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A Brit On Thin Ice

Preview: SDHL 2019/20 - The new North Americans arrivals are here

One of the significant impacts of the #ForTheGame movement for the SDHL, is that many players have come to Sweden whilst uncertainty reigns in the North American professional leagues.

It means that the SDHL has some of the best teams that have played on Swedish ice. Arguably, the country now has the best women’s league in the world, at least for the 2019/20 season.

At least 30 players have come from North American leagues, including the NCAA (American college league) this year and every club, except current champions Luleå HF, have been cashing in on the trans-Atlantic migration. Stockholm strugglers, SDE, have taken no less than eight players in, including four from the CWHL’s last ever champions, Calgary Inferno.

Brynäs IF have been able to attract the top two import players in the NWHL to come to Sweden. Denisa Krizova and Katerina Mrazova are Czech forwards who were both part of their world championship team and played respectively for Boston Pride and Connecticut Whale. They both finished in the top 20 on Total Points in the league in 2018/9.

Understandably there are more players coming in from the collapsed CWHL, with Linköping HC, Leksand IF and MODO Hockey all picked up forwards who finished in the top 30 on total points in the league last year. So, look out for Zoe Hickel, Katia Clement-Heydra and Emma Woods picking up big point here Europe this year.

It is Djurgården IF who have had the greatest success when it comes to raiding the college graduates and have signed two talented students from Merrimack College. They are 2018 NWHL drafted Dominque Kramer and the netminder who finished 7th out of the 37 first choice keepers in the league last year, Samantha Ridgewell.

2019/20 also sees the return of the only Swede who was active in the two North American leagues, Connecticut Whale’s Michelle Löwenheilm (pictured). She is not going back to her youth team, AIK, but instead will be at Kinnarps Arena with HV71.

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A Brit On Thin Ice

Preview: SDHL 2019/20 - The craziest ever summer in women's hockey

SDHL starts tonight after a turbulent few months in the world of women’s hockey. Following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) at the end of last season, the #ForTheGame movement saw a pan-national strike by over 200 players who said they would refuse to play in North America without improvements in terms and conditions. This threatened to destroy the American NWHL as well.

In Sweden the women’s national team went on strike and even reported the national Ice Hockey Federation to the equalities commission. The result of which is that they will now be paid the same as the men for the appearances in Swedish colours – the same process as the American women’s hockey team had to go through to get equal pay there in 2017.

All this drama somewhat overshadowed the retirement of two stalwart of the SDHL – Luleå HF and Sweden’s goalkeeper, Maria Omberg and HV71 Finnish veteran, Riikka Sallinen (Välilä, for most of her career, pictured above). The 46-year-old Finnish international played in four Olympics picking up two bronze medals and her highest award, a Silver medal in her last World Championship earlier this year.

One of the significant impacts of the #ForTheGame movement for the SDHL, is that many players have chosen to come to Sweden this year whilst uncertainty reigns in the North American professional leagues.

It means that the league had probably some of the best teams that have ever played each other on Swedish ice, an arguable is the women’s top league in the world, at least for the 2019/20 season.

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A Brit On Thin Ice

Preview: SHL 2019/20 - One Line Wonders - places 7 to 14

Okay, it’s not one line, but here’s my “best of the rest” review of the squads who I believe will finish the year in the bottom half of the table:

7. HV71

Another year, yet another re-vamp and now they only have four players left in the squad from their 2016 Swedish championship win. For example, Simon Örerud (above) remains and whilst they've again bought in some talented individuals they need to become a team to win. And with mass change of personnel again I cannot see them reaching an automatic playoff place.

8. Rögle BK

Last year they took the jump up from a SHL survivor to being a playoff team. I think they will improve on their best ever ninth place. The team is almost unchanged from last year but with new keepers who have never played in the SHL. But the additions of Dennis Everberg and German 2018 St Louis Blues drafted, Dominik Bokk might give them a bit more presence in front of goal.

9. Djurgården IF

One of the strongest teams in the last few years has lost in 2018/9 Honken Trophy winner Adam Reideborn. And I believe that they will be severely hindered in their attack minded approach without him to keep the scores low at the back. Not only that but they have lost the Davidsson brothers and the top three scorers in Jakob Lilja, Emil Bemström and Daniel Brodin. This triple massed 107 points between them. Perhaps ninth is a bit low, but I cannot see them performing as they did with the replacements that they have brought into the current lineup.

10. Linköping HC

Genuinely worried for my club Linköping who have had decreasingly good results in the last four seasons with last year's finish the worst in 16 years. The super talented NHL veteran Derek Roy, who scored nearly 1 PPG last year has left for Red Bull Munich. So now the responsibility rests on Andrew Gordon and Broc Little to produce at the top end of their capacity to carry the club as they did in 2015/6 season where they were both closer to 0.75 PPG and Linköping finished in third place. Possible, but not likely on current form.

