The Champions Hockey League, a 44-team league that began play in August, came to a close on Tuesday with Sweden’s Lulea taking home the inaugural championship. Down 2-0 going into the third, Lulea scored four unanswered goals to take home the championship.
Seven months of Champions Hockey League concluded on Tuesday, with Sweden’s Lulea taking the inaugural championship with a 4-2 victory over their Swedish opponent Frolunda HC.
The 44-team tournament, which kicked off in 2014-15 and includes teams from six countries, began all the way back in August and concluded with an early February classic that will surely make the tournament something to keep an eye on in coming years.
In order to get to the final, both Frolunda and Lulea had to down Finland’s Oulun Karpat and Sweden’s Skelleftea AIK, respectively, in a home-and-home set. Because of the nature of the two-game series, both sets were won on aggregate, with Frolunda downing Karpat 6-5 over two games, and Lulea totaling five goals to Skelleftea’s four in the series.
Frolunda came into Tuesday’s game firing. Just seventeen seconds into the opening frame, Joel Lundqvist opened the scoring for Frolunda on a scrambled play in front of Lulea goaltender Joel Lassinantti.
Lundqvist’s goal stood as the only tally until midway through the first frame when Mathis Olimb, who was named the league’s MVP after leading it in scoring, fired a puck past Lassinantti. Frolunda’s 2-0 lead held until the third period, when the game was flipped on its ear following consecutive penalties to Frolunda’s Oliver Bohm and Oscar Fantenberg.
With Bohm in the box, Lulea would finally get on the board, with Kristian Nakyva’s point shot found its way through the glove of Frolunda netminder Linus Fernstrom. Just over a minute later, Fantenberg received a five-minute major for checking to the head, and it took only 16 seconds for Lulea to make Frolunda pay.
Off of the faceoff following the Fantenberg penalty, Lulea’s Peter Cehlarik got the puck in the right circle and unleashed a shot that, again, found its way through Fernstrom and into the back of the net. Due to the Fantenberg’s major penalty, however, Lulea remained on the power play and with pressure on they took the lead thanks to a Johan Forsberg deflection.
With less than two minutes remaining, Frolunda pulled Fernstrom and Dean Kukan found the empty net from his own end to ice the game and give Lulea the first ever Champions Hockey League championship, thanks to a 4-2 victory.
The win by Lulea is incredible for many reasons, but maybe none more than their ability to overcome a nearly disastrous first playoff round in which they were nearly eliminated by Austria’s EC Red Bull Salzburg. Tied 9-9 on aggregate after two games with their ninth goal coming with little more than half a period remaining in the third, Lulea was able to advance thanks to a 2-0 shootout win.