Aalborg has competed in just one Champions Hockey League season, and landing in Group A made their 2018/19 debut a tough one. In six games, the Danes would take away just one win, against the Vienna Capitals. They gave established teams like the ZSC Lions Zurich a run for their money, pushing them to OT, but would have no chance against Swedish heavyweights the Frölunda Indians.
After a one-season absence, Aalborg Head Coach Garth Murray couldn’t be happier to rejoin Europe’s best. “Playing in the CHL has significant meaning for both our hockey club, and our loyal fans. We are both proud to be back in the tournament again, as it’s an honour to have the chance to represent our league in Denmark. We will be looking to show what we can do on the ice, and our fans will be cheering for us, and showcasing their great support that we have become accustomed to over the years. It will be an exciting time for both of us!”
"Hockey with an Edge."
Official slogan of the Aalborg Pirates
Hailing from Regina, Saskatchewan, the Canadian is no stranger to tough competition and brings with him a wealth of playing and leadership experience from his time in North America’s top leagues. Still, the pressure is on according to the 37-year-old, “There is no room for error, thats for sure. There will be no time to get a feel for the tournament and competition level. We will have to be prepared to play our best possible hockey from the drop of the first puck and see where that can take us.”
Murray went on to describe, “It's very important for us to be a good representative of the Danish Metal Ligaen and professional ice hockey in Denmark. There is good hockey being played in Denmark, and it’s always exciting to show what we can do and see how we match up against the bigger leagues. As a group of professional athletes, our main driving force is always about having the ability to compete and to win. So that will be our goal going into the tournament, to embrace the high level of competition and do all we can to win hockey games.”
Aalborg's second appearance in the CHL will see them face heavyweights of a different kind … the Finnish kind, but Murray remains optimistic about the challenge. “We drew a very strong opponent from up in Finland, and there is no doubt we will have our hands full. Kärpät is a top team in a top league, and the Finns always have a high level of both skill and compete, which is a dangerous combination.”
“We will have to match their compete level and play smart with good structure, and just embrace the challenge they represent.”
Garth Murray (Head Coach, Aalborg Pirates)
Suiting up for all but the 2017/18 CHL season, Kärpät bring a lot more than just experience to the table. As the top ranked Finnish team in the CHL, they know what it takes to reach the top. In six CHL appearances, Kärpät have gone as far to reach the Final in 2015/16, where they would be CHL Runners-Up to Frölunda. Within Liiga they’ve collected several Finnish titles, and are one of very few teams in any top league that can boast a 17-game winning streak.
More recently and off the back of a disappointing 2019/20 CHL season, where they were unable to make the playoffs, Kärpät’s Head Coach Mikko Manner is not taking the Danish league champions lightly.
“ We have a lot of respect for our opponent, the overwhelming winner of the regular season in the Danish league.”
Mikko Manner (Head Coach, Kärpät Oulu)
“The city of Aalborg is great for sports, just as the entire country of Denmark is,” remarked Manner, who is on-point in his assessment of the Aarlborg Pirates, who didn’t just top the Metal Ligaen, they finished 18 points clear of their closest contender. With that in mind, his plan is clear going into the Round of 32: “To prepare as well as we can, and to be at our best, every single time the puck touches the ice.”
This will be Manner’s fourth season at the helm, and the seasoned coach is thoughtful in embracing the modified league format. “From our perspective it is a good change, since last year we didn’t make the playoffs. Now it is do or die straight away. Looking at it from that angle, it is an interesting change.”
While on paper the two teams don’t share a lot of similarities, it is clear that both sides revel in the excitement and possibilities that international competition brings. As summed up by Manner, “We want to be a part of the CHL every single year, because we enjoy every moment of it.” Echoing Murray’s earlier sentiments, he went on to say, “It means a lot to the club. The team and the players are always very excited to compete in the CHL. Its a great opportunity to get to know European hockey and all the great clubs in Europe better. Internationality is the key to progression.”