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11. Brynäs IF

Last year the team struggled and missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. And with the summer transfers they have lost their first choice keeper, Rautio, two of their best defenders, Ryan Gunderson (the team's top scorer last year) and Swedish international Simon Bertilsson as well as their top two highest scoring forwards in Joel Kellman and Jesper Boqvist. So, nothing seems to speak for a better performance than last year's disappointing 11th place.

12. Örebro HK

Last year’s attempt to break out of the bottom half of the table by buying in higher quality players ultimately failed, primarily when star Aaron Palushaj got injured. With the American gone to the NLA, this the team appears to have more modest ambitions. They have an almost completely new forward line featuring, Joonas Rask, the younger brother of Boston Bruins legendary keeper, Tuuka, and an interesting import signing, Ryan Stoa. The 32 year old played in the US Olympic team in 2018 over has 280 games experience in both the AHL and KHL. Can they creep up into the playoffs or will it be another year where they must be satisfied with not being in the relegation playoffs?

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13. Leksand IF

A club with history and experience, but can they go one better and establish themselves in the top division rather than yo-yoing back and forth between the top two divisions as they have done over the last six years?

One of their top forwards, Johan Porsberger, who has been with the club for four years, has decided to stay in Allsvenskan rather than move up with the club and Tobias Forsberg sadly retires having become paralysed from the chest down after crashing head first into the sidewall.

A huge responsibility lies with the experienced players who have been brought in to the side, included NHL drafted pair of defenseman, Johan Fransson and forward Patrik Zackrisson. The duo have been signed on three year contracts to help establish the team in the top division. They played in Sweden's 2018 Olympic team and at 34 yrs and 32 yrs they are in the latter half of their career. But they will be joined by an interesting prospect in 28 yr old Slovenian Marek Hrivik, who has 350 games in the AHL as well as a handful of games for the New York Rangers on his CV. Nonetheless, I think it is going to be a long and painful year for the fans as they again adjust to the brutal reality of the SHL.

14. Oskarshamn IK

Their first ever season in the SHL in the club's history and they know full well that the transition will be tough. Many of the team remain, but sensibly they have signed up two new netminders, in NHL drafted and SHL regular, Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel and Tex Williamsson. I believe the time is right for the 28 year of from Småland to make the transition from being one of the best Allsvenskan keepers to the top division.

Niklas Hardt and Pontus Netterberg are also quality new signing who will be key players in this team but will they and a handful of DEL players be enough? Few think so, but everyone at the club knows the simple objective, they must survive this year in the SHL. It may simply come down to the last two hours of the season - they must win the playoff qualifier against the 2019/20 Allsvenskan winners.

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A Brit On Thin Ice

Preview: SHL 2019/2020 - one minute wonders - Luleå/ Växjö/ Malmö

In the run up to the start of the SHL season this Friday I have taken a longer look at the three teams I believe will be at the top of the table in March - Skellefteå AIK, Frölunda Indians and Färjestad BK.

But what about the next best teams? Here's my brief summary of the clubs that will finish in fourth to sixth place:

4. Luleå HF

Last year I dramatically under-estimated how well this team would do. And this year the defense is practically the same plus that brought in David Rautio alongside Joel Lassinantti, giving them the best goalkeeper pairings in the league. Not many away goals will be scored in the COOP Arena this year. But they must also score to win - and that’s their weakness.

5. Växjö Lakers

A new look team, particularly on the forwards front where three players with hockey playing brothers will be looking to make their mark, all starting their first season with the Småland club.

First, sharp shooter Marcus Davidsson, whose older brother Jonathan will be trying out over in the NHL/ AHL; then Marcus Syvlegård will be trying to collect less PIMs than older brother Emil who remains at Malmö Redhawks; whilst Emil Pettersson is returning to Sweden after two years in the AHL and trying to ignore the hype around younger brother and Vancouver Canucks superstar, Elias.

A solid, but not outstanding, team by my reckoning.

6. Malmö Redhawks

Another team that did better than I expected in 2018/9 despite limited resources. The team is also very similar to last year's with Swedish captain Fredrik Händemärk and Dane Frederik Störm joined by four more Danes, who all played in the international side at the World Championships in Canada - Jesper Jensen (Brynäs), Nicoli Meyers (Södertälje), Matias Lassen (Pantern) and Jesper Jensen Aabo (Jokerit).

