The Champions Hockey League’s 32 teams were drawn into eight groups for the 2021/22 Group Stage. Concluding our series of draw reactions is Group A, which features Sparta Prague, TPS Turku, the Växjö Lakers and newcomers Pinguins Bremerhaven.
Sparta Prague return to the CHL off the back of a very successful, yet disappointing, season in the Czech Extraliga. The eight-time Czech Champions lifted the President’s Trophy as the best team in the regular season and were well on their way to winning their first championship title in over ten years, but were dramatically outed in an all-or-nothing game 7 in their semi-finals series with rivals Bílí Tygři Liberec.
Despite the recent heartbreak, they are now focused on next season and excited to return to the CHL after a four-year absence.
“We are very excited to square off against some of Europe’s biggest clubs and excited to see how we compare against them,” said Sparta Prague legend and Sports Director Petr Ton, “we also get to represent the Czech Republic and the league.”
“Our team is very balanced. We have a core of experienced players surrounded with young talent that have passed through our youth system. We have decided to include more young players this year than we have in past seasons.”
“Only two teams advance, and we want to make it as far as possible”
Petr Ton, Sparta Prague Sports Director
“Our hockey is attractive, fast paced and offensively minded. I think fans will like our style of play.”
The 46-year-old thinks they have “some of the toughest opponents in the league”.
“We will be facing the Swedish champions and the Finnish runners-up. Bremerhaven are also a very difficult opponent,” he said.
Sparta have a very healthy CHL record and are a feared opponent in the league. They have previously made it all the way to the 2016/17 Final where they faced Frölunda Gothenburg. The final is dubbed the most dramatic in CHL history and is the closest result ever in a CHL Final.
Both teams were neck and neck in regulation, and OT was needed to decide a winner. Sadly for Sparta, it was Frölunda who lifted the European Trophy that season.
“In 2017 Sparta finished second in the CHL and became the first Czech finalist in the CHL. We want to follow up on that!” concluded Ton.
Liiga runners-up TPS Turku also return to the CHL after an impressive domestic season in which they made it all the way to the playoff finals for the first time in ten years.
“It’s great to be back in the CHL!” Started Head Coach Jussi Ahokas.
“It means a lot for the organisation and for the team. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to play against the top clubs in Europe.”
Ahokas has extensive experience as a youth level coach for the Finnish National Team, spending time with the U16, U17, U18 and U20s. He only joined Turku recently and 2021/22 will be his first season not only in the CHL, but as Turku Head Coach.
“Every time we play, we want to win”
Jussi Ahokas, TPS Turku Head Coach
“We are an active, fast and strong team that like puck control,” said the 40-year-old about Turku’s style of play.
Unlike many of his counterparts, Ahokas is excited by the Group A Draw: “The draw is brilliant! It's nice to play against top teams from the beginning of the campaign. No complaints about the draw. Our group looks very interesting.”
Turku’s goals for the upcoming season are simple – to win.
“Every time we play, we want to win. Step by step and play by play. It's as simple as that and we want to play with the same mentality in the CHL.”
The Växjö Lakers enter their sixth season of top-level European hockey as 2020 SHL champions. Despite only being promoted to Sweden’s top tier in 2011, they have won the championship three times since and are now a title contending team each season.
They have also made a name for themselves in the CHL over the years and have plenty of shared history with one of their Group A opponents, Sparta Prague.
“The CHL is a big thing for us,” said Växjö CEO Henrik Evertsson, “it’s a chance to compete with the other top leagues in Europe.”
Växjö’s most successful season in the CHL was in 2017/18 when the Swedish club made it all the way to the Final where, similarly to Sparta a year prior, they sadly fell short. On their way to the Final they beat big names such as SC Bern, Liberec and HC Davos, but were unable to beat eventual champions JYP Jyväskylä on the big night.
And their history with Sparta? Not good.
Sparta and Växjö have met in two CHL seasons. The first time was back in the 2014/15 season, when they faced off in Group G. Over the course of their two Group Stage games, Sparta scored ten goals, beating them on both occasions.
Their second encounter was in the 2016/17 season. Växjö were in great form and were contenders for the European Trophy that season. They sailed through the Group Stage unbeaten and comfortably made it to the Semi-Finals where they drew Sparta. Despite losing the first game 1-2, Växjö still had all to play for in Prague.
But instead of a performance worthy of a Finals contender, they returned to Sweden with four goals in their net after a stellar performance from the Czechs.
So, their balance? Sparta 4, Växjö 0. The Swedes will certainly be looking to turn that around during their opening CHL game of the season at home against Sparta.
But overall, Växjö are happy with the Group A Draw: “Strong teams from strong leagues, just the way we want it,” said Evertsson, who has been working with Växjö since 2004 when they were down in Sweden’s second tier. Apart from his role as CEO, Evertsson also oversees the team as Sports Director.
So what are his goals for Växjö in the 2021/22 season of the CHL ?
“We play to win, always! Our goal is to win the trophy,” concluded the 48-year-old.
"Taking part in the CHL is a dream come true”
Alfred Prey, Pinguins Bremerhaven Sports Director
Pinguins Bremerhaven are one of many teams making their debut in the CHL this season. The north-German club were only promoted to the DEL in 2016 but have already made it to the playoff quarter-finals three times.
CHL participation is "an honour for the club" according to Sports Director Alfred Prey.
“For me personally, and for everyone involved in Bremerhaven ice hockey, taking part in the CHL is a dream come true.”
“It is an honour for every athlete to play against the best clubs in Europe - we can't wait for the first face-off!” He said.
In their own words, they are “by far the smallest club in the DEL” and hope to win their matches with their "fast and strong" style of play.
“Our players identify themselves to a high degree with the club, the region and our fans,” Prey also said.
"We are more than excited to play against these teams"
Alfred Prey, Pinguins Bremerhaven Sports Director
Group A “inspires fear” for Bremerhaven, but they are looking forward to every single game.
“Växjö have earned three Swedish titles and I still remember their CHL Final loss to JYP in 2018. Turku are in a class of their own with their 11 national titles, five CHL participations and world-class junior programme. Last but not least, Sparta. What more could you want,” said the 67-year-old Bremerhaven Sports Director.
They are modest with their goals for their debut Champions Hockey League season.
“We want to play good and honest hockey and represent the colours of our city with pride. If in the end everyone says that we were a good participant, then we will all be happy,” he concluded.
Be sure to follow the Champions Hockey League’s social media channels to stay up to date on all the news, previews and reactions ahead of the 2021/22 season!
Also, take our quiz to test your Group A knowledge with a chance to win three CHL European Trophy keychains!