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SHL Hockey: best of 2017/8 season - PART I

The SHL Awards

When the awards for this SHL season were dished our it was obvious that Växjö Lakers would be in the limelight in a year where they dominated both the regular season and playoff phase to lift the Le Mat Trophy.

Sam Hallam picked up best manager and 2017 Vancouver Canucks drafted, Elias Pettersson made a clean sweep with MVP, Best Rookie, Best Forward and first in Total Points.

The 19 year old was joined by a few other Swedish youngsters, for example, 22 year old Viktor Olofsson who took the Top Goal Scorer award ahead of Pettersson. The Frölunda Indians forward was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, but it was undrafted pair of Lawrence Pilut (22 yrs) from HV71 and Adam Reideborn (26 yrs) from Djurgården IF, who collected Best Defenseman and best Save Percentage from the regular season.  


World Junior Championships

The English writing press in North America have had their spotlights shining, naturally, on the talented group of Swedes who won silver at the Junior World Championships in Buffalo, including Pettersson, Lias Andersson and Rasmus Dahlin who will eventually play on the continent.


The Brit On Thin Ice Review

But there have been many shimmering stars on Swedish ice here I'm going to take a look at some on them, team by team

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Champions Hockey League 2018-9 - The Draw

The draw for the Champions Hockey League took place on Wednesday 16 May in Copenhagen at the same time as the national World Championship competition was in town.

The draw was done by a group including managers Sam Hallam and Andrew Lord. Ironically, the two will soon face each other again, but this time on opposing sides of the ice as their teams, Växjö Lakers and Cardiff Devils, ended up in the same group.

The groups are seeded, but with only two teams going forward naturally some groups might be easier than others. All four finals have seen Sweden against Finland with the result currently standing at 3-1 to the blue-and-golds.

Here's a quick rundown of who should be going from the group stages into the knockout rounds to compete for European glory:

Group A

This should see Sweden's two times champions, Frölunda Indians and Swiss ZSC Zurich Lions through to the next round.

Group B

This group contains Sweden's Malmö Redhawks but is one of the most even groups with German, Red Bull München and Finnish, TPS Turku also looking to qualify. The final team in the group is Yunost Minsk (not to be confused with KHL team, Dianmo Minsk) from Belarus who also have potential to go forward if they can get results on the road.

Group C

This group should see Sweden's Skellefteå AIK and Finnish IFK Helsinki qualify against Polish and Italian opposition.

Group D

This is another wide open group where anything is possible. We will certainly see two teams who are not from Nordic nations in the quarterfinals as this group contains teams from Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic and again, Belarus.

Group E

This group contains last year's surprise semifinalists, Oceláři Třinec, who only missed the final in a penalty shootout to eventual winners, JYP. The Czech team will be fighting it out with Sweden's Djurgården IF, Finnish Tappara and Norwegian, Storhamar. Whilst the group should be another even contest, the latter club may be the weakest of the four. However, they will be bolstered by the return to his youth team of one of the country's best ever players, 34 year old, Patrik Thoresen, who played for the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers in 2006-8.

Group F

Kärpät Oulu from Finland were seeded second and will be favourites to qualify from this group. But it is another group where the teams from Czech Republic and Germany could easily go through to the knock out stages and upset the Nordic stranglehold on the cup.

Group G

Disappointingly for British hockey, Cardiff Devils are unlikely to qualify from the toughest group. They will again have to face Swedish champions, Växjö Lakers as well as SC Bern who won the regular season of the Swiss NLA. The Lakers will probably be without top scorer, Elias Pettersson next season. But SC Bern have signed Jan Mursak (pictured above) from Frölunda Indians. The Slovenian scoring machine had a higher Points Per Game average than the young Swede in the SHL last season. Whilst the 19 year old will be playing his first game in the NHL in the autumn, the 30 year old can boast 46 games with the Detroit Red Wings as well as impressive stats from the AHL and KHL.

Group H

Reigning champions, JYP Jyväskylä from Finland should qualify from this group but behind them it will be a close contest between teams from the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The Swiss, who have yet to leave their mark on this European competition, will be represented by HC Lugano in this, the final group of the 2018-9 CHL competition.

For a full line up see:


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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part VII - Conclusion

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 7. Conclusion: Who plays in the SHL?

The NHL Entry Draft is a very exciting part of the sport and has a dramatic effect on European hockey. But it is not as simple as saying that the NHL and AHL drain Europe of it's best players.

I think there can be no doubt that Sweden (and other European countries) are the birthing ground of many of the NHLs best players, whether it is  Colorado Avalanche's forward Peter Forsberg or Detroit Red Wings' defenseman Niklas Lidström, or even New York Rangers' keeper, Henrik Lundqvist. But it is also the current playing field of many of Europe's greatest players, whether they come from Sweden, North America or any other part of Europe.

