COPENHAGEN – The Group Stage Draw for the fifth Champions Hockey League season is now complete. Fans of all 32 teams now know which three teams they will face and which three countries they have a chance to visit this upcoming season. The groups are as follows:
Group A: ZSC Lions Zurich (SUI), Vienna Capitals (AUT), Frölunda Indians (SWE), Aalborg Pirates (DEN).
Group B: Red Bull Munich (GER), TPS Turku (FIN), Malmö Redhawks (SWE), Yunost Minsk (BLR).
Group C: HC Bolzano (ITA), Skellefteå AIK (SWE), IFK Helsinki (FIN), GKS Tychy (POL).
Group D: Kometa Brno (CZE), EIsbären Berlin (GER), EV Zug (SUI), Neman Grodno (BLR).
Group E: Djurgården Stockholm (SWE), Tappara Tampere (FIN), Oceláři Třinec (CZE), Storhamar Hamar (NOR).
Group F: Kärpät Oulu (FIN), Mountfield HK (CZE), Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers (GER), Rouen Dragons (FRA).
Group G: Växjö Lakers (SWE), SC Bern (SUI), Red Bull Salzburg (AUT), Cardiff Devils (GBR).
Group H: JYP Jyväskylä (FIN), HC Pilsen (CZE), HC Lugano (SUI), HC05 Banská Bystrica (SVK).
After weeks of anticipation, the teams now know who they will face in the Group Stage.
“The element of surprise is gone,” said Cardiff Devils head coach Andrew Lord, who was part of the Draw. His team was drawn together with Red Bull Salzburg, SC Bern and the Växjö Lakers, whom they faced last year as well. After the teams were drawn together, Lord and Lakers coach Sam Hallam made a friendly wager about this coming season, with a nice dinner at stake. “I’m really excited to play Sam’s team again after hanging out with him all day getting ready for this Draw.”
As for the other two teams, Lord said: “I played with (Bern forward) Mark Arcobello years ago and we know all about that arena there, so that’ll be fun, and Salzburg’s a beautiful spot so that’ll make the fans happy.”
Markus Meraner, CEO of improbable EBEL champions HC Bolzano said: “We’re happy with what we’ve got and we’re just happy to be in this big tournament.”
His team has a tough assignment against Skellefteå AIK of Sweden and IFK Helsinki of Finland. However, after being in last place in the EBEL in November and just making the playoffs on the last game of the season before going all the way, Bolzano doesn’t seem to be a team that shies away from challenges. “We want to go as far as we can – that’s always our aim. We’ve got two top teams from top European leagues so it won’t be easy, but this past season wasn’t easy either.”
Another team drawn together with teams from both Sweden and Finland is Norwegian champion Storhamar Hamar, who will face Djurgården Stockholm and Tappara Tampere, as well as Czech club Oceláři Třinec.
“It’s a very hard group but we’re happy to have Djurgarden. It’s a good distance and I think we’ll be able to bring a lot of our fans there,” said Storhamar CEO Anne Karin Bjørvik. “We had a great experience with the CHL (two years ago) and our fans are very excited to join again. We had a lot of fans travel with us on the road and we filled the arena for our home games as well.”
In fact, three of the eight groups contain both a Swedish and Finnish club, which means six chances to see the great Nordic rivalry take place during the CHL group stage this season. Two of the first four CHL Finals have been Sweden-Finland match-ups, including this past season, when JYP Jyväskylä ended Sweden’s winning streak on Växjö ice.
When asked whether he was happy about JYP taking the European crown from Sweden to Finland, Liiga CEO delightfully responded: “There’s only one answer and that’s a very, very strong yes!” He then added: “We love our Swedish neighbours and they have very strong teams coming to Finland, which is a huge thing for our fans.”
Fans all across Europe have plenty to look forward to, as the Group Stage of the 2018/19 season starts on 30 August and finishes on 17 October. Each team plays a total of six games – one home and one away against the other three teams in its group. The first- and second-placed teams in each group then advance to the Playoff Stage.
With 16 teams in the playoffs, four rounds are required to determine the European club champions. The first three rounds are all two-game, home-and-away, total-goal series, similar to previous seasons. The playoffs start on 6 November and finish with the ultimate one-game Final on 5 February 2019.
Once the Group Stage schedule is known, it will be posted at ChampionsHockeyLeague.com.