It has been a very competitive season in the Champions Hockey League, and last night’s quarter-final games were no different.
Three of the CHL’s four quarter-finals were decided by one goal on aggregate scores following Tuesday night’s return games, including one in overtime and another in a shootout.
It has been a season of unparalleled competitive balance in the Champions Hockey League. Nine countries had clubs still competing in the round of 16, whittled down to five in the just-completed quarter-finals.
Now, for the first time, four different countries will be represented in the semi-finals, with more than a few surprises.
Europe’s two Red Bull clubs, based in Munich and Salzburg, became the first teams from Germany and Austria to advance to the quarter-finals and, following their dramatic victories, will face each other in an interesting semi-final matchup. The other will feature two-time champion Frolunda Gothenburg from Sweden against HC Plzen from the Czech Republic.
Munich opened with a 2-1 win on home ice thanks to a pair of Olympic silver medallists – goaltender Danny aus den Birken with 28 saves and forward Frank Mauer with a late breakaway goal.
The return game in southern Sweden was a lot more offence and went back-and-forth with three lead changes. With the game tied 4-4, Malmo’s Frederik Storm gave his team the lead and tied the aggregate score with a brilliant end-to-end rush with 6:44 to play. Then in overtime, Trevor Parkes took a drop pass from John Murphy and fired home the series-winner to complete his hat trick on the night to send Munich on to the next round.
“Hat tricks don’t come very often. I think it’s been about five years since my last one. Sometimes the puck just goes in for you and I’m glad it did tonight,” Parkes smiled after the game. “That’s a big win. We really wanted to get to the semi-finals, and playing Red Bull Salzburg will be a cool match-up, so we’re really happy.”
Salzburg seemed to be an enormous underdog against one-time CHL finalist Karpat, but scrapped its way to a 3-2 win at home after getting a last-minute goal from John Hughes.
Then in the return game in northern Finland, the Austrian Red Bulls got a first-period power-play goal from Alexander Rauchenwald and rode the netminding of Stephen Michalek the rest of the way. Oskar Osala scored early in the second period for Karpat, but the Finnish team still trailed by a goal on aggregate and couldn’t score again on Michalek, who made 44 saves and was especially brilliant in the third period.
“We knew it was going to be tough but we managed pretty well,” said Michalek after the game. “Karpat is a really good team but our team played well and I was able to see most of the shots. We are really excited to face another Red Bull team now!”
Frolunda Gothenburg def. Kometa Brno 10-2 (4-1, 6-1)
In both games, Kometa scored the first goal, but that was about all the two-time reigning Czech champs had to get excited about, as Frolunda dominated the rest of the way.
Patrik Carlsson and Ryan Lasch had three points each in the first-game victory in Brno. It looked for a short time like Kometa might make things interesting when 16-year-old Erik Meluzin struck early in the return game to cut the deficit to two, but Frolunda ran away with six goals in the last two periods – Carlsson netted three more points and defenceman Chay Genoway scored twice.
“I think it was a good performance over two games against Brno, but it’s never easy,” Frolunda head coach Roger Ronnberg downplayed. “We gave away some early chances and if they’d scored on them, it could have been a different result.”
HC Plzen def. Skelleftea AIK 7-6 SO (3-3, 1-1, 1-0)
The way this quarter-final started, it didn’t look like it was headed toward extra time, as Plzen built up a 3-0 lead early in the second period of the first game in Skelleftea. But the home team stormed back with three straight third-period goals, the last two by Linus Lindstrom, to knot up the aggregate score as the teams headed to the Czech Republic.
In the return game, goaltenders Dominik Frodl and Gustaf Lindvall shone, matching each other save for save for almost the full game. Finally, Robin Alvarez broke through with a power-play goal for Skelleftea with 2:28 remaining, but defenceman Jakub Kindl answered in the final minute of regulation time with a one-time blast from the point.
After a scoreless 10-minute overtime period, Plzen won the shootout 3-1, with the winning goal coming from Jan Kovar in his CHL debut (and just his third game with the team this season).
“It was a pretty tight game against a very experienced team and we battled from the beginning to the end. Even when we were losing, we never gave up and we found a way to win,” said Kindl. “The shootout’s always a lottery. It could have gone either way, but because we tied it right at the end, maybe the momentum was on our side a little bit. But we got it done and it’s a great feeling.”
Red Bull Salzburg (AUT) vs Red Bull Munich (GER)
HC Plzen (CZE) vs Frolunda Gothenburg (SWE)
The semi-finals will be played over two legs, with each team playing one game at home. The teams with the better accumulated records over the course of the competition (Salzburg and Plzen) will play the second games at home, unless arena availability necessitates a change. The first games are scheduled for 8/9 January and the return games, a week later, on 15/16 January. The CHL will release the semi-final schedule shortly.
The semi-final winners advance to the one-game final, which is scheduled for Tuesday, 5 February with home-ice advantage to the team with the better record.
For more information, visit championshockeyleague.com.