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Across the Pond - connections between North America and Sweden in Women’s Hockey

The international break gave us a chance to see the Four Nations Cup take place in Canada. This is an annual tournament between Canada, USA, Sweden and Finland in women’s hockey. 

The strength of the Swedish league can be seen in that one of the winning American team plays here in Sweden, eight of the Finnish team that came third and 17 of Sweden’s own Damtrekronorna who finished without a win in the tournament. 

Below we will take a longer look at the cross-pollination between North America and Sweden in today’s women’s hockey scene

The increase of North Americans in the SDHL

As little as four year's ago there were only 4 North Americans playing in the Swedish Women's Hockey League (SDHL), and only one of them played the entire season in Europe. This season there are 26, including players from both the Gold and Silver medal team from the 2018 Olympics. Unsurprisingly, the Canadians are who are in the majority with 20.

Many of these imports are high impact players and are leading the league in points. That includes nearly half of the top 15 Points scorers. Furthermore, two players who played in the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), Michela Cava (Toronto Furies) and Danielle Stone (Calgary Inferno), are also the top points scorers for their current clubs who are in first and second position in the SDHL at time of writing.

The dramatic impact of the NCAA

Stone is one of the few players in the SDHL who has come to Sweden having played in the Canadian college league, USports. Whereas the majority have come from the NCAA, the American college system. But this league is not just developing North American players. 15 of the top 25 Points scorers today in the SDHL are graduates from the States. That including a whole raft of nationalities including last year's top Goal scorer and Swiss Olympian, Lara Stalder (Minnesota-Duluth) and the best player on Total Points, Finnish Olympic bronze medalist, Michelle Karvinen (North Dakota). Even the current top scoring Swede and 2006 Olympic Silver medalist, Pernilla Winberg is a NCAA graduate.

Swedes in the top North American leagues

At the moment there are no Swedes in either Canada's USport college league or the CWHL. And only one person in the NWHL, Michelle Löwenhielm, starting her first season at Connecticut Whale after four years at Minnesota-Duluth. But it might also be worth keeping an eye on the six 19-21 years about to start the 2018/9 season in the NCAA. The most notable so far is Sara Hjälmarsson, the 20 year old who is set to play for Providence College having scored 3 points in six Olympic matches for Sweden in 2018.

The cross-Atlantic exchange of players is still at and early stage of development. But you can be sure as time goes on that the dream to be a women's hockey pro will lead to an increased cross-pollination of Nordic and North American players seeking their gold on the other side of The Pond.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 6 - Linköping

5. Linköping HC

The focus at the beginning of the year was the return of Broc Little, who signed a three year contract, alongside Andrew Gordon. But the White Lions top scoring forwards has been a different combination of players, albeit with strong North American experience.

Forward Nick Sörensen (pictured) returned to Sweden last year after one year in NHL/ AHL with the Anaheim Ducks organisation. He leads the team on goals with eight and lies in third on Total Points in the team. In second, with 13 Points, is his line-mate, Derek Roy, the player in the SHL with the most NHL games on his CV, as well as being a Canadian 2018 Olympic Bronze medalist. But leading the team is new signing, American AHL stalwart, Joe Whitney, with 14 Points (6G+8A).

Sörensen will be joined on the international stage by points producing back Lukas Bengtsson, who has impressed from the blue line in his first season back in Sweden after two years with the Pittsburgh Penguins' AHL affiliate.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 5 - Malmö

4. Malmö Redhawks 

Malmö were forced to sell a number of their top players at the end of last season. But that seems to have lead to a deeper collective team effort with goals coming from across the lines. This is a team that is built on a sense of local connection with a number of players returning to the club they have come from or have played for earlier. That includes Henrik Hetta, older brother Emil Sylvegård and both keepers, Oscar Alsenfelt and former Dallas Stars keeper, Cristopher Nihlstorp.

Top scorers from Sweden's third biggest city are captain Fredrik Händemark and Austrian, Konstantin Komarek both on 11 points, with 3G+8A each. In the battle of the brothers, it is younger Marcus Sylvegård (above) leading the team on goals with 6, whilst Emil has 3.

