Frolunda Gothenburg def. HC Plzen 9-4 (6-3, 3-1)Heading into the semi-finals, Plzen had not lost a game yet in this season’s CHL but that streak came to an end in the first leg, when they lost 6-3 in Gothenburg. American defenceman Conor Allen scored all three goals in a losing cause, while Rhett Rakhshani and Ryan Lasch had three points each for Frolunda.
That put Frolunda in a commanding position heading into Tuesday night’s return game in the Czech Republic with a three-goal lead on aggregate, and an early goal on a nice individual effort by Lasch solidified their position. The Swedish team won the game 3-1 and 9-4 overall.
“Before the game, our plan was to start well and score the first goal ourselves. That would have given us some confidence and make them nervous but, instead, it was them,” said Plzen captain Milan Gulas, who led the team with 13 points in the tournament but had just one assist over the two semi-final games.
“We had a mountain to climb, but we wanted to win the game for our fans. I would like to thank them for the incredible support because we had quite a ride with them in the CHL this season.”
Red Bull Munich def. Red Bull Salzburg 3-1 (0-0, 3-1)The other semi-final matchup featured the two teams from Red Bull’s sports division, Munich and Salzburg. It was the first time that a team from Germany or Austria had made it this far in the competition, and both games were played before electric, sell-out crowds in the two cities.
The first game in Munich was a scoreless tie, with Salzburg’s Stephen Michalek and Munich’s Danny aus den Birken stopping 31 and 26 shots, respectively, for the double shutout.
The return game in Munich remained scoreless for another 13:26 but Munich outscored Salzburg 2-1 over the last seven minutes of the period, with Yannic Seidenberg scoring the eventual winning goal just six seconds before the horn. After a scoreless second period, Munich got an insurance marker halfway through the third and Salzburg failed to get anything going on a couple of power plays.
“It felt great to get the lead but we made a couple of small mistakes in our own zone and allowed Munich two grade-A scoring chances and they capitalized on them,” Salzburg captain Thomas Raffl figured.
On the team’s unlikely run to the final four, he said: “It’s been a great journey from the start this year. To come this far and get eliminated is obviously tough, but we lost against a tough contender and it was a good series.”
The final: Frolunda vs. MunichThis is the fourth time in five years that Frolunda will play in the title game and the second time they will host it. Frolunda lost the first CHL final back in 2014/15, 4-2 in Lulea, but then won the following year in Oulu, Finland 2-1 and 4-3 in overtime on home ice over Sparta Prague in 2016/17. Last season, Frolunda was eliminated in the round of 16, while Finnish club JYP Jyvaskyla won the title with a 2-0 road win over the Vaxjo Lakers.
“We’re very disappointed with the result last year,” said Lasch, who scored a goal in the 2015/16 final in Oulu and also won the CHL MVP and scoring title that season. “We take pride in this tournament, so we’re happy that we’re able to head back to the final and host it too – that’s gonna be awesome.”
This is the first time that a German team has made it to the CHL final. Previously, none had made it past the Round of 16, which is the round that Munich lost to SC Bern last season. Several players on the team, however, are not headed toward their first international championship game – five players on Munich’s current roster won silver medals with Germany at last year’s Winter Olympics.
“We’ve gotten stronger and stronger throughout the whole Champions Hockey League and we’re very happy,” said Munich coach Don Jackson. Looking ahead to Frolunda, he said: “It’s hard to say at this stage because we’ve got to take a look at them, but all we know is they’re experienced and a great hockey club.”
The final will be played on Tuesday, 5 February at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg. Faceoff time and ticket information will be announced soon. For more information on the Champions Hockey League, visit championshockeyleague.com.