Take a random look at any of the SHL teams, as I've tried to do it these articles, and you'll see a fantastic mix multicultural talent. It might be rocket from the blue line by Finnish Kristian Näkyvä, a deft deflection in front of goal by Swede, Oscar Möller (above) or an aggressive fore-check from Canadian, Brendan Shinnimin. But wherever you look you'll see amazing players at the top of their game.

In the SHL you can, naturally, find a huge range of Swedish players, from young rising stars on their way to the top of the sports echelons, as well as players who blossomed in the middle of their careers, or those with talent and experience towards the latter end of their career.

But you can also find some of North America's best players over the age of 25, including those who have had a very successful stint in the AHL, even if they have not shone as brightly in the NHL.  All these missed up with a sprinkling of players from Europe's other ice hockey make the SHL what it is today, one of Europe's finest leagues.

Now all that's left to do it get out there and see some great live hockey!

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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part VI

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 6. Players from Europe's other hockey nations

The quality of the SHL often draws in players from other European countries, primarily from the neighbouring Nordic countries of Finland, Norway and Denmark.

In 2017-8 season there were in fact more Finnish players than Americans playing in the SHL. That included Olympian Sakari Manninen, who like Lasch is only 170cm tall, as well as two of the highest scoring backs in the series, Färjestad BK's Jesse Virtanen and Kristian Näkyvä from Linköping HC.

The 27 year old Näkyvä (above) is due to join Manninen at Örebro BK next season. The Finn is unusual in that he was not drafted, but got to sign a one year contact with the Nashville Predators as a free agent in 2015. That meant he got to play one year with their AHL team, Milwaukee Admirals, but then joined Linköping after that, two seasons ago.

The majority of the Norwegian Olympic team play their club hockey in Sweden. That includes forward Mathis Olimb, who like Linköping teammate Näkyvä, has also played one year in the USA as a free agent, but with Rockford Ice Hogs, the AHL development team of Chicago Blackhawks.

Meanwhile, nearly half of Danish players who play in Sweden all play for the same club, Malmö Redhawks. This is not really too much of a surprise, as the city is joined to the Danish capital, Copenhagen, by a bridge. One of those players is 19 year old back, Malte Setkov, who was drafted last year with the Detroit Red Wings and played in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part V

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1


PART 5. Swedes who have never been drafted

Whilst Sweden is the most represented European nation in the NHL and AHL, with only c. 80 Swedes currently playing in the NHL and c. 50 in the AHL, obviously the majority of Swedish hockey players remain in their home country and have successful careers here.

Undrafted doesn't mean untalented, it just means that the stars didn't line up at the right time and play to be spotted by NHL scouts in the early part of your career.

Two example of these players who played each other in this year's final Skellefteå's Pär Lindholm and Växjö's Robert Rosén.

Robert Rosén (above) has been playing for 8 years in the SHL and had a breakout year in 2011-12 when he won the Total Points competition then aged only 22, too late to be drafted in the NHL. Despite regular successful seasons at the top end of the SHL and playing internationally for Sweden since then, the talented 30 year old has never been selected for the World Cup or the Olympic Games for the national team.

Already at number 75 in Total Points scored in the history of the league, if he was to score 200 points over the next 10 years of play, he will enter an elite group - the Top 10 points scorers of all time in Sweden. Quite possible, when we consider that in his worst ever season in the SHL he scored 23 points - and that was his first season at senior level.

26 year old Pär Lindholm's potential was noted when he played for Sweden at Under 19 level. But crucially, he was not chosen for the Under 20 team and missed the exposure to NHL talent scouts the Junior World Championship would have given him.

However, the last two years at Skellefteå AIK have seen the Swede take huge strides forward in points production. In both years the centre has scored nearly a point a game and twice come second behind Joakim Lindström in the club's internal points competition. His success this year, alongside teammates Lindström and Möller, earned all three of them places in the Swedish Olympic team in Korea.

The negative of the NHL draft system is that it only rewards players who can show high levels of performance in their late teens, and not those who mature into their position in their twenties. On the other hand, when players like Rosén and Lindholm are not drafted it means they stay in Sweden. So we get to see their skills live three times a week instead of occasionally in the middle of the night on TV!

Next, in Part 6, we will take our final look at one of the groups that makes up the international melting pot of the SHL.

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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part IV

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 4. North Americans wanting to extend their careers

The SHL makes a great place for a successful career to those who have had success in the AHL but have not been able to break through into the NHL. That means that the country is a magnet for both American and Canadians who want to extend their career playing in Europe when their NHL dream is not realised.