Not surprising when you consider that Malmö and the Danish capital, Copenhagen, are connected by a bridge, whilst the Swedish capital is an eight hour drive away. Look out for Jensen Aabo who has been a points scoring back in the KHL and will probably up there with the highest scoring defensemen in the league.

Another solid team that will need a bit of good fortune to reach the very top this year.

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A Brit On Thin Ice

Preview: SHL 2019/20 - Can Färjestad return to former glory?

Färjestad BK won the regular season last year for the time in 10 years but were not able to go all the way and repeat the championship title they won that year, and again in 2010/11. They will be hoping to go one better this year and put white and green ribbons on the Le Mat Trophy for the first time in nine years.

Arguably it will be too much for the Karlstad team that they have lost their top three scorers from last year in Oskar Steen, Jesse Virtanen and Joakim Nygård. But this was a team with great strength in depth and they retained key players like keeper, Markus Svensson and forwards with AHL experience like Michael Lindqvist (pictured) and Johan Ryno as well as underrated work horse, Per Åslund. The last named is 33 years old and was in both the Swedish champions teams with Färjestad.

To replace the outgoing forwards they have brought in two seasoned players in Victor Ejdsell and Ville Leskinen. Ejdsell comes direct from a season in the AHL with the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL outfit in where he scored 0.45 PPG and got a tryout in the NHL too. He has returned to the club that gave him his first matches in the SHL four years ago, but is a much improved player and potential match winner for the club.

Meanwhile, 25 year old Leskinen played in the JWC team for Finland that won Gold in Malmö as underdogs in 2014 and has excelled in the last two years in the Finnish Liiga. Last season he won the top scorer in both Total Points and Goals and has nearly 1 PPG average in the last two years in the league.

It is in defense that the team will change the most, with both Virtanen and captain Mikael Wikstrand leaving, the latter of whom has been playing some of the best hockey of his career since playing in the 2018 Olympics.

To replace them the Karlstad club has brought in two exciting looking import players from the KHL for their first season in Sweden. They are Czech international, Vojtech Mozik and 2018 US Olympian, Jonathan Blum. Mozik is 26 yrs and has served 2 seasons in the AHL and a handful of games in the NHL with New Jersey Devils, whilst 30 year old Blum has 110 games in the NHL mainly with the Nashville Predators who drafted him in 2007.

It may take some time for this new constellation to gel, particularly with an overhaul at the back. But the season is long and this club seems to have got a recipe for success on paper - now it is a question of putting it into action on the ice.

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Preview: SHL 2019/20 - can Frölunda do the double?

Frölunda Indians have been one of the best clubs in Sweden for the last five years, twice lifting the Le Mat Trophy. Manager Roger Rönnberg is hungry for success and this year will be trying to reach a unique double - the first Swedish team to the lift the SHL and CHL trophies two seasons in a row.

Part of the success of the Indians franchise has been stability of players and any success this year will be due to a well functioning core of talented forwards with captain Joel Lundqvist, assistant captain Simon Hjalmarsson, Norwegian Mats Rosseli Olson and American imports Ryan Lasch and Rhett Rakhshani.

Lundqvist will be 38 in March and is on the last year of his current contract. But the club is already thinking ahead to a post-Joel era and has signed three long term contracts with NHL drafted players who are all Frölunda's own products and are in their late 20s. There are Max Friberg (Anaheim Ducks), Nicklas Lasu (Atlanta Thrashers) and Linus Sandström (New York Islanders), who all have three year contracts with the Gothenburg club.

The back line is certainly weaker this year of with the loss of Canadians Chay Genoway and Jonathan Sigalet. The Indians management has opted for the "better the devil you know" policy of signing one year contracts with Brandon Gormley and veteran, Derek Printz who came to the club to fortify them in the playoffs last year. They they have signed Karl Stollery, Genoway's teammate in Pyongyang Olympics, who comes for his first season in Sweden at the age of 31 with over 330 games in the AHL and two seasons in the KHL on the CV.

Can this team complete the double and give Lundqvist the send off he deserves?

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SHL 2019/20 - could this be the year Skellefteå return to the top?

Between 2010/11 and 2017/8 Skellefteå AIK appeared in all but one of the SHL Finals winning two championships and perhaps can be considered the first successful dynasty of the SHL era.

However, look at the last three seasons and it is only one final out of three. But I think this year's roster is the strongest in the SHL and could see a final return in 2020.

One of the club's strengths which has lead to the ongoing success is there retention of good players. The club signed long term contracts with captain, Oscar Möller (30 yrs, pictured) and Joakim Lindström (35 yrs) - two of the best Swedish forwards in the SHL - and at the back Jonathan Pudas will have a key role with Emil Djuse leaving for a tryout contract in the USA.

But the stand out factor is some of the players who will be coming into the Norrbotten club.

