Skellefteå & ZSC Lions complete European hockey's parade of champions

Skellefteå & ZSC Lions complete European hockey's parade of champions

Spring is here, meaning it's time for European hockey leagues to begin crowning their champions. Check back each time another team wins it all.

30 April: ZSC Lions complete Europe's parade of champions

The ZSC Lions of Zurich are champions of Switzerland for the 10th time following a seven-game National League finals victory over Lausanne HC. Through the first six games, the home team won each game and that pattern followed suit in game seven, a 2-0 victory.

In a cautiously played seventh game, the first period was scoreless and the second period nearly was as well, but Zurich got a goal by Swede Jesper Frödén in the 40th minute to open the scoring. Then Finnish linemate Juho Lammikko, who assisted on the first goal, scored the insurance marker in the third Zurich outshot Lausanne 42-26 in the game, in which goaltenders Connor Hughes of Lausanne and Šimon Hrubec of Zurich were both brilliant.

Zurich topped the National League standings this season and in general has been a highly decorated team. In addition to their many national titles, the Lions also won the Continental Cup twice and the Champions Hockey League in 2008-09. Lausanne, on the other hand, was in the finals for the first time ever. The team's third-place regular-season finish matched its best since its latest promotion in 2014.

29 April:
Skellefteå back on top in Sweden after 10 years

Skellefteå AIK has won the Swedish Hockey League finals, defeating Rögle Ängelholm four games to one.

“It feels absolutely fantastic,” coach Robert Olsson told TV4, according to “I won my first championship in Skellefteå on the visiting team. I'm very happy to win at home in Skellefteå. It feels damn good.”

After finishing third in the regular season, Skellefteå swept Linköping HC in the quarterfinals and then beat Frölunda Gothenburg in a tough, grueling seven-game semifinal series.

With a 2-0 shutout in the deciding game, goaltender Linus Söderström won the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as playoff MVP.

Skellefteå was led offensively during the season by Oscar Lindberg and defenseman Jonathan Pudas. The lineup included a mix of veterans and young prospects, including Axel Sandin Pellikka, Elias Salomonsson and Anton Olsson and forwards Zeb Forsfjäll and Simon Robertsson.

Although the club has been playing hockey since the 1940s, this is only the fourth national title for Skellefteå, who previously won in 1978, 2013 and 2014. With the win, Skellefteå has requalified for the Champions Hockey League, which they lost in the final this season.

28 April: Třinec wins 5th straight Czech title

Oceláři Třinec has won the title of the Tipsport Extraliga for an incredible fifth straight year, following a 2-1 double-overtime victory over Dynamo Pardubice. Třinec was stretched to the full seven games in all three rounds, with the last two both being decided in multiple overtimes on the road against the top league’s top two teams in the regular season.

Counting the last quarterfinal game against Motor České Budějovice, the four straight they beat Sparta Prague in the semifinals after losing the first three, and the last two games of the finals, Třinec was 7-0 in the playoffs when facing elimination.

The golden goal was scored by 28-year-old David Cienciala, a Třinec native and product of the club’s youth system but who had played two and a half seasons in Pardubice before transferring back home this season. He was a member of the first title in the current Třinec dynasty in 2019 and now the fifth as well.

Petr Vrána, Martin Růžička, Vladimír Dravecký and Marian Adámek have been members of all five championship teams. Růžička was also a member of Třinec’s 2011 team – the club’s only previous title prior to this current run.

28 April: Tappara three-peat

For the third year in a row, for the fifth time in the last eight completed seasons, and for the 20th time ever, Tappara Tampere is the hockey champion of Finland. This season, Tappara finished first overall in the Liiga regular season and defeated the Lahti Pelicans in five games in the finals.

“I am incredibly happy for the players and the organization. I'm super proud to be a part of this,” said Tappara’s Swedish coach Rikard Grönborg told Vesa Winberg of “I came here to learn about Tappara's culture of winning and I learned so much from everyone. An incredible organization.”

The title was clinched with a 3-0 win before 12,700 fans at Nokia Arena. Christian Heljanko made 30 saves for his third shutout of the post-season. The Tappara goalie was named playoff MVP.

Two players – forwards Veli-Matti Savinainen and Otto Rauhala – have been on all five of Tappara’s recent championship teams. This is the sixth Finnish title for 38-year-old Savinainen, who also won with Ässät in 2013.

27 April: Eisbären Berlin wins 10th DEL title

In a finals matchup between the Penny DEL's top two regular-season teams, the second-place Eisbären Berlin defeated the first-place Fischtown Pinguins from Bremerhaven in five games.

The fifth game in Bremerhaven was scoreless early in the third period when Leo Pföderl scored what proved to be the title-winning goal, firing a rocket from the top of the circle that beat Bremerhaven goaltender Maximilian Franzreb inside the far post. With 15 points in 15 games to lead all scorers, Pföderl was named playoff MVP.