In terms of top scorers that would include Ryan Lasch, Aaron Palushaj and Andrew Calof or Växjö Lakers' toughman Brendan Shinnimin. In fact, over 10% of players in the SHL are from Canada or America.

27 year old Shinnimin seems to finally have found himself again, scoring more regularly this season than during his three year's in the AHL at the Portland Pirates between 2012-15. The Canadian centre only got to play 12 games with Arizona Coyotes in 2015 meaning he had to move to Europe to continue to play professional hockey. Two seasons, first the NLA, and then the KHL, didn't see him flourish until moving to Sweden for this championship winning season with the Lakers.

A similar story can be told about American striker, Aaron Palushaj. The 28 year old played 68 NHL games with three different clubs without being to establish his place among that elite. After two unremarkable seasons in the KHL, the 2007 St Louis Blues drafted player has had a fantastic season at Brynäs IF, probably his best since leaving the AHL in 2014, where has played over 340 games amassing more than 230 points. 

Both Shinnimin and Palushaj succeeded in the AHL before moving to Europe, but 31 year old American, Ryan Lasch and 26 year old Canadian, Andrew Calof are forwards who early on realised their style of hockey might thrive better in Europe.

In both case it might be to do with size, as the North American leagues tend to write off any player under 6 ft/ 183cm. Calof at 173 cm has only played professional hockey in Sweden, but with great success. He has two silver medals and one championship medal in only four year's in the country finishing in the top 25 for Total Points in three of those four years.

Ryan Lasch maybe considerably shorter than many of his opponents, at 170cm, but has an absolutely phenomenal career in Europe having won the national title three years in a row, with different teams in Finland, Sweden and Switzerland between 2015-2017. This year back in Sweden at Frölunda Indians he was second in Total Points, only one single point behind talk-of-town, Elias Pettersson. The American won that competition in 2015-6 when the Indians also won the Champions Hockey League, where Lasch was the European competition's top scorer.

Like Calof, he came to Sweden straight after college, but then went back to North America to play 30 games in the AHL in 2012-3 season without achieving the level of points production that has otherwise characterised his career. Lasch can rightly think of himself as the best American forward in Sweden and, arguably, one of the best in Europe.

In Part 5 we will look at a couple of the successful Swedish players who have never been drafted but still pack a punch in the Swedish Hockey League.

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DRAFTED: The NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part III

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 3. Older Swedes on their way back from North America

If we look at the Top 10 points scorers in the SHL, it is not surprising to see that four of those ten are players have been drafted and had experience in North America but then returned to Sweden.

That would include Färjestad BK duo of Johan Ryno and Dick Axelsson and Skellefteå AIK pairing of Joakim Lindström and Oscar Möller.

Ryno and Axelsson, both 31 years old, were drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2005 and 2006 respectively and played circa 10 games for their AHL affiliate, Grand Rapids Griffins, before returning to Europe. 

In contrast, 34 year old Lindström and 29 year old Möller had greater success in North America. Lindström (above) was drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002 and Möller by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007 and both had four year periods in the States where they yo-yoed between the AHL and NHL. Both players had good form in the AHL but were unable to produce at the same rate in the higher division, meaning a return to Europe.

Both have flirted with the KHL but seem to have thrived back in the SHL. Lindström has now played more than 400 regular season games in the SHL whereas Möller has just under 200 games, all with current club, Skellefteå AIK. Both continue to excel as goal and assist production and this year collected a second place medal with the team from Västerbotten.

In Part 4 we will look at some Americans and Canadian players who have made the journey to Europe to play in the SHL.

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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part II

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 2: Young Swedes on their way out of the country

First, we can see the younger Swedes who are looking forward to a possible career in North America in the near future.

These can be players that have already been drafted or will shortly be drafted. These could include Frölunda Indians 22 year old forward, Victor Olofsson who was drafted in 2014 by the Buffalo Sabres. This year he finished 8th in Total Points and was the league's top Goal scorer and got the most goals during the Power Play. Last year he was part of the team that won the Champions Hockey League.

But also the 19 year old, Elias Pettersson. The Växjö Lakers' forward was the regular season and playoffs' Top Points getter and was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2017 in the first round.

It goes without saying that the much touted Rasmus Dahlin is also in this group. The 18 year old will surely be chosen in the first round as the top three to be chosen in the draft. Although, he has not put in the highest numbers on the board at either end of the ice, it is partly Dahlin's ability to compete with people significantly older than the D-man from Trollhättan.

He first turned heads when as a 16 year old he played in Sweden's Junior World Championship team in 2016-7. As well as appearing in this Under 20s competition he also started playing with the senior team at Gothenburg Frölunda where he had moved only a year before to play with their under 16s team.

