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Going Coast to Coast - the Californians who found success in Sweden’s second city

On 2 May Gothenburg team Frölunda Indians won the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) title after a 4-2 series win over Stockholm rivals Djurgården IF.

That the Indians winning team contained five North Americans (including three Canadians) is not so surprising. But that both Americans come from California’s sun-soaked, surfing mecca Orange County and both are confessing Christians certainly doesn’t fit the norm for the profile of a successful hockey player.

But success has followed these two players, wherever they have gone.

Ryan Lasch 

Born in Lake Forest, CA. in 1987, Ryan Lasch, has now played five of the last seven seasons in Sweden.

Like many emerging pros, Lasch’s early career saw him bouncing between leagues in Europe and North America as he sought to establish himself and hone his skills. In 2012 it looked like that he might get the much sought after dream ticket of playing in the NHL after becoming the first native of Orange County to be signed by local club, the Anaheim Ducks.

But at only 5’7″ (170 cm) his size was probably never suited to the more physical North American game and the larger European rinks gave him a chance to use his speed and agility to duck and dive out of tackles and develop into a potent goalmouth threat.

He maybe one of the shortest players in the SHL he is not short of trophies and accolades.

This year he picked up top scorer in the pan-European club competition, the Champions Hockey League (CHL), top scorer in the SHL Regular Season and the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as the Playoff MVP.

But Lasch himself says it is not really points he is after, but titles. In which case this year should count as a great success- for the second time in four years Frölunda are double SHL and CHL champions- a feat no other European club has ever achieved.

Rhett Rakhshani 

Rhett Rakhshani‘s route to Swedish success is the result of a steady move eastward from Huntington Beach, CA. where he was born one year after Lasch. He moved from the Pacific coast, to the University of Denver and then to his first professional contract in 2010 on the Atlantic coast in Bridgeport, CT.

But his rise up the career ladder suddenly came to an abrupt end. Rakhshani was a success in Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but he was unable to register a single point in his NHL games with the New York Islanders.

At only 24 years old age, Rakhshani found himself at a crossroads in his career – continue in the AHL and hope to be one of the few to gain a ”veteran” contract or move to Europe and hope to adjust and establish himself on a different continent.

He took the risk to go further east, not as far as his grandfather’s homeland in Iran, but to Sweden, where he has been ever since.

The gamble sees to have paid off as 31 year old Rakhshani, with the classic hockey player’s toothless grin, has now won his second SHL championship in four years.





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SHL 18/19 - Frölunda Indians SHL Champions after win in Stockholm

Gothenburg’s Frölunda Indians won the battle of Sweden’s two biggest cities as they took home a 4-2 final series win against Djurgården IF in Stockholm.

Frölunda won every single game in the playoffs at home and were also unstoppable on the powerplay where they scored, on average, every other time they had a man-advantage.  

The winner’s American forward, Ryan Lasch, repeated his record from the regular season by being the postseason’s top scorer as well as picking up the playoffs’ most valuable player award. Canadian Olympian, Chay Genoway became the highest scoring back in the playoffs in Swedish hockey history.

For Djurgården, it can only be a question of what-might-have-been. The reached the final after and majestic comeback against Färjestad BK and destroyed last year’s disappointment of losing in the semis to Skellefteå AIK. Particularly in the the first two matches they were the better side and in five-on-five play they were always dangerous. But with a man extra they more often than not failed to convert. In fact Frölunda’s Anaheim Ducks’ drafted, Max Friberg, is now the first player to score two shorthanded goals away from home in Swedish hockey history. 

The Indians repeated the feat from 2015/6 when they last won the SHL championship by winning the double - the Champions Hockey League Trophy and they Le Mat Trophy in the same year - something no other European team has done. 

Meanwhile captain and former Dallas Stars’ centre Joel Lundqvist raises the SHL trophy for the fourth time in his career. Naturally  New York Rangers netminder, Henrik congratulated his twin brother: “so proud of this guy! Congratulations to Frölunda Indians and the whole of Gothenburg” he wrote on Twitter. 

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3 battles that will decide the SHL championship - 3. Forwards

Forwards: Strandberg, Axelsson and Jonsson Fjällby (DIF) v Lasch, Rakhshani and Fagemo (FHC)

Djurgården is overflowing with Swedish forward talent. The three I have named are the top three scorers in the playoffs but in the regular season it was Jacob Lilja, Daniel Brodin and Jacob Josefsson that lead the way. And that doesn't account for young drafted players such as the Davidsson brothers and Emil Bemström.

