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Congratulations to Färjestad BK - winners of the SHL regular season

Despite losing in overtime last night, Färjestad BK take home to regular season championship race, but only on goal difference, from Luleå HF

Both teams finished with 101 points for the season, averaging 2 points a game, but Färjestad had the largest goal difference in the whole league with +51 - 13 points ahead of rivals Luleå who they beat 3-0 at home on Tuesday in Karlstad. 

This league topping goal difference is due to a team effort. So that when you look at the league’s +/- statistics for the regular season Fãrjestad players dominate, taking eight of the top ten places. Right back Jens Westin led the way with +21. Otherwise it was 2016 Boston Bruins drafted Oskar Steen and other forwards including Linus Johansson, Daniel Viksten, Gustaf Rydahl and Jesper Olofsson who filled the top spots. 

Their new signing for the season, Finland’s Jesse Virtanen (pictured) picking up the best scoring defenseman in the league with 41pts (6G+35A) putting him in an impressive fourth place on Total Points behind the SHL’s top forwards in Ryan Lasch (FHC), Joakim Lindström (SKE) and Derek Roy (LHC). Meanwhile, Färjestad forward Joakim Nygård was second on goal scored with 21. 

And with this club it is very much a Swedish victory - there are only Nordic players on the roster and all but three are Swedes. Furthermore, the team has no NHL match experience whatsoever and of the six players who have played in the AHL no-one has played more than half a season in the league. For example, keeper Mark Werner, drafted by Colorado Avalanche in 2016 played just 4 matches for their AHL outfit, San Antonio Rampage last year. 

Back in Sweden, he and Markus Svensson both finished high up in the netminder’s competition with SVS% of 92.63 and 91.96 putting them in third and sixth behind winner Joel Lassinantti of Luleå. 

Svensson maybe one if they keys players in the playoffs.  Last time Färjestad were in the final was 2014, but it was Svensson and Skellefteå AIK that denied the Karlstad team the title. That was his second title with the Norrbotton club after which he moved to the KHL, only to return to Sweden last autumn.

This home grown group of players now have just one more hurdle to jump - to get successfully through the playoffs so that Färjestad can again be crown as the best in Sweden for the first time since 2011. 

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All to play for in last game of SHL season

After 51 matches each, the final standings in the SHL will come down to the last game of the season. The results in those matches will determine who wins the regular season; who will have to play an extra match in the playoff ; and, who will will stay in the SHL but not get a part in the playoffs.

Positions 1 and 2

Luleå HF must win in regulation and Färjestad BK lose, otherwise the Karlstad club win after their 3-0 home win over Luleå on Tuesday. If Färjestad's Joakim Nygård, pictured, scores two goals he could also take over the goal scoring competition from Djurgården's Emil Bemström.

Positions 6 and 7

Malmö Redhawks must win in regulation and Skellefteå AIK lose if the Skåne team are to go sixth. Both play matches against teams where they are not automatically favourite to win. In the unlikely event Skelleftea's Joakim Lindström scores eight points in the game against Rögle BK he could take the Total Points competition off Frölunda Indians, Ryan Lasch.

Positions 10 to 12

Only two points separate Örebro HK, Brynäs IF and Linköping HC, but one club will get to play playoff hockey this year. Permutations are complicated but if we just talk about straight regulation wins and losses we can see that:

If Örebro win they are through.

If Brynäs win and Örebro lose they are through.

If Linköping win and both Örebro and Brynäs lose they are through.

What's going to happen? 

Looking at the fixtures, I would go for Färjestad, Malmö and Örebro as the teams most likely to triumph in their quest for first, sixth and tenth spot.

Thursday's matches (with teams involved in must win games, highlighted):

Luleå v Växjö

Rögle v Skellefteå

Mora v Timrå

Färjestad v Djurgården

Malmö v Örebro

HV71 v Linköping

Frölunda v Brynäs

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SDHL final - what to expect

For the second year in a row the final will be between favourites, Luleå/ MSSK and Linköping HC. A Brit on Thin Ice takes possible games plan that will determine who wins the Swedish Championship 2018/9.

THE GAME PLAN

Linköping HC will have to focus on defense and blocking shots to protect netminder Eveliina Suonpää and hope for frustration and mistakes from Luleå. At the same time they need forwards Kennedy Marchment & Co. to be 100% focused and take the chances that come, such as Power Play, where defender Sidney Morin will be a key creative player. Expect the underdogs to try grind out wins with one or two goal margins.

Luleå HF will go for out-shooting their opponents with their super talented forwards of Emma Nordin, Michelle Karvinen and defender Jenni Hiirkoski. and relying on netminder Sara Grahn at the back. 

