On Thursday night in the Coop Arena in Luleå the home team took their third SDHL title in four years in convincing style in the Match 5 decider.
The pre-match favourites Luleå had won the regular season in style and were expected to walk the series over third placed Linköping.
But the Östergötland club had other ideas and played an extremely impressive series, neutralizing the northern club’s star- forwards and taking many opportunities on the counterattack.
Luleå were totally outplayed in the first match in their home arena and the visitors came out winners 3-0 with goals from Austrian, Denise Altmann, Finn Susanna Tapani and Swede, Pernilla Winberg.
The second game in Linköping also saw the underdogs dominate. They forechecked the champions high in their defensive zone or stripped the puck from the Norrbotten team in the mid zone, minimizing entry into the defensive zone and therefore taking out the Luleå best weapon - their strike capability. Goals from Tapani, Winberg and an assist for Altmann on Canadian and NWHL drafted, Kennedy Marchment’s goal secured the 3-1 victory, the second in the series for Linköping.
What had been unthinkable beforehand suddenly seemed possible- that Linköping could take the title on home ice with a clean sweep over the northerners. But Luleå did not lie down, took an early goal and then crushed their opponents in the third period ending up 1-5 on the night. Goals by Swedes, Emma Nordin, Melinda Olsson and Linn Peterson as well as Finns, Jenni Hiirkoski and Petra Nieminen.
The fourth match saw a return to Luleå but the former champions could not capitalize on their previous victory. So, for the first two periods they again seemed to lose their way as Linköping confidently shutdown their opponents’ offense and created many of their own opportunities. But when Luleå scored the 2-2 goal early in the third, the momentum shifted and Luleå sensed victory as Linköping saw their chance of taking gold slip away. It took just 2:31 of overtime to see Finnish international, Michelle Karvinen to net and the home side gained victory and send the series into a Match 5 decider.
It says a lot for the quality of the SDHL this year, and these two teams in particular, that the final should go all the way to five matches. But having the chance to secure victory on their home ice in front of nearly 5000 fans meant suddenly Luleå produced their best hockey completely dismantling their opponents in the first period.
The omens were not good for Linköping when Luleå’s Nordin scored after only 23 seconds of play. 20 minutes later the match, and series, was effectively over with the home team leading 4-0 after further goals from Rebecca Stenberg, Peterson and Finn, Noora Tulus.
This was Stenberg’s last professional match and her second goal on the night made it 5-1 to Luleå with over half the game to play.
The result was never in doubt and with a 3-2 series victory over Linköping, Luleå/ MSSK can proudly boast that they are Swedish national champions for the second year in a row.