This is a team designed to score goals and the challenge for Frölunda will be to match, and ultimately neutralize, this threat.

Sebastian Strandberg was an unknown until this season having played in HV71s youth teams. But the 26 year old has been steadily developing over the last four years playing in the North American ECHL, Denmark and then the Hockeyallsvenskan until this breakthrough year in the SHL.

By contrast Dick Axelsson (pictured, white helmet) at 31 represents one of the most experienced players on the squad and is coming into his prime after a relatively quiet regular season.

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2006 he only had a short spell in their AHL team before returning to Sweden. Although born in Stockholm, this is his first season back at the club which gave him his first taste of SHL hockey back in 2007. He has consistently been a member of Team Sweden when the North Americans players are excluded. This playoffs have seen him to rise to his full potential and arguably play some of the best hockey of his career.

Axel Jonsson Fjällby represents the young super talented group of Djurgården players who have excelled at the Junior World Championships, got drafted by NHL and are on the cusp of breaking through into their respective AHL squads. Aged between 19-22 of these four - Bemström, Marcus Davidsson and brother Jonathan - it is only Jonsson-Fjällby has so far played in North America. That was with the Washington Capitals' devoplment team, Hershey Bears

All four are game changers and that doesn't account for the fact that they also have NHL experience returnees Niclas Bergfors and Josefsson on the squad too.

Frölunda Indians are not short of talent up front too, but it is not so broadly spread and concentrated in fewer players, not least American, Ryan Lasch (pictured in green helmet) 

At 5'6" (170 cm) his height has probably the only thing that had prevented him from a successful career in his home country where he has only played 30 games in the AHL. But in Europe it has been non-stop success with top scorers awards and national championship finals in all three countries he has played in. He is in his fourth season at Frölunda and was part of the double winning team in 2015/6 when he was the SHL and CHL top scorer and top assist getter. The only thing that's missing in comparison to three years ago - the SHL championship.

If Djurgården can shut down 32 year old Lasch they cut off the club's most prolific and creative player - a must if they want to spoil the Gothenburg team's party.

Another 30+ Californian whose has had made a big impact here is 31 year old, New York Islanders drafted Rhett Rakhshani. He had two successful seasons in their AHL development club where he gained a Point Per Game and even got to play a handful of matches for the Islanders.

He is now in his fifth club in seven years here in Sweden and is finally starting to show the form he had when with Växjö Lakers and they won their first SHL championship in 2014/5 and the American won the competition for most points in the playoffs- the same position he holds today.

Finally we have 19 year old Samuel Fagermo - Frölunda's answer to Jonsson Fjällby et al. He played his first Junior World Championship this winter and will surely be drafted this summer.

He shown in the regular season with 14G+11A making him the team's second highest goal scorer behind Simon Hjälmarsson. Whilst the 30 year old St Louis Blues drafted centre continues to produce in the playoffs, the youngster hasn't reached his full potential. He only scored his first goal in the postseason against Luleå in the semifinals.

It is hard to separate the two, the Stockholm team with a spread of young talented players against a smaller group on of mature players from Gothenburg. I'm going to give it to Djurgården as they have more match winners - especially Dick Axelsson.

Advantage: Djurgården

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3 battles that will decide the SHL championship - 2. Defensemen

Defence: Hultström and Garrison (DIF) vs Sigalet and Genoway (FHC)

Djurgården's team is built primarily on attack with the aim of outscoring their opponents whilst relying on the in-form Reideborn to keep the score down at the back.

Given that, a great deal of weight still relies on 26 year old, Linus Hultström (above) and 34 year old Jason Garrison to keep Frölunda's forwards away from goal scoring opportunities. These two will be clocking the most ice time even if they are not the ones dishing out the big hits.

The younger Swede has played the last seven seasons in the SHL, first with Linköping HC and the last four with Djurgården. And like the test of his team is not goal shy with 0.43 Goal Per Game average.

In Garrison the Stockholm team brought in a player that covered a hole in their squad- a mature import player with 555 NHL games behind him who played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like Hultström he also can find the net.

Bossing it at the back for Frölunda are two superb Canadians who clock up the most ice time in Jonathan Sigalet (pictured) and Chay Genoway.

33 year old Sigalet was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2006 and whilst only playing one game he played six seasons in the AHL before moving to the KHL for four years then to Sweden where he been since 2014/5.

Not a high scorer, he's a more traditional defenseman, good a reading the play and minimize goal scoring opportunities. In both 5 on 5 and the power play it is often Sigalet that leads the breakout from behind the net.