They have shown absolutely  no respect for their opponents in quarterfinals and semis, trying to blow them off the ice with their superiority by going for hard and fast starts where they crush the opponent’s morale in the first period with two or three goals.

Last year Luleå won the series 2-1, with an overwhelming third match victory at home. During the season the teams have met four times and it was 3-1 to last year's champions. Few would bet again a similar result in the best of five series that starts in Luleå tonight at 18:15 on SVT. 

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#4 of the 4 battles that will decide SDHL final

4. GOALTENDING: Sara Grahn/ Maria Omberg (SWE) v Eveliina Suonpää (FIN)

In a reversal of the forwards and backs situation, Luleå have the best Swedes in the league on their team, whilst Linköping have the best Finn playing in Europe between pipes. Luleå have the incredible luxury of Sweden's top two netminders on their roster who has ever both played for their country this year. So whilst they may lack in out and out defenders, the club more than make up for that in net. 30 year old Sara Grahn was the league's best netminder with a SVS% of 93.19.

Eveliina Suonpää may have a Olympic bronze medal in her palmeres but she did not play a game at Pyeongchang as Finland's second choice keeper. The 23 year old has not been in in a playoff final before, and will probably need to improve on her 91.49 SVS% from the season for Linköping to be in a chance of an surprise series victory.

SUMMARY: Luleå Sara Grahn is currently the best keeper in the SDHL and has international and club experience in high pressure games that Suonpää lacks. Advantage: Luleå

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#3 of the 4 battles that will decide SDHL final

3. DEFENSE- Johanna Fällman (SWE) v Emilia Ramboldt (SWE)

Two Swedish "veterans" of SDHL hockey at 28 and 30 years old, both play a tough, physical brand of hockey coupled with great positioning and timing. In the regular season Fällman picked up considerably more PIMs than Ramboldt - mainly due to be ejected for Fighting when she scored a Gordie Howe hattrick in January.

In fact discipline was a regular problem for the Norrbotten team with five players - Ferno, Salvolainen, Fällman, Hiirokoski and Karvinen - picking up 196 PIMs between them. As in every playoff hockey match, penalties will play a key factor in the game, not least because in SDHL the best players often play both in the Power Play and Penalty Kill. Playing 4 on 5 means your best players are using up their resources defending when they should be attacking - a recipe for losing matches.

Linköping have come through to the final facing tougher opposition that their rivals in the playoffs. But they nonetheless have seen off Djurgården IF and MODO Hockey in just seven games. From a defensive point of view, that has included two shutouts, two games where their opponents only scored one goal and just two matches where their opponents scored more than two goals against them. 

Luleå walked over AIK in the quarterfinals, but in the semis HV71 threatened them and showed that the current champions are beatable.  

SUMMARY: The Luleå team is built primarily around attack, but Linköping have been disciplined and stingy in defense the playoffs. Advantage: Linköping

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#2 of the 4 battles that will decide SDHL final

2. GOAL SCORING FORWARDS:

Luleå - Emma Nordin (SWE)/ Michelle Karvinen (FIN)

Linköping - Kennedy Marchment (CAN)/ Pernilla Winberg (SWE)

These four do not just represent their teams' top scorers but the league's, with all of them finishing in the top 10 on Total Points. Both Emma Nordin and Michelle Karvinen are incredibly consistent, with Nordin the top scoring Swede in the league this year with 59 points and the league's top goal scorer with 31. In three of her last four seasons at Luleå the 27 year old has scored on average 60 points a season, just under 2 Points Per Game, whilst in her 11 year career in the SDHL she averages just over one PPG.

Karvinen did not manage to win the Total Points scoring competition for a fourth year in a row but ended up in third, just three points behind her Swedish teammate. She missed 10 matches this season so that 2018/9 was her worst points scoring season in the SDHL and yet she still had a 2.15 PPG average! Such is the calibre of 28 year old.

For Linköping Kennedy Marchment and Pernilla Winberg have lead the way on Total Points in the absence of the injured Swiss star, Lara Stalder. Stalder and Marchment are the only two players who have been drafted to the NWHL but are now playing in Sweden. But despite being drafted by the Buffalo Beauts in Round 1 of 2017 the 22 year old Canadian chose to play her first season outside the NCAA with Linköping. A decision the Östergötland can be very thankful for as she has been their top scorer with 52 points, only four behind Karvinen.

Whilst Marchment is in her first season outisde North American, Winberg is in her sixth after returning from the NCAA. At 30 years old she is one of the few Swedish Olympic silver medalist from 2006 still playing played and is a double Swedish champion too. 

Winberg and Marchment have played alot on the same line this year, the perfect balance of skill and maturity. Marchment is an out and out forward, best when charging the net, whereas Winberg also gets in on the defensive duties. 

