This past weekend, the Sheffield Steelers advanced to the Continental Cup Finals, while throughout the continent the domestic leagues raged on. The Växjö Lakers, Kärpät Oulu and Škoda Plzeň are all hot but with some big challenges coming up on Tuesday. As well, SC Bern and the Vienna Capitals continue to lead comfortably
After winning twice and losing once in this past weekend's semi-final tournament in Runsted, Denmark, the Sheffield Steelers finished second in the four-team group and are off to the Continental Cup Finals. Along with group winner Yunost Minsk and Nomad Astana from Kazakhstan and Ritten Sport from Italy, they will play in the final round 12 –14 January at a site still to be determined.
“There’s some seriously good hockey clubs there,” Steelers head coach Paul Thompson told the club website. “Minsk is as good as any team we’ve played, including the Champions League. We’ll meet them again in the finals – hopefully in Sheffield – and we’ll try to show them a bit of what we’re all about. But Riga are a good team, Rungsted are a good team.”
Until January, the Steelers will turn their focus back to the Elite Ice Hockey League, where they currently sit fourth, but only five points back of the first-place Nottingham Panthers. The Panthers, of course, made waves in European club hockey this season with their success in the Champions Hockey League, where they made the Round of 16 before falling to ZSC Lions Zurich.
The Lions are one of seven members of the E.H.C. Alliance and two Swiss clubs that will play in the CHL quarter-finals 5 and 12 December. They will face Bílí Tygři Liberec from the Czech Republic The other Swiss club, SC Bern, will take on the Växjö Lakers from Sweden. The Bern–Växjö matchup is an interesting one, as it pits two clubs that are leading their respective domestic leagues. Last Tuesday, Bern won 3-1 in Zurich and then lost at home to Fribourg-Gottéron on Friday. After both Bern and Zurich won on Saturday, Bern's lead atop the National League is now 11 points over Zurich, Fribourg and HC Lugano.
Lakers & Kärpät on fire in the north
With eight wins in a row, the Lakers have a five-point lead on Färjestad Karlstad atop the Swedish Hockey League standings. The two teams meet in a big game in Växjö on Tuesday night.
Another big Tuesday-night showdown between first and second places takes place in neighbouring Finland, where Kärpät Oulu hosts Tappara Tampere. After an off-year last season, Kärpät has rebounded this year and, on the strength of six straight wins, lead the two-time reigning Liiga champs by four points heading into Tuesday night’s contest. The two teams have each won two of the league's last four titles.
Atop the German, Czech & Austrian leagues
Meanwhile, in Central Europe, a tight three-way race atop the German DEL is being contested by Red Bull Munich, the Nuremberg Ice Tigers and Eisbären Berlin. After Sunday’s games, which all three won, Munich and Nuremberg have 46 points each and Berlin is a point back with 45, with all three teams having played 22 games.
Things are almost as tight in the Czech Republic, where Škoda Plzeň leads Mountfield HK by five points, with Oceláři Třinec and defending champion Kometa Brno in close pursuit. Following Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over Vítkovice, Plzeň has now won six games in a row. On Tuesday they host Kometa, which has now lost three straight.
“That means nothing, they’re still a very good team and the defending champions,” Plzeň defenceman Michal Moravčík said about Tuesday’s opponents on the club’s website. “I’m very excited about the game and I believe the fans will once again be behind us, cheering us on and helping us get the win.”
And last, but certainly not least, the Vienna Capitals keep on winning in the EBEL. The defending Austrian champs. After 19 games, the defending league champions have lost only four games and lead both Linz and Klagenfurt by a comfortable 11 points.
Photo: Sheffield Steelers/CHL via Getty Images