10 months younger than his teammate, Genoway's journey to his first season in the SHL and Frölunda's very similar. Although not drafted, he played one game for Minnesota Wild in 2011/2 which he still counts as a career highlight. Then went onto four seasons the AHL before also coming to Europe to play in the KHL. During that time he started to play in the national team culminating in collecting a bronze medal in last year's Pyeongchang Olympics.

At 5'8" he is a point scoring back with an average of just under a point every other game in the AHL, KHL and SHL. But despite being smaller than average he is not afraid to put his body on the line and even dropped the gloves in a CHL match against Vienna Capitals in their title winning run (see video).

Frölunda also have the resources to have brought in two more backs with NHL experience for the end of the season in 27 year old Canadian Brandon Gormley and 38 year old Swede David Printz.

So whilst all four backs are extremely competent, the Indians have better pure defensive players which will be needed to break down the Djurgården attack.

Advantage: Frölunda

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3 battles that will decide the SHL championship - 1. Netminders

Three key battles that will decide the SHL championships

1.Netminders: Mattson (FHC) v Reideborn (DIF)

Djurgården's Adam Reideborn won keeper of the year in 2017/8 and came in second this year behind Luleå's Joel Lassinantti with a 92.90 SVS% on the season ahead of both Frölunda's netminder Johan Mattsson

The two keepers were both born in Stockholm and in 2013/4 were on the same Djurgården team when they were in the Hockeyallsvenskan.

Reideborn was the go-to-man playing two-thirds of the games that year. Since then the 27 year old has played five seasons in the SHL with his career best season coming last year as Djurgården made it to the semifinals. This will be his first Le Mat Trophy final series.

Whereas Reideborn shone in the regular season, the post season has been a different story, with Mattsson leading the way with an impressive 94.03 SVS%.

The 26 year old, 2011 draft pick for Chicago Blackhawks is only in his second season in the SHL and this is his first playoff run. Having the best season of his career, this will also be his first SHL final.

Backup keepers

The great advantage for Frölunda is that they have a tried and tested second choice keeper in Johan Gustavsson, whereas Djurgården's Robin Jensen is an unknown quantity.

The 23 year old Jensen has struggled in the playoffs matches he has played, for example, letting in six on home ice against Färjestad in the last round.

Whereas the Gothenburg team can boast in Johan Gustafsson, a 28 year old drafted by Minnesota Wild in 2010 who has played two seasons in the AHL with their development team, Iowa Wild, and has won the SHL/ CHL double with Frölunda in 2015/6.

Advantage: Frölunda

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Season’s climax - SHL final - Frölunda v Djurgården

On Sunday the best of seven final starts in Gothenburg with a Brit On Thin Ice's preseason favourites, Frölunda Indians going for a repeat of the 2015/6 season when they won both the Champions Hockey League and Le Mat Trophy.

Djurgården IF will be underdogs but are not without skill or hope, especially after an spectacular Game 7 victory away in Karlstad on Thursday.

Frölunda come to the series unbeaten at home in the playoffs and were six points ahead of their capital city based rivals at the end of the regular season. The result from the regular season was a dead heat with the Indians winning the two games in 2018, home and away, whilst the Stockholm team won both games in 2019, also home and away.

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SHL 2018/9 - Semi final Review - Färjestad BK v Djurgården IF

Färjestad BK v Djurgården IF

When the top team took on the fourth placed team fans were treated to high scoring series, full of drama that went all the way to a match seven decider in Karlstad.

The regular season's top scoring defenseman and Finn Jesse Virtanen scored twice for Färjestad in Match 1. That contributed to a 5-2 home win for the regular season winners.

In match 2 in Stockholm all seemed to going well for the Karlstad team who went ahead 2-0 with goals from Michael Lindqvist and Marcus Nilsson. Lindqvist started the season at New York Rangers' AHL development team, Hartford Wolf Pack and would end night on 2G+1A. But that was not before Djurgården fought their way to a 5-3 win with Chicago Blackhawks drafted Robin Norell scoring the Game Winning Goal as well as an assist on Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Emil Bemström's 2-2 equalizing goal for the Stockholm club.

Game 3 saw the Stockholm team win again. This time it was the 31 year old former Färjestad forward Dick Axelsson who slotted home the winner in a 2-1 game.

And that trend continued in Game 4 in Stockholm where Sebastian Strandberg (pictured), Mattias Guter and Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Daniel Brodin making it 3-1 on the night and 3-1 in games to Djurgården.

But just when it looked like they were out, Färjestad would mounted the mother of all comebacks outscoring their opponents 12-3 in the next two two games.