Dahlin is typical of this group of younger Swedes. They are generally speaking drafted on the basis of their performances on the international stage, primarily the Junior World Championships. The annual World Championships and the four-yearly Winter Games, of course, are also a window in which individuals can showcase their talents to prospective future employees.

The Swedish Olympic team chose not to take along it's talented youngsters to Korea - apart from Dahlin, who was benched for most of the tournament. When he was finally brought onto the ice in the third period of the Quarter Final match against Germany he managed to only get 2.59 of ice time - but still found time to get an assist on Anton Lander's goal.

In Part 3 we will looked the older Swedes who returning to the SHL after a time in the North American leagues.

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DRAFTED: NHL Entry Draft and the SHL - Part I

DRAFTED: who plays in the SHL? 

 An article in parts by @ABritOnThinIce1

PART 1: The Effect of the NHL Draft on the SHL

The SHL is the top division of Swedish hockey that has produced many talented players, not least, Rasmus Dahlin, the 18 year Frölunda Indians back who is certain to be chosen in the first round of this year's NHL draft in June.

But who else plays there, what can you expect to see if you turn up to a typical game?

To answer that question we need to first have a look at the draft system.

The impact of the NHL and AHL on Europe

At this time of year, when the European seasons start to wind up, eyes can become even more fixated on the Stanley Cup playoffs and the forthcoming draft selection, where Europe's top talent can be handpicked by North America's richest clubs.

In the first round of the NHL draft in 2017 Växjö Lakers' superstar, Elias Pettersson as well as HV71's defenseman, Erik Brännström, were among those chosen from the Swedish league.

The draft system has a powerful effect on European leagues like the SHL, taking out it's best young players like New York Rangers first round drafted Lias Andersson. The 19 year old understandably left Frölunda Indians in the middle of the 2017-8 season to pursue the NHL dream.

But it is not just take when it comes to the North America leagues.

Players at the latter stages of their career leave the NHL, such as René Bourque, who played the final year of his career here in Sweden at Djurgården IF after 12 seasons and 725 games in the NHL.

But the AHL also plays an important role.

Lias Andersson, for example, has played more games for the Rangers' AHL affiliate, Hartford Wolf Pack than for the NHL club itself.

The league now bills itself as a "development league" for the NHL and is designed for players who have been drafted (like Pettersson, Brännström and Andersson) so that they can mature into players who can compete in the world's top league. To create space for these younger players - and there are over 200 drafted every year - the AHL has several rules which means that teams cannot play a large amount older players. One key rule for our discussion, is that teams can only dress one player who has played more than four seasons in the upper echelons of the sport.

So every year the AHL spits out players who have not found a home on a NHL roster, as many as 10 players from each of the 30 teams. And if these players want to continue they need to travel across the world to new leagues, including Sweden's SHL, which do not have restrictions in terms of age or experience.

So the NHL draft and the AHL have a give and take relationship with the European leagues.

In Part 2 we will look at the young Swedes in the SHL hoping to break into the NHL.

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Swedish Women’s Hockey’s answer to Wayne Gretzky?

Austrian, Denise Altmann, has decided to hang up her skates after 11 years with Linköping Hockey Club. The 30 year old has been part of the captaincy team for both club and country over the last 6 years.

Altmann has played in every season the women's hockey league has been established in Sweden, first with the name as Rikserien and then as the SDHL. She has set the records that everyone else behind must try to beat.

She finishs her career as the SDHL's highest ever scorer in Goals, Assists and Total Points. In all, she an incredible 539 Points in the regular season evenly split between Goals and Assists.

She has twice won the championship with Linköping and twice has come second, including this season, which would be her last for the Östergötland club. Had she played 7 more games in the regular season she would have also been the player with the most games in the league, a position now held by Brynäs IF's Angelica Östlund, who also retired this year.

To give a comparison, hockey legend and superstar Wayne Gretzky, is the person in the NHL history who has the same position as Altmann, as the League's top Goals scorer, Assist getter and Total Points holder. The Austrian's Points Per Game of 1.77 would put her third in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

These records are also likely to hold for a long time. That's because she has an enormous lead of over 200 points (!!!) over rivals in these competitions, such as Erika Grahm (MODO Hockey) and Emma Nordin (Luleå HF). Although these two Swedes are a bit younger at 27 years old, they are unlikely to catch the Austrian unless they play well into their 30s.

But otherwise, the former Linköping player has set a very high bench mark, making a case to be the best forward in this first generation of hockey players in the Swedish league.

Next autumn Denise's hockey adventure will continue as she joins the leadership team at Linköping Hockey Club as a trainer with focus on developing forwards.



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