two 60-minute draws and a scoreless 10-minute overtime before Lulea finally won in the eighth shootout round. Tappara, meanwhile, beat EV Zug of Switzerland 5-2 on aggregate, but it was closer than that as the two sides were separated by just a goal before a couple of late empty-netters.
Lulea Hockey def. Frolunda Gothenburg 6-5 (2-2, 3-3, 1-0)After a 2-2 tie in the first game last week in Gothenburg and a scoreless first period this week, Lulea outscored Frolunda 3-2 in a wild second period that saw three lead changes. Frolunda’s Petteri Lindbohm tied it back up early in the third and that was it for scoring in regulation time or overtime. Each team scored twice on their first six shootout attempts, but after Anthony Greco missed for Frolunda to lead off round eight, Brendan Shinnimin skated to centre ice with a chance to win it for Lulea and he made no mistake.
“Jackie (Connolly) came in from the right wing and went short side (in the second round) and so I thought I’d maybe fake and go the other way,” said Shinnimin, describing his approach to the game-winning shot. “I got him to bite and then kept going and was able to find some open net. We’ve struggled a bit this year (on the shootout) but we found a way to score some big goals – we were down twice. Jackie had a big one, Isac (Brannstrom) had a big one, Wardo (Mattheus Ward) made some huge stops, and then it felt good to get the winner there and move on.”
Through 70 minutes of hockey, Frolunda outshot Lulea 37-31 but 21-year-old Ward had a big night in net, turning back 35 shots and then six of eight shootout attempts.
“It was a good game but I have a hard time appreciating it right now because it’s a tough loss for us,” said Frolunda head coach Roger Ronnberg, who has been behind the team’s bench for all five of his team’s European titles. “We had our chances but we didn’t execute. We should have won with the number of power plays we had – we had a nice chance in overtime 4-on-3 and we need to score there.”
Tappara Tampere def. EV Zug 5-2 (2-0, 3-2)Zug faced an uphill climb in the return game on home ice, trailing by two goals on aggregate, but came up with a dominant performance – outshooting Tappara 40-21 in the game. Urged on by an enthusiastic home crowd of 5531, Zug twice cut the deficit to one goal and pushed hard for the equalizer, but CHL MVP nominee Christian Heljanko had a huge game in the Tappara net.
“We knew that they would be a different team on their home ice than they were in Tampere, and we were prepared but couldn’t adapt to the pace,” said Tappara head coach Jussi Tapola. “They had the upper hand tonight, but Heljanko played a superb game and we scored some big goals.”
“It was a great effort by the team and it’s great to be back in the final, but we need to react to the game better,” Tapola emphasized.
Zug was looking to become the first Swiss team to reach the final since the CHL’s 2014 restart and the first to reach a European club championship game since ZSC Lions Zurich won it all in 2008/09.
The final: Lulea vs TapparaAs mentioned, this is the second trip to the final for each team, but Tappara’s is a lot more recent. Just last year, Tappara travelled to Angelholm, Sweden, where it dropped a close 2-1 decision. Lulea, on the other hand, has to go way back to 2014/15 for its final appearance but it won, overcoming a 2-0 deficit against the same Frolunda team it just beat, scoring four times in the third period to win 4-2. Lulea becomes the second city to host the final a second time and Coop Norrbotten Arena is the first facility to do so twice.
For that reason, Tappara has many returning players from last year’s CHL finalist squad – 16 – whereas Lulea has only one: goaltender Joel Lassinantti, who played in the final eight years ago but has backed up Ward in most CHL games this season.
Since that 2014/15 season, this is the fourth time that a Swedish team and a Finnish team will face off in the final. The Swedish club prevailed on each of the two previous occasions – Frolunda both times. The lone Finnish victory – the only non-Swedish title in the past seven seasons – came when JYP Jyvaskyla defeated the Vaxjo Lakers in 2017/18.
For more on the Champions Hockey League, visit championshockeyleague.com.