SUMMARY: Whilst there is high quality forwards in both rosters, Luleå have both better quality player for player and greater depth in terms of points scoring forwards. Advantage: Luleå

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#1 of the 4 battles that will decide SDHL final

For the second year in a row the final will be between favourites, Luleå/ MSSK and Linköping HC. A Brit on Thin Ice takes a look at the key battles that will determine who wins the Swedish Championship 2018/9.

1. HIGH SCORING DEFENDERS      

Sidney Morin (USA) v Jenni Hiirikoski (FIN)

Undoubtedly, the best two-way-backs in the SHL, Linköping's Olympic Gold medalist, Sidney Morin against Luleå's Finnish Olympic Bronze medalist Jenni Hiirikoski, will be a fascinating battle. They were the top scoring defenders in the league, 23 year old Morin with 38 points (17G-21A) and 31 year old Hiirikoski with 63 (19G+44A) on the season. Morin has the hard shot from the blue line in her arsenal whereas the skillful Hiirikoski draws players to her creating space for others. The Finn came second in Total Points in the regular season, just one point behind winner, Michela Cava.

They are both have fast feet and read the game really well. The major difference, and perhaps her only weakness, is that the Finn draws more penalties with her aggressive style racking up 36 PIM in the regular season. By contrast, the taller American collected just six penalties in the whole season, meaning that she sat out for just 12 minutes in over 1900 minutes of play.

Morin's USA beat Hiirikoski's Finland in both the group stage and the semifinals of the 2018 Olympics. But in this club match the Finn will have the advantage with four of her Olympic teammates around her. The Gold medalist will have to be content with new line mate, Canadian Brooke Stacey and a new teammate from Finland, Susanna Tapani who have been brought in for the playoffs by the Östergötland club.

SUMMARY: Hiirikoski will score more points that Morin and, as they say, points make prizes. Advantage: Luleå

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SHL - Final Week of Regular Season

LaschWith just two games left in the regular season there is still plenty to play for - especially in the wildcard positions of 6-10, where it can go down to the last shot in the last minute of the last game to decide the final standings.

At the top of the table only Luleå HF and Färjestad BK can win the league. And these two teams will meet on Tuesday night in Karlstad. If Luleå win they will take the title from under their rivals' noses. If they lose it will go down to the last game of the season. On Thursday both teams have tough matches, Luleå away to Växjö Lakers with Färjestad at home to Djurgården IF.

Frölunda Indians are safe for the playoffs in third followed by Växjö and Djurgården and Skellefteå AIK in positions 4-6. These last three teams are almost guaranteed a playoff spot even if they lose both matches. Statistically they could fall out of an automatic playoff spot but if they win one game they are definitely safe.

Frölunda's Ryan Lasch (pictured) is nine points clear of Skellefteå's Joakim Lindström and looks set to win his second Top Scorer's title barring an unlikely goal spree from the Norrbotten club in their final two games.

The real area of uncertainty is positions 7 to 12 currently separated by just 11 points. In 11th and 12th Örebro BK and Linköping HC must win both their games and see teams above them lose. So Linköping's matches against Brynäs IF and then HV71 will be crucial in determining the shape of this part of the table.

Malmö Redhawks are currently top of this pile in seventh at the moment. But their two "six pointers" at home against Rögle BK on Tuesday and Örebro on Thursday will also play a key role in influencing the final table.

Meanwhile, as predicted by a Brit On Thin Ice before the season started, at the bottom of the table things are already decided with both Mora IK and Timrå IK set to play in the SHL qualification matches against the top teams in the Hockey Allsvenskan.

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SHL - February Review- Timrå

Bottom of the Pile

For Timrå IK the final matches of the season will not change their position at the bottom of the table, but are essentially training matches for the biggest games of their season - the SHL qualification matches against the winners of the Hockey Allsvenskan, most likely to be AIK or Oskarshamn IK.

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SHL - February Review- Mora

Below them by eight points are Mora IK who are also making a last minute attempt to improve of last year final table position and avoid the SHL qualification matches. Four wins in February are bringing them tantalizingly close to that and brought some of their players into the reckoning for top points. Most notably Spenser Abbott, who surprisingly sits in fourth on Total Points with 36 (7G + 29A). The 30 year old has six years experience in North America with 273 games in the AHL on his CV as well as two games in the NHL. But the Canadian is also no stranger to success in the SHL where he won the CHL/ SHL double with Frölunda in 2015/6.

However, this month has seen two less high profile players take up the top scoring duties with Swede Mattias Bromé (3G+5A) - above - and Norwegian international, Michael Haga (4G+3A) leading the charge for the Ängelholm club. The whole squad will all need to be on top form, and have the club's above them lose a few matches, if they are to escape the SHL qualification this year.

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