HV71 win regular season
A year is along time in hockey and this weekend, when HV71 beat MODO Hockey 10-0 in back to back meetings away in Örnsköldsvik, the difference between the 2018/9 and 2019/20 could not be more clear.
Even the HV71 men’s team seems inspired by the women, winning yesterday’s match against Färjestad BK with an impressive goal production, running out winners, 8-4!
Last year MODO were in second place by the end of the season with the league’s top scorer in their team, Canadian and former Toronto Furies, Michela Cava. Arguably, had they not lost import players to injury (like Brooke Boquist who is now at Leksand IF), they could won the league. Instead they went out for the second year in a row to Linköping HC in the semis.
In 2018/9 HV71 were a team with a great keeper in Alba Gonzalo, and one or two outstanding players, particularly the young Finn, Sanni Hakala, but in the end were not a team that threatened for a medal place.
This year MODO are without Cava or Kaitlyn Tougas, the latter of whom has moved to HV71. This double loss partly explains why they are ninth place, 9 points behind Linköping HC in eighth. It means that unless they win all their games, the Örnskoldsvik club look set to go down into qualification for next year's SDHL against the top teams from Division 1.
The Jönköping team, however, sit comfortably at the top of the league table, where they have been all season. Even with four games to go they are 14 points clear of second placed Luleå.
Talk about the difference of a year- this weekend bottom of the table HC Gothenburg visited Luleå for back to back meetings. Whilst Luleå won 5-2 on Friday, on Saturday the visitors forced the Norrbotten team to come from behind and took them all the way to penalties before Jenni Hiirikoski broke the deadlock to take a 2-1 victory.
This showed both the improvement of the west coast team, who were only 13:34 minutes from winning, as well as the vulnerability of the reigning champions.
Times are a-changing at Luleå and their iron grip on the SDHL is weakening. There is a natural change in the top, with 20 year old Petra Nieminen (23G+27A) and 22 year old Ronja Savolainen (18G+20A) taking over as the highest scoring Finns in the team from veterans Michelle Karvinen (29 yrs) and defender, Hiirikoski (32 yrs).
Brynäs and Djurgården
With four games to go, the top four teams in the league are also known with Brynäs IF and Djurgården IF in third and fourth behind HV71 and Luleå, although the final places of teams 2-4 could yet change.
HV71 are certainly the favourites to win, but it is would be unrealistic to write off any of these four who could all take the title given their performance on the season so far. It will come down to who can adapt best to the demands and tensions of playoff hockey.
Positions 5 to 8
Positions 5-8 are currently held, in descending order by AIK, SDE, Leksand IF and Linköping HC. However, with just nine points between them there is still potential for great change in the final games.
The SDHL is much more even this year, so it is also possible that one of these teams could cause and upset in the playoffs and unseat one the top four. That said, A Brit On Thin Ice does not think that any of these teams have got the firepower or momentum, to win the final should they get that far.
One thing that is almost certain is that Brynäs IF forward, Swiss striker, Lara Stalder will finally win the Total Points and Most Goals trophies. She currently has 65 points (41G+24A), 9 points ahead of HV71’s Canadian star, Kennedy Marchment (pictured). Stalder’s 41 goals in 32 games is truly astounding, giving her an average of 1.28 goals per game, or to put it another way, that in every four games she will score five goals. Impressive!
Both players were at Linköping HC last year, as well as 2019/20's current top scoring back, American Sidney Morin (also HV71). The Östergötland team must wonder what has happen to them - their top scorer this year, American forward, Zoe Hickel has just 21 points (8G+13A) putting her at number 31 in the Total Points table.
They will face MODO Hockey at home in the last match of regular season. It was probably planned by the organisers to be head-to-head match of two of the best teams in the league prior to the playoffs. Instead, it may end up as a scrap for who do not want to be the relegation zone.
As I said, a lot can change in a year.