Johan Davidsson has been a big reason for AIK's success in recent years. (Andreas Hultman, Jansons Media)
Like many other hockey leagues, the Swedish Elitserien sees the same clubs in the semifinal spots for a few years – or a decade – until a newcomer enters the fray and the pattern begins again.
Farjestad has been a Swedish powerhouse since the late 1990s, playing in the final in 1997, ’98, 2001-06 and ’09, winning it in ’02, ’06 and ’09. This season was the first this decade that Farjestad didn’t make it to the semis, losing its quarterfinal series against Skelleftea AIK.
But not to worry, all you dynasty lovers, HV71 from Jonkoping is working on a run of its own. The team, led by captain and former NHLer Johan Davidsson and goaltender Stefan Liv, beat Skelleftea in the semifinal in five games and is now in the final for the third consecutive year. HV71 won the Swedish title in 2008 and lost last season’s final to Farjestad.
The other team in the final is a former dynasty that has struggled its way back to the top – where they think they belong; Djurgarden. They are the only Stockholm team in the Elitserien and have 16 Swedish titles, the most in history.
A couple of seasons ago, league executives worried about what would happen to the circuit if it didn’t include any teams from the country’s biggest city. Djurgarden won back-to-back Le Mat trophies – the championship cup in Sweden – in 2000 and 2001, but had only had one post-season appearance in the past four years.
This season, the club signed Hardy Nilsson, former Team Sweden coach and the man behind the Djurgarden bench in 2000 and 2001. Nilsson had spent the previous four years in Austria, first coaching, then as an executive with the Salzburg Red Bulls. Nilsson has won championships in Sweden, Germany and Austria and had never missed the playoffs as coach, a pattern that continued this year.
HV71 was the regular season winner and Djurgarden finished second, so their meeting in the final isn’t a big surprise. Djurgarden beat Brynas (4-1) in the quarterfinal and Linkoping (4-1) in the semifinal.
Djurgarden’s goaltender Gustaf Wesslau is emerging as the ‘Monster’ of the year as he leads all goaltenders with his .943 save percentage and 1.43 goals-against average in 10 games. However, HV71’s Liv, the league’s all-time post-season shutout king, has two shutouts in his 10 games and the next best GAA at 2.07.
The best-of-seven final series kicks off April 15.
In the Finnish SM-liiga, regular season winner JYP was pushed to the brink in its quarterfinal series against Karpat, a dynasty in its own right. The Oulu team has been in the medals every year since 2003 and has won the Finnish championship four times since 2004.
But not this year. JYP, the reigning champion, won Game 7 of the series and advanced to the semifinal. No team from the wild card playoff qualification round – for teams finishing seventh through 10th – has ever made it beyond the quarterfinal and neither did Karpat.
The top two teams have always done well in Finland. Since the formation of the league in 1976, only three times have both the regular season winner and the runner-up been out of the final. Seventeen times – fully half – the final has been a battle between the two teams with the best record in the regular season.
This year, both regular season winner, JYP, and the runner-up, KalPa, are still in the running. The teams that finished third (Lukko) and fourth (HIFK) are out, paving the way for an 18th final between the regular season’s two top teams.
THE GREAT 8
Janne Ojanen, the Finnish SM-liiga’s all-time leading scorer, announced his retirement after his team, Tappara, lost its quarterfinal series against KalPa. Ojanen broke the scoring record this season, but injuries limited him to just 18 games in the regular season.
Ojanen, a long-time junior teammate of Teppo Numminen, is the only Finnish player to win both the World Junior Championship (1987) and the World Championship (1995). He also has an Olympic silver (1988) and bronze (1994) and, in 1991, he scored two goals in a Canada Cup game against Canada, leading Finland to a third-place finish.
Ojanen spent time with the New Jersey Devils and a few seasons in Sweden, but in Finland, he always represented Tampere Tappara.
He celebrates his 42nd birthday today, April 9.
Dominik Hasek’s Pardubice didn’t waste any time in its semifinal series against Liberec, sweeping the series and allowing only five goals in the four games. Hasek turned away 109 shots, with a .956 save percentage, while recording a shutout in Game 2.
Pardubice finished third in the regular season in the Czech Extraliga. The team now has a week off, as the final series begins April 17 against either Slavia Prague or Vitkovice. Prague has its back against the wall, as Vitkovice leads the series 3-1.
CANADA’S BEST EXPORT
When the Swiss hockey federation decided to part ways with Manitoba-born coach Ralph Krueger, they didn’t part ways with Canadian tutelage. Instead, they signed Sean Simpson, born in Brampton, Ont., to a four-year deal to guide Team Switzerland.
That means Simpson will face Craig MacTavish, the coach of Team Canada, April 12. Simpson served as an assistant at the Spengler Cup in December behind Canada’s bench. All signs point to Simpson having Ontario-born coach Doug Shedden by his side in Germany. Shedden was also a Team Canada assistant at the Spengler Cup.
RAGING RED BULLS
The Salzburg Red Bulls are back on the throne in Austria. Champions in 2007 and 2008, Salzburg has now been in the final five consecutive years.
Former NHL coach Pierre Page and former NHLer Reijo Ruotsalainen coach the team, which has the biggest budget in the Austrian league. The Red Bulls also won the 2010 IIHF Continental Cup, a tournament for clubs from hockey nations not in the top six in Europe.
Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen.
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