First of the three younger players is defenseman, Philip Boberg. Only 18 this summer, he was the highest drafted Swede being picked in Round 1 by the Edmonton Oilers. He has already played in the Junior World Champions - an under 21s competition when he was only 17. He has never played in the SHL but if he can cope with the pressure from himself, the Swedish fans and the North American media this could be a breakthrough year for the youngster from Örebro.

Two forwards from the Swede's JWC team in Canada will be joining him - the 2018 Montreal Canadiens drafted, Jacob Olofsson, who has already had a season in the SHL with Timrå IF, and Rikard Hugg. Hugg is undrafted and now playing his first season in the SHL after two year's in Canada's OHL. In his last year he captained the New York Rangers linked team, Kitchener, scoring over a point per game.

The final touch in this potentially championship winning side, it the arrival of several maturer players to compliment the trio of juniors.

Skellefteå have taken in three players from arch rival Växjö Lakers. On the blue line, two home grown products will return from Småland as Arvid Lundberg (24 yrs) and Swedish international, Niclas Burström (28 yrs) come back to their northern roots. The forwards will be strength by one of Växjö's double gold winning players, the talented Finn, Toumas Kiiskinen.

If that was not enough Skellefteå has also managed to sign one of the most promising new import players of the 2019/20 season. Tom Pyatt was drafted by New York Rangers in 2005 and has played 445 matches in the NHL and comes to the first time for Sweden after 3 years with the Ottawa Senators. If the 32 year old Canadian he can adjust to the European game he could well rival Ryan Lasch for top scoring import player in the SHL.

If this the recipe to see Skellefteå lift the Le Mat Trophy for the first time since 2013/4?

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Preview: SDHL 2019/20: My top teams HV71

HV71

The Jönköping club has also raided their SDHL rivals’ rosters with Leksand IF and Linköping HC losing out the most.

Swedish Olympian and international forward, Anna Borgqvist leaves Leksand along with former Calgary Inferno player, Danielle Stone.

Not satisfied with that, HV71 has taken three players from neighbouring Linköping – Swedish international defender, Anna Kjellbin is one. But they have also poached the club’s top scorer, 2018 Buffalo Beauts drafted, Kennedy Marchment and the league’s best defender, US Olympic gold medallist, Sidney Morin.

As if that was not enough, they have also snapped up free agent, Hanna Olsson. Last year, the young Swedish international fell out with her former club, Djurgården IF, leaving them before the playoffs and bitterly fulfilling her contractual obligations to not play for another SDHL club for the remainder of the season.

But that is not all. MODO’s 2016 CWHL drafted Canadian forward, Kaitlyn Tougas and one of the SDHL top scorers has been also been drawn to the Jönköping club.

In total the club will now eight of the top 22 scorers from the 2018/9 season on their roster this year, more than any other club in the league.

That strength in depth is partly why HV71 are my favourites to win the SDHL.

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Preview: SHL 2019/20 - How will the table finish in March?

It's time for the annual attempt to guess how the regular season table will finish in March 2020.

Last year a Brit on Thin Ice correctly guessed the bottom two teams and that Frölunda Indians would win the CHL and SHL double.

This year I'm going for Skellefteå AIK to win the Le Mat Trophy and Frölunda to take the CHL again.

Here's how the SHL table will look like:


1. Skellefteå AIK

2. Färjestad BK

3. Frölunda Indians

4. Luleå HF

5. Växjö Lakers

6. Malmö Redhawks

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7. HV71

8. Rögle BK

9. Djurgården IF

10. Linköping HC

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11. Brynäs IF

12. Örebro HK

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13. Leksand IF

14. Oskarshamn IK

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A Brit On Thin Ice

Champions Hockey continues with Gamedays 3 and 4

The start of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) is still a week away but that gives time for the second batch of matches in the European competition, the Champions Hockey League (CHL) to take place between Thursday 5 - Sunday 8 September.

The matches are all return matches from last week so plenty of chance for revenge and adjusting play to get a win.

Swedish teams Färjestad BK, Skellefteå AIK, Frölunda Indians and Luleå HF are on the road this time, whilst Djurgården IF will be at home in Hovet in Stockholm after two away wins last week.

Last night saw Frölunda finally get a win when they travelled to Graz 99ers in Austria. 17 year old Lucas Raymond (pictured) scored twice in the third period when the current champions won 1-5.

Elsewhere, Skellefteå managed to take an overtime win at SC Bern but Färjestad lost their 100% record in Italian speaking Switzerland when they went down 2-1 to HC Ambri-Piotta.

Djurgården will play Vienna Capitals and Luleå will be at Augsburg Panthers tonight.

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