On home ice in Match 5, Färjestad destroyed their opponents 8-2 (!) with Detroit Red Wings drafted Johan Ryno coming out tops with 3G+1A and team mate Marcus Nilsson also gaining four points with 1G+3A.

And it was again the undrafted 26 year old Nilsson who was leading points getter in Match 6 with 2G+1A. They inflicted an embarrassing 1-6 defeat of Djurgården in front of their home fans at Hovet.

The momentum seemed have shifted and Färjestad were now favourites in a mouthwatering game seven in Karlstad.

The teams enter the third period even at 1-1 but after just two minutes, none other than Djurgården's Dick Axelsson countered to make it 1-2 to the away team. That lead to a mad scramble with both teams knowing that the next goal would most like be the game, and series, decider.

And it was none other than defector Axelsson who stole the puck again and countered flipping a beautifully weighted pass to Sebastian Strandberg to found the net past Markus Svensson for his second goal of the game.

Like his opponent Lindqvist, Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, the Washington Capitals drafted forward started the season in the AHL before returning to Sweden. At it was the 21 year old scored the empty netter to make it 1-4 to Djurgården, but more importantly sent them to the final 4-3 on games after last year's bitter disappointment when they went out in the semis themselves.

The Final

Djurgården IF will meet Frölunda Indians in Gothenburg on Sunday with the Champions Hockey League winners with home ice advantage.

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SHL 2018/9 - semi final review- Luleå v Frölunda

The semi finals saw the top four teams in the regulation season face each other in a best-of-seven match series.

Luleå HF v Frölunda Indians

Luleå had the perfect end to the regulation season and carried their form into the playoffs where many were tipping them to go all the way.

Champions Hockey League wins Frölunda had other ideas and challenged the pre-match favourites from the first match in Luleå where they eked out a 4-3 win in overtime with New York Islanders' drafted American Rhett Rakhshani (see photo) slotting the Game Winning Goal.

Returning to Gothenburg Frölunda put on a masterful display with Chicago Blackhawks drafted Johan Mattson holding a shutout whilst Boston Bruins drafted Canadian and former Luleå player Jonathan Sigalet and Swede Ponthus Westerholm sealed the 2-0 victory.

In Match three back at home, Luleå left it late to gain their first, and indeed, only win in the series. With  c.15 minutes to go in the last period American Jack Connelly took the team's level at 1-1. It was left to with 20 year old Caroline Hurricanes drafted Jesper Sellgren scoring the GwG with less than two minutes to go. 36 year old Swede Karl Fabricius scored the empty netter to complete at 3-1 victory for the home side.

But back in the Scandinavium it was the same story, with Mattson keeping a clean sheet whilst goals were provide from Rakhshani, 19 year old Samuel Fagermo and 20 year old LA Kings drafted defenseman, Jakob Moverare.

With home advantage and needing a win to keep their final dreams alive, Luleå were outplayed in their last game of the season, letting in five goals without reply. Frölunda cemented their final place in the final with two goals from with Anders Grönlund and Ryan Lasch gaining one goal and two assists in the 6-2 win.

Rakhshani is back to playing some of his best hockey which saw him win the most goals in the playoff competition when Växjö won their first title in 2014/5. He joins fellow Californian Lasch at top of the team's Total Points with 12.

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Women’s World Cup - US triumph in final and Sweden’s flop in Finland

The Final 

Home nation, Finland broke the North American dominance which has seen Canada and the USA fight out the last four world championships as well as the Pyeongchang Olympics when they beat Canada 4-2 in the semifinal on Saturday.

On Sunday they faced the USA on home ice in Espoo with nine players who play in SDHL on the ice, including seven players in the top two lines.

In a tightly fought game the only goals would be scored in second period with less than three minutes between them as first American NCAA player, Annie Pankowski found the net before Linköping HC’s Susanna Tapani equalized with Luleå’s Petra Nieminen gaining an assist. 

And that would be the only goals all the way through to penalties where Amanda Kessel found the net and Pankowski would score twice. Playing on home ice, Espoo Blues back, Minnamari Touminen would score for the hosts. However, Luleå’s Michelle Karvinen, Ronja Salvolainen and Petra Nieminen and last of all, Tapani would all miss to see the Americans crowned World and Olympic champions. 

The Finns will be able to look back with pride with a historic Silver and the Luleå/ MSSK contingent will be able to look back upon an Olympic Bronze, Champions Cup winners and two Swedish championships in a truly remarkable 14 months for Finnish hockey. 

Canada would take bronze crushing Russia 7-0 in third and fourth placed playoff. 