The team from the southern most part of Sweden led the SHL briefly until they lost their last two games away from home. They will go into the international break only after their CHL match against SC Bern.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 4 - Djurgården

3. Djurgården IF

Like Luleå, Djurgården IF are almost entirely dependent on Swedish players to make up the squad. Their first line includes two new players to the club - NHL returnee Jacob Josefson and young talent, Jacob Lilja. They jointly lead Total Points in the whole SHL with 19 (5G+14A each) whilst their line-mate, Daniel Brodin leads the league with nine goals. No surprise then, that these three have been chosen by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation to represent the country in the Karjala Cup. They will be joined by teammate, and older brother, Jonathan Davidsson (above) who has returned to the club after attending training camp with Columbus Blue Jackets.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 3 - Frölunda

2. Frölunda Indians 

Frölunda's success is what should be expected from a team that has NHL drafted players in almost every position. Strange then that the highest scorer in Total Points is the undrafted, 30 year old American, Ryan Lasch. With 17 Points (5G +13A) he is the highest scoring import player in the SHL, a title he has won the last two seasons he has been in Sweden. But the team's top goal scorer is another brother, captain, Joel Lundqvist, with seven as well as five Assists too.

The team scored a full nine points with three home victories in the last three games before the international break. That included impressive wins against two of the other top team, Malmö Redhawks and Linköping HC. Surprisingly, none of the Frölunda team will be on international duty for Sweden, but the team will not get a break as such- they will have the first leg of a Champions Hockey League match against HC Lugano to play.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 2 - Luleå

1. Luleå HF

Luleå may not have started the season well, but rallied before the break to win five out of their last six matches. They even picked up a point in the match they lost as they went down to Växjö in Sudden Death. Jack Connelly seems to be enjoying himself once again moving to the club after four years at Rögle BK. The American is top of the points scoring for the team with 13 (5G+ 8A) coming eighth in the whole SHL in Total Points.

Meanwhile, older brother Petter can take bragging rights in the Emanuelsson household as the team's top goal scorer with five, whilst brother Einar is not far behind with three.

Furthermore, the club has two players who have caught the Swedish selectors' eyes. First, 20 year old defenseman Jesper Sellgren. Drafted by Carolina Hurricanes this summer he already has a Junior World Cup Silver medal to his name and is now playing his first season in the SHL having come through MODO Hockey as a junior (see picture). However for forward Emil Larsson, it will be the first opportunity on international duty after a breakout year for Luleå last year.

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SHL 2018/9 - October Review - part 1

Introduction  

November has finally come and that means short break in the SHL for the Champions Hockey League (CHL) and the international Karjala Cup. This gives us a chance to look at the season so far for the top five clubs who are separated by just four points after 16 matches in the Swedish Hockey League.

The Sedin Effect? 

One of the secrets to success in the SHL this year seems to be having two brothers playing on the same team. All of the top four teams have signed up for this new trend. So that Petter and Einar Emanuelsson (LHF), twins Ponthus and Pathrik Westerholm (FHC, but pictured above when they played for BIF), Marcus and Jonathan Davidsson (DIF) and Marcus and Emil Sylvegård (MIF) will compete for my made-up Sedin Trophy as best brothers in Swedish hockey!

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Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) - October Review

The international break in November gives us a chance to take a look at the SDHL standings after the first two months of play.

The table is slightly misleading as each team has played a differing amount of games - so that both MODO Hockey and Linköping HC have played 19 games whereas last year's winners Luleå/ MSSK have only played 13.

Top Team

That said, it is MODO Hockey that lead the table, and indeed, a top group of five teams that are stretching away from their rivals. That is in descending order HV71, Leksand IF, Linköping HC, and Luleå and all with 10 or more wins so far this season.

Top Scorer

Swiss Olympian Lara Stalder may have missed five games at the start of the season, but has already asserted herself at the top of Total Points. Last year's top goal scorer lies in second on goals with 15, third in assists with 17 and therefore leads with 32 points so far for Linköping HC.

Her teammate Pernilla Winberg, one of the few Swedes from the 2006 Olympics Games silver medal team left playing, is the top scoring Swede with 29 (10G + 19A). Behind her lies Anna Borgqvist (LIF), Emma Nordin (LHF), Erica Grahm (BIF) and Hanna Olsson (DIF). But these five home grown players are the only natives in the top 20 on Total Points, where import players dominate. The top 10 contains one Swiss, four Canadian, four Finns and then Winberg as the only Swede.

Top Keeper

However, Swedish keeper, Sara Grahn also leads the way in net with a 94,76% SVS for Luleå. Spaniard, Alba Gonzalo is in second place for HV71 and in third is 22 year old, Swede, Julia Åberg (LIF).

