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Champions: Racking up the titles

Ryan Lasch’s small size sent him overseas to play pro. He has made the most of it, with five championships since 2016.

Labeled too small and too weak for the North American game, Ryan Lasch found stardom in Europe instead of in the NHL. After leaving St. Cloud State and a productive NCAA career for Sweden in 2010, the 5-foot-7, 165-pound right winger has become a marquee player on the other side of the Atlantic with five different titles to his credit over the past four years.

His latest two conquests came with Frolunda in the Swedish League this season. The 32-year-old won both the Champions League and the SHL title. It’s a championship double that he also captured with the same team in 2016. In between those accomplishments, he claimed a Swiss title with SC Bern in 2017.

The unique thing for Lasch this season was that he was able to win the scoring title at every step along the way. He had 22 points in the Champions League, six more than the runner-up, teammate and defenseman Chay Genoway. He had 50 points in 46 regular-season games in the SHL, eight more than Joakim Lindstrom of Skelleftea and Derek Roy of Linkoping. And he had 19 points in 16 playoff games, two more than teammate Rhett Rakhshani.

All in all, it was a dominant season for Lasch, who was named MVP of the SHL playoffs, taking home the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy. The award is named after the legendary Swedish goaltender who was among the 44 Lokomotiv players and staff killed in the tragic KHL plane crash in Yaroslavl in 2011. “It’s a very big honor to win this award,” said Lasch when accepting the trophy after defeating Djurgarden in the SHL final. “But I mainly see it as a team award. For me personally, this is more of a bonus.”

Lasch was a leading player for Frolunda in 2016 as well, but he ranked this championship title higher. “It feels a lot better this time around,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with the first title, but it was harder to win this second one. We were underdogs the whole season and no one expected us to win. It was harder to get here.”

Frolunda entered the season with a lot of uncertainty. They had lost last June’s No. 1 overall NHL draft pick Rasmus Dahlin and leading goal-scorer Victor Olofsson to the Buffalo Sabres, along with players such as Carl Grundstrom (Los Angeles Kings) and Christoffer Ehn (Detroit Red Wings). Following an uneven start, things fell into place in February when they beat German outfit EHC Munich in the Champions League final.

After that, Frolunda was more or less unstoppable. “We found our identity,” said captain Joel Lundqvist after hoisting the Le Mat Trophy for the fourth time in his career. “We added some good players during the season that made a difference, and everyone bought into their roles. That’s what you need to win.”

Another player who really made a difference for Frolunda was rookie winger Samuel Fagemo. Last June, he surprisingly went unclaimed by NHL teams at the draft in Dallas. The 19-year-old will be taken this summer, perhaps as early as the second round, after he was productive both in the regular season and the playoffs while skating on the top line with Lasch and veteran Simon Hjalmarsson.

“I just wanted a chance to prove myself in this league,” Fagemo said. “I knew if I got that chance, I would be able to establish myself in this league. I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

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