Five minutes after Pföderl’s goal, Manuel Wiederer added some insurance. That was more than enough offence, as Jake Hildebrand stopped all 25 shots he faced to record the shutout, and the Polar Bears were champions.

“Jake Hildebrand was incredible in the playoffs,” Berlin captain Kai Wissmann told the club's website. “We have incredible quality up front. Each individual has their part. Even the guys who didn’t play every game. And now we celebrate.”

It was the 10th DEL title in 20 years for Berlin.

24 April: Nitra sweeps Slovak finals

After finishing eighth place in the Tipos Extraliga regular season, HK Nitra defeated the league's top three teams in succession to claim its second title, and first since 2016. In the quarterfinals it was first-place HK Poprad in six games, in the semifinals it was second-place Dukla Michalovce also in six games, and then it was a sweep of third-seeded HK Spišská Nová Ves in the finals. The last game was decided in overtime, 2-1, with Miloš Bubela scoring the winning goal at 61:59.

“I don't see myself as a hero, it was the performance of the whole team,” said Bubela. “We were all together in all the games, the series; that’s why we made it here. The games were close, we struggled a lot today, but we did it. The celebrations will probably last forever. It’s unbelievable.”

Nitra, coached by ex-Czechoslovak national team defenceman Antonín Stavjaňa, was led in scoring by Nitra-native Samuel Buček and on defence by 43-year-old captain Branislav Mezei, with Czech Libor Kašík and Finn Sami Aittokallio splitting the goaltending duties fairly evenly.

19 April: Red Bull Salzburg three-peats in Austria and ICEHL

Red Bull Salzburg has won its third straight as champion of Austria and the ICEHL after winning game seven on the road 6-2 over KAC Klagenfurt. It is Salzburg’s 13th national title and 11th league title since the club’s founding in 1990. It is the first time since the interstate league's founding that a team has won the title three years in a row.

“It was such a close series,” said captain and playoff MVP Thomas Raffl. “The full distance in the semi-final and now in the final. That saps your strength and then you play against a team like Klagenfurt. Respect to the KAC, who were the best team in the basic round and gave us an incredible final series at eye level. There are so many emotions now, as we played with an incredible team performance after the last defeat in Salzburg today and deserved to win with a mental show of strength. It just feels incredible!”

15 April: Rouen repeats in France

Les Dragons de Rouen have repeated as champions of the French Synerglace Ligue Magnus - and won their 18th title overall - following Monday night's 3-2 overtime victory over the Bordeaux Boxers in Game 6 of the Magnus Cup finals. Christophe Boivin, who missed most of the season in a fight with cancer, scored the Cup-winning goal 6:55 into the extra period.

In the regular season, the team was led in scoring by Latvian Rolands Vigners and French national team veterans Anthony Rech and Loïc Lampérier, but in the playoffs it was Canadian Francis Perron who had 20 points in 15 games. For the seventh consecutive season, the team's starting netminder was Slovene Matija Pintarič, who played in 64 of the Dragons' 68 combined games in the regular season, playoffs, French Cup and Champions Hockey League.

Speaking of the CHL, the Dragons will return next season as the still-reigning French champions.

10 April: Brasov wins first Erste Liga title

For the first time in club history CSM Corona Brasov from Romania is the champion of the Erste Liga - a 10-team league that operates in Romania and Hungary. The club, which was founded in 2007, previously made the finals in 2013-14 and has been Romanian league champion five times.

After finishing second in the regular season, Brasov defeated E.H.C. Alliance member Gyergyói HK in the semifinals and then regular-season winner Ferencvárosi TC in the finals.

25 March: Steelers return to the top of British hockey

Two weeks still remain in the Elite Ice Hockey League regular season, but the Sheffield Steelers have already claimed the title. Sunday’s 7-3 win over the visiting Guildford Flames before more than 9,200 fans at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena gives the Steelers an insurmountable 12-point lead over the second-place Cardiff Devils with each team having four games to play.

To celebrate the win, the Steelers invited all season ticket holders to attend a team practice on Tuesday evening, followed by a social event.

“We will make the night fun for sure,” head coach Adam Fox said on the team’s website. “The boys have worked so hard in recent weeks so we will have a laugh, I think the fans will enjoy what we have planned.”

In the United Kingdom, winning the regular season title is considered the national championship. This is the 10th championship for the Steelers but their first since back-to-back wins in 2015 and 2016.

As a result of the title, the Steelers have qualified for the 2024/25 Champions Hockey League season. It will be the Steelers’ third appearance in the European club championship tournament.

Their work for this season isn’t finished, however. In addition to the remainder of the regular season, the play-offs are also coming up. Having already won the Challenge Cup and now the league, the Steelers have their sights on the rare “treble”.


Derek O'Brien
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