Sweden’s Damkronorna

At the Olympics in Pyeongchang last year the Swedish team sunk to an all time low finishing seventh out of eight teams with only hosts Korea below them. Much of the blame was put on manager Leif Björk, who was rumoured to be unpopular amongst the players, who lost his job on the return to Europe.

Sweden were seeded in the second half of the table  away from the favourites so new manager, Ylva Martinsen was expecting to make it through to the knockout stages in a group that contained Germany, France, Japan and the Czech Republic. 

Leksand’s veteran, Sofia Engström was the only one to score in an overtime loss to Germany. 

19 year old and former Djurgården player Hanna Olsson, captain and Luleå forward Emma Nordin and veteran Erika Grahm all found the net past MODO Hockey’s netminder, Klara Peslarova, one of three SDHL players in the Czech team. But it was not enough to beat eventual group winners who came out 5-3 victors.

Four players who play in Sweden were in the French team and it was MODO Hockey’s duo of Marion Allemoz and Lore Baudrit who assisted on France’s 1-0 goal after 15:15. But Sweden would finally gain their first victory in the tournament with goals from Luleå’s Melinda Olsson and Linköping’s Pernilla Winberg in a 2-1 victory. 

The final match of the tournament was against Japan who had beaten the Swedes at the Olympics forcing them into the seventh and eighth playoff. If Sweden lost this game they would be demoted to the Division 1A World Championships in 2019/20. 

Captain Nordin scored first but Luleå teammate and Japan’s captain Chiho Osawa gained an assist in their equalizing 1-1 goal. Engström would get her second goal of the game only for Japan to score two with the game winning goal coming with 1:15 left on the clock. 

So for the first ever time in Swedish women’s hockey history, they will play in Division 1 next year in a nightmare start for Martinsen in her first ever tournament. 

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Shock results as two new teams enter the SHL 2019/20

The qualification for the 2019/20 SHL places between the bottom two clubs in the SHL and the best two clubs in the Hockeyallsvenskan is now over.

And the surprise is that neither Mora IK or Timrå IK will stay in the top division, but instead will be replaced by Leksand IF and IK Oskarshamn.

Shock results in Hockeyallsvenskan 

The regular season in Allsvenskan saw Stockholm’s AIK cruise to the top of the league 11 points ahead of second placed Oskarshamn. AIK were expected to sail through the decider series against the second place team and have a good chance taking on Timrå in the qualifier. 

But the team from Småland we’re having none of it and beat the Stockholm club 2-1 in games. 

Whilst Oskarshamn have the best two keepers from the regular season in youngsters Adam Åhman (19 yrs) and Christoffer Rifalk (22 yrs), it is AIKs Erik Källgren (22 yrs) who has caught attention of North American scouts. Having been drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 they took up their right to take him to America where he is currently in the roster for their AHL team, Tucson Roadrunners. 

AIK knocked out

However, the Stockholm club got a second bite at the cherry playing fourth placed, Leksand IF, who won their playoff match. And again the favourites were unable to get the job done and were defeated by thr Dalarna club who finished the season 19 points behind AIK. Perhaps it was partly to do with experience as the win for Leksand meant for the third season in a row they would play their closest rivals, Mora IK, in the SHL qualifier.

Timrå v Oskarshamn 

Timrå may have struggled in the SHL, but were the favourites for the series against the Allsvenskan club. The games proved tight as tight can be - the first three matches being decided by overtime. So, unsurprisingly, it went to the seventh game, the winner takes all decided in Timrå.  

Jonas Engström, who had been second in the team’s internal points race in the season, scored the first of three goals the team would score on the night and Rifalk was unbeaten meaning a 0-3 victory for Oskarshamn. So for the first time in the club’s history and after 23 years in the Hockeyallsvenskan, the Småland club will play in the top division of Swedish hockey next season. 

The Battle of Siljan

The towns of Mora and Leksand lie just 30 km apart at either end of Lake Siljan. Mora had won the last two times these teams had met in the SHL qualifier and with four players scoring more than 30 points on the season, including captain and former NHL/ AHL player Spenser Abbott coming in 13th on Total Points, they were probably favourites over their Allsvenskan rivals. 

But it was not to be. 

Leksand IF took the series with relative ease, 4-1 in games. And it was the unknown 19 year old defenseman, August Berg, pictured, who took the series winning goal for the blue and whites. The Stockholm born player chose the right time to score his first goal at senior level having only played a bit part in the regular season- he scored the game winning goal at 3:08 in overtime to sink Mora on their home ice. 

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