GOTHENBURG, Sweden - 48 teams entered the competition, now there are just eight left standing as the Champions Hockey league moves towards the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The reigning champions Frolunda Gothenburg find themselves once again in the CHL quarter-finals in a competition that they have embraced as a club and performed well in since its inaugural season in 2014/15.
The Swedish club has not only topped the table in the group stage over the past three seasons, but pushed its way to two consecutive championship finals, losing to Lulea HF the first time, however, they redeemed that loss last season with a 2-1 victory over Finnish giants Karpat Oulu in enemy territory.
The consistency in their results proves that Frolunda takes the CHL seriously, from the players out on the ice to the team that sits in the board room. Although, the league is in the process of building its prestige towards the fans in some of the top countries, the players and management see the importance of each and every game and want to lift the Champions Hockey League trophy at the end of the season.
“It is important. There’s some stuff that we want to achieve this season and one is to win the CHL again this season,” explains Frolunda star defenceman Henrik Tommernes. “We won it last year. We had a good run and it was really fun. The management want us to go all the way this year too. We had a good start but now it is getting tougher.”
The 2015/16 season produced the results that Frolunda had been building towards for many years, not only in the CHL but in the Swedish Hockey League as well. Since head coach Roger Ronnberg took over the reins in Gothenburg in 2013/14, the “Indians” have played second fiddle to Skelleftea AIK and lived in the shadows of the northerner’s dynasty, although, it has always felt that they were on the cusp of something great.
Last year Frolunda finally broke through to begin a winning era of their own by taking out the double, the Champions Hockey League and the Swedish Hockey League.
“It feels like we have been doing well. Last year we had a really good season and the year before we went to the semi-finals (SHL) and lost the final in CHL as well,” says Tommernes. “We have a good team. There is a lot of young guys who are coming up and doing a great job. They develop quick and some guys stay here and some guys go to the NHL. It feels like the system that we have here right now with Roger [Ronnberg] and the coaches is really looking up.”
“We have been a really good team with a lot of skill but mostly everyone is working really, really hard. We don’t just talk about it, we actually do it. If you have that much skill in the team and everyone is working harder than the other teams, it is successful. There are a lot of moments there where you have to do the best game every time especially in the playoffs and we have been doing that well.”
For Frolunda to continue their winning ways and set up another chance to play in their third consecutive Champions Hockey League final, they will need to get past their SHL rivals Linkopings HC, who have never made it further in the CHL than the quarter-finals. In the SHL in 2016/17, Linkoping has been one of very few clubs that has been able to get the upper-hand on the table topping Frolunda, even though they sit themselves down in ninth place. Linkoping managed to hold off Frolunda 3-2 back in October, but the result that will be fresh in both clubs minds is the 3-0 domination Linkoping displayed over their quarter-final opponents, so recently as the 26th November.
“We have lost twice to them in the SHL so we really want to win these two games. It is obviously good to know the other team. We know what we need to scalp. We know what works for us and we know what we need to work on because we have been losing two games,” explains Henrik Tommernes. “At the same time they know a lot about our team so it is going to be a tough two games. We have been doing a good job until now on the games and we have been playing good two games in a row, because it is not just one game. Hopefully we can do some good things and do what we have been doing the whole season.”
The unfamiliar format of theoretically a 120-minute game – two 60 minute home-and-away meetings – is something that makes CHL playoffs unique and exciting for the fans. For the players it means that they can never drop their guard for six whole periods of play, something that Tommernes and the rest of Frolunda is well aware of.
“It is easy just to think about the first game but you have to have a good start. You can never relax, even if you have a lead in the first game, every goal counts even if you let in a 5-2 goal. That can matter in the second game. You just have to be focused totally in the two games, not just one or one-and-a-half because it can change quick and we have taken advantage of that before. It is just trying to be mentally ready for two games.”