Leksands IF are one of the most storied hockey clubs in Sweden. After two decades of bouncing between the SHL and the Allsvenskan, the club from central Sweden appear to have regained their position at the top of the country's domestic hockey scene.
With new head coach Björn Hellkvist at the helm, Leksands IF stormed up the standings to finish the 2020/21 SHL regular season in third place, their best Swedish top flight campaign since the 1990s, and a far cry from their 13th placed finish in the preceding season.
Their strong showing in the SHL last season means that the club from the central Swedish town of Leksand, with a population of just over 15,000, will make their debut in the Champions Hockey League this season.
"It feels good to give something back to our fans that have been performing at the top level for a long time"
Leksands IF Head Coach Björn Hellkvist on CHL qualification
For Hellkvist, who joined the club in the summer of 2020 after several seasons coaching in the Allsvenskan, Leksands IF are right to believe that they deserve a seat at the top table of both Swedish and European hockey.
"I don't believe it’s that big of a deal to finally make it back to the top performers. Leksand is a classic club and a big organisation that belongs at the top of Swedish hockey. But it feels good to give something back to our fans that have been performing at the top level for a long time," Hellkvist said.
"Leksand and its fans have a very unique relationship"
Head Coach Björn Hellkvist
Founded in 1919, Leksands IF are one of Sweden's most respected clubs historically. The team had a remarkable run of success in the late 1960s-early 1970s, winning four Swedish championships over a six-year span, and the club's fans provide an atmosphere that is one of the best in Europe.
"Leksand and its fans have a very unique relationship. One couldn't ask for more supportive and faithful fans. Whereever you are in Sweden you can find a fellow Leksand fan. They meant the world during these trying COVID times," Hellkvist remarked.
Hellkvist said that his first season behind the Leksands IF bench was "individually developing and challenging," but praised his team for their success last season.
The club's top line of Slovak forwards Marek Hrivík and Peter Cehlárik, who could be found alongside Ohio native Carter Camper, was the most lethal in the SHL last season and a large part of the club's success.
Hrivík was awarded the SHL's MVP honours after scoring 51 points in 44 games, and Hellkvist said that his team's star forwards gave them a chance to win every night.
"Marek's line has been an impact line for us all season long. In a professional way, they have carried big minutes and have been decisive in many games. All three have acted as role models and set an example," the Leksands IF Head Coach remarked.
Neither Hrivík nor Cehlárik will be wearing Leksands IF's colours next season, with the former having already agreed a deal to play in the KHL.
However, Camper will be back to lead the forward lines, along with top tier offensive defenseman Matt Caito and bruising forward Carter Ashton, who scored 19 points in 24 games with the club last season.
Leksands IF will also have a new face in net, as Finnish shot stopper Kasimir Kaskisuo joined the team after an extended period of time in North America.
This new-look side will go into their debut in the Champions Hockey League knowing that the road won't be easy. Leksands IF were drawn into Group F along with Swiss club Fribourg-Gottéron, Czech champions and CHL veterans Oceláři Třinec, and Slovak newcomers Slovan Bratislava.
Hellkvist said that his side will give their all in the Champions Hockey League.
"Leksand will try to push for a top performance in the CHL this coming year and we always strive to get better and to win," he concluded.