Although they only recently became dominant in international club hockey, Frolunda Gothenburg do have a history dating back to the 1960s. They're now at the pinnacle with three straight trips to the CHL Final and last year's victory. Will they make it two European titles in a row?
by Derek O'Brien
Established in 1944, the Frolunda Hockey Club, based in Gothenburg, Sweden, has been known for its ability to develop top hockey talent since the 1960s. However, on the ice the team was often close but no cigar, winning only one Swedish title before the turn of the millennium. Since then, the Indians have won three, including the most recent one in 2015-16.
As such, the club focused its efforts on its domestic campaigns for much of its early history and when it appeared on the international scene, it was at home in Sweden, either at the Aherne Cup in Stockholm or hosting the Stjarncupen in Gothenburg.
The first European club championship that it participated in was the European Hockey League in 1996-97, where it finished third. Since 2005, it has played in the European Champions Cup and been a regular participant in the Nordic Trophy, then the European Trophy, and now the Champions Hockey League, where it has been by far the most successful team in its first three years, winning the Final in 2015-16.
Hosting the Stjarncupen, WHA & NHL opponents
After participating a couple of times at the Aherne Cup – a Christmastime international club tournament in Stockolm that rivalled the Spengler Cup in prestige from the 1950s to '70s – Vastra Frolunda, as they were then known, organized their own club tournament at that time of year for seven straight years beginning in 1966-67, and then again in 1974-75. Attracting teams from Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and even amateur teams from Canada on a few occasions, the hosts won the Stjarncupen (Star Cup) in 1971-72.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Vastra Frolunda hosted some interesting overseas opponents at Scandinavium. In September 1977 the World Hockey Association champion Winnipeg Jets toured Europe, and visited Gothenburg on the 25th. With Frolunda alumni Thommie Bergman and Lars-Erik Sjoberg in their lineup, the Jets beat the home team 6-3. Four years later, the NHL's Washington Capitals and New York Rangers both visited. The Indians beat the Caps 7-4, much to the delight of the home fans, and lost to the Rangers 7-1.
Bronze in the European Hockey League
The rest of the '80s were difficult, though. After being relegated to the Allsvenskan in 1985, Vastra Frolunda shuttled back and forth between Sweden's top two divisions for a decade, before finally breaking out with a fine 1995-96 campaign, finishing second in the Elitserien's regular season and making it to the finals, where they lost to Lulea Hockey.
That finish allowed them to qualify for the first season of the new European Hockey League. In the initial group stage, they topped Group E, which included HC Litvinov, Lukko Rauma, and the Rouen Dragons. In the quarter-finals, they tied 1-1 with Jokerit Helsinki at home in the first leg before winning 2-1 in the return leg in the Finnish capital to advance to the final four. There, they lost to Dynamo Moscow in the semi-finals by a 3-2 score, before beating Sparta Prague 4-3 to place third in Europe.
Their leading scorer in the EHL that year was Finn Lasse Pirjeta, who had 9 points (2+7) in nine games. Other notable players were forward Per-Johan Axelsson, defenceman Petteri Nummelin, and goaltender Mikael Sandberg, who had a goals-against average of 1.57 in the seven EHL games he played in.
Frolunda rose to become a Swedish powerhouse in the 2000s, winning national titles in 2003 and 2005. They then went to the European Champions Cup in 2005-06. They lasted only to games in the six-team tournament, however, losing 6-2 to HC Davos and 3-0 to Karpat Oulu. Johnny Oduya and Tomi Kallio scored the team's only goals, while Tommy Salo was in net both games. The team's current captain, Joel Lundqvist, was only 23 years old at the time. He was help pointless in the “Super Six”, but his fine season overall led him to the Dallas Stars the following season.
Starting in 2006-07, Frolunda were charter members of the Nordic Trophy. In that tournament's four-year run, Frolunda finished second twice, losing to Karpat in the final in 2007-08 and Linkoping HC in 2008-09.
In 2010-11, the Nordic Trophy was expanded to include teams from Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Switzerland and re-named the European Trophy. In the four years of that tournament, they went to the quarter-finals in 2011-12, where they fell 4-2 to Linkoping and ultimately placed seventh. In 2013-14 they finished second in their group and were one of the final six teams remaining. In the group to determine the finalists, they lost to Farjestad Karlstad and Eisbaren Berlin, and went no further.
Dominance in the CHL
Frolunda's greatest international success has come in the Champions Hockey League, where they have reached the Final in each of the competition's first three seasons.
In 2014-15, their 15 points in the group stage tied Geneve-Servette with 15 points on top of Group C, which also included Villach SV and the Briancon Diables Rouges. Then they beat a trio of Finnish clubs to reach the Final – Tappara Tampere in the Round of 16, IFK Helsinki in the Quarter-Finals and Karpat in a thrilling Semi-Final that required an overtime goal by defenceman Erik Gustafsson after the teams were tied on aggregate following two full games.
In the Final in Lulea, Frolunda built up a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Lulea came back with four straight goals in the third period to capture the title. Frolunda had the top four scorers in the tournament, led by MVP Mathis Olimb's 26 points, followed by Andreas Johnson with 25, Gustafsson with 19 and Max Gortz with 15.
In 2015-16, Frolunda dominated JYP Jyvaskyla and the Sheffield Steelers in Group N. In the playoff stage, they became known for their comebacks, opening with losses at ERC Ingolstadt, Litvinov and Lulea before coming back in the return legs on home ice to win all three. In the Semi-Finals, they bucked that trend in a big way by opening with a 5-0 win in Davos, meaning a tie on home ice was enough to see them back to the Final.
There, Karpat were waiting for them in Oulu. Once again, Frolunda started by scoring the first two goals, and Karpat got one back in the third period, but that's as close as they would come, as Frolunda held on for the win and their first European club championship!
Once again Frolunda had the CHL's MVP and Top Scorer in Ryan Lasch, who had 16 points. Spencer Abbott was second with 13.
In 2016-17, Frolunda had more difficulty with their opponents to start, losing to both Dynamo Pardubice and Grizzlys Wolfsburg in the group stage, but still managed to top Group A. After opening the Round of 32 with a 3-2 loss in Minsk, however, they turned on the gas and never looked back. With seven straight wins over Yunost, Eisbaren, Linkoping and Fribourg-Gotteron – outscoring them by a margin of 33-5 in those games – they earned a third straight trip to European club hockey's title game.
Finally playing a Final on home ice, can Frolunda win a second-straight title, or will their string of dominance come to an end?
|2006-07||Nordic Trophy||Group Stage||7th|
|2010-11||Euro Trophy||Group Stage|
|2012-13||Euro Trophy||Group Stage|
|2013-14||Euro Trophy||Second Round||6th|
|Number||= official European ranking|