Top club?

The question still remains in my mind, who can hold back the favourites for the series, Luleå? They still gave 6 games in hand on the league leaders, and if Grahn continues in this fine form and Finnish trio of Jenni Hiirikoski, Michelle Karvinen, Noora Tulus and Swede, Nordin continue to find the net at the same rate they are surely almost unstoppable.

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Champions Hockey League (CHL) - Playoff Draw

Friday 19 October saw the draw for the playoffs in this year's Champions Hockey League (CHL) take place in Finland.

The 8 matches start on 6 November on a home and away basis all the way through to the final which will be a one match winner-takes-all-affair.

What is noticeable this year is that the fixtures all seem very even and there is no doubt that from the quarterfinals onwards it will be hard work, grit and determination that draws out the winner of this year's CHL.

The teams from the smaller hockey nations will be hard pressed to get beyond the first playoff round. But at the same time, Storhamar Hamar (NOR), HC Bolzano (ITA) and Rouen Dragons (FRA) could also prove the shocks of the tournament as they play Skellefteå AIK (SWE), Pilsen (CZE) and Red Bull Salzburg (AUT) respectively.

I am expecting to see one of the Swiss sides make it to the final for the first time. This is partly because three of them have all been drawn on one side of the table with chances to meet at the quarterfinals or semifinal stage. These three are ZV Zug, ZSC Zurich Lions and SC Bern, the current team of Sweden, Adam Almqvist (above). 

My outsiders to take the trophy before the competition started were Germany's Red Bull Munich. And they've not disappointed me winning four of their six games and coming second in their group with the same points as group winners Malmö Redhawks (SWE). They will need to beat Zug and then Bern or Malmö to get to the semifinals - a not impossible task for the only German team left in the competition.

The competition's Top Scorer is HC Pilsen's Czech Republic international, David Stach with 3 Goals and 8 Assists. His team are  a more likely candidate to break the Nordic dominance on the Cup, winning all their games in the group stages. If they overcome Italy's surprise package, Bolzano, they are likely to meet one of Sweden's best teams, Skellefteå AIK in the quarterfinal. Beat them and they can rightfully believe that the Trophy is theirs for the taking.

However, before the tournament began I stuck my neck out and said Sweden's Frölunda Indians will win for the third time. They face a tough first match against the other Swiss team left in the competition, HC Lugano. Beat them and Tappara Tampere (FIN) probably will be waiting with dreams of knocking them out and smashing them to pieces as they did in back to back meetings with the hugely talented but ultimately ineffective Stockholm Djurgården. Then either a semifinal between Skellefteå or Pilsen before the final.

It is no easy road, but by early 2019 only one if these teams will be crowned champions and they will be worthy winners of the title as Europe's best hockey team.

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Champions Hockey League (CHL) - Game Day 6 - Group H

Group H

In the final deciding match it was again the team that had won the first of the back to back meetings that was successful in the second match. That meant that Swiss HC Lugano dumped out the reigning champions, Finland's JYP Jyväskylä away from home. It was 33 year old Canadian Maxim Lapierre that enabled Lugano to win by the narrowest of margins, 1-0, as he netted from the doorstep past JYP keeper, Eetu Laurikainen. Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in 2003, Lapierre played for MODO Hockey in 2015/6 before joining Lugano where he has remained ever since.  The centre is coming from one of the best season's of his career in 2017/8 in terms of points production. He also collected a Silver medal from Olympics in Pyeongchang to add to his 614 NHL games and surely won't mind if Lugano go on to be the first Swiss team to win the CHL.

The Czech Republic's HC Pilsen played in the other group H match. They go into the playoffs as the only team that maintained their 100% record on Wednesday night. But only just - they drew 2-2 in regulation with HC05 Banská Bystrica. Czech international forward David Stach's assist on the Ovetime goal not only gave the bonus point for the team but takes him into the lead on Total Points in the competition with 11 (3G + 8A).

The Second Round

The draw for the second round will take place on Friday 19 October and the other qualifying teams are:

Frölunda Indians SWE

Red Bull Munich GER

Malmö Redhawks SWE

Skellefteå AIK SWE

Kometa Brno CZE

ZV Zug SUI

Kärpät Oulu FIN

SC Bern SUI

Red Bull Salzburg AUT

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