The Champions Hockey League’s 32 teams were drawn into eight groups for the 2021/22 Group Stage. Continuing our series of draw reactions, we’re taking a look at the four clubs that comprise Group C.
Adler Mannheim will be skating in their seventh CHL campaign while both Lukko Rauma and the Cardiff Devils will be appearing in their fifth season. Lausanne HC will be one of five teams representing Switzerland and are seeing CHL action for the second time.
Lausanne HC hope to at least match the results from their debut season in the CHL when they made it all the way to the Quarter-Finals. General Manager John Fust highlights his team’s focus as a big part of their strategy to advance in the tournament.
“We want to be focused on the immediate, which is getting out of our group. And then we can reorientate our aim after that,” he explains.
"Obviously, if you are in the Champions Hockey League, you are a successful organisation."
Lausanne HC General Manager John Fust
Fust, who acted as Director of Player Development during Lausanne’s first CHL appearance, regards the CHL with respect and recognises what it means for his team to play among Europe’s elite, saying, “It’s a great honour to be back in this competition. It’s a prestigious tournament, that is the best of the best in Europe.” He continues, “we look forward to the challenge to prove ourselves on the international stage.”
To compete against “the best of the best”, Lausanne have incorporated a play style that, according to Fust, “is a combination of Swiss and North American.” A combination that highlights, “a high speed, tempo game with a bit of a North American mentality of being able to grind away.”
The GM plans to utilise this playstyle against opponents who will no doubt be a challenge to Lausanne: “We have a lot of respect for all three organisations. Obviously, if you are in the Champions Hockey League, you are a successful organization.”
Lausanne are excited for the challenge ahead but know that if they hope to advance into the winter months of the competition, they “will have to be on top of our game in order to get results.”
Another team with a North American mentality are the Cardiff Devils who are skating in their fourth CHL campaign. Coming out of their league as 1st place finishers in the Regular Season, the Devils will face all three teams in their Group for the first time. The Devils’ Head Coach Jarrod Skalde views the competition as an educational experience.
“We know plenty about these clubs because they are some of the most famous clubs in Europe. We are looking forward to competing with them on the ice but also seeing how they work off the ice. We can learn so much from the teams we play against in the CHL," he started.
Skalde enjoyed an extensive playing career that began with the New Jersey Devils (no connection to Cardiff), and saw him bounce between the North American and European leagues until 2007/08. He became a Head Coach during the 2008/09 season and after several years in North America, the Canadian began his career in Cardiff during the 2020/21 season. It’s his experience with the North American game that Skalde has injected into the Devils’ DNA.
“We play a more North American style in our league than other leagues in Europe and getting in on the forecheck and putting the body to these teams will be important.”
"Speed is such a factor in the European game and we need to be able to keep up with these teams."
Cardiff Devils Head Coach Jarrod Skalde
Like Fust, Skalde sees the potential of blending the physicality of North American hockey with the speed and skill of the European style to create a potent force that’s hard to play against.
“We are going to play an up-tempo game and are building a team that can skate with these teams. Speed is such a factor in the European game and we need to be able to keep up with these teams.”
The Devils’ last CHL campaign in the 2019/20 season saw them muster their best record (3-3), but they have failed to advance past the Group Stage in each of their appearances.
No matter, as Skalde explains, “I know the club take great pride in being involved in the CHL and have improved each season over the past three competitions they have been involved in.” Witnessing the team’s success isn't just exciting for the organisation, but also for him personally, “it is an exciting opportunity to compete against the best teams in Europe.”
As to his aim going into this upcoming season, Skalde lays it out clearly, “Our aim is to advance to the next round for the first time.” He goes on to laud his team’s previous play, “The Devils got close last year in the toughest group in the competition with both finalists being from our group,” but admits, “It won’t be easy, we have another very tough group but that is still our goal.”
Skating against Skalde and the Devils will be German side Adler Mannheim. Having qualified for every CHL season save one, Adler have advanced past the Group Stage three times and have entered the Round of 16 twice. Sports Manager Jan-Axel Alavaara joined the club during the 2018/19 season and was with Adler when they were defeated by Czech side Mountfield HK in their latest Round of 16 exit in the 2019/20 season.
For one thing, Alavaara is proud to be a part of Adler and speaks highly of the city, saying, “Mannheim is a hockey city. There is a lot of tradition and passion around Adler.” The Regular Season Group South winners will look to put this tradition and passion on display on an international stage and Alavaara is eager to see what the other clubs are all about.
According to Alavaara, one of the cornerstones of the CHL experience is, “to meet new clubs and play against them”. He also enjoys looking at the larger picture of German hockey, noting, “It's interesting to compete with them and see what level we and German hockey are at in comparison.”
A former scout of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, Alavaara is aware of what Adler's opponents bring to the table: “Rauma has been working hard and purposefully for several years. As a reward, they could celebrate the championship. They have a good scouting network and many good and young players in their roster. Lausanne will also enter with a strong team and represent Switzerland in the usual worthy manner.”
"Mannheim is a hockey city. There is a lot of tradition and passion around Adler."
Adler Mannheim Sports Manager Jan-Axel Alavaara
Though he confesses, “I know the least about Cardiff, also about British hockey in general.” But does go on to applaud British hockey, saying, “however, experience shows that British teams take the competition very seriously and are definitely good for surprises.”
Regardless of who they play, though, Alavaara is confident in his club.
“We have a chance to make it far in any case,” he says. But first thing’s first: “Accordingly, the playoffs are our first goal,” but concedes that Adler, “will take it step by step.”
As to how they plan to play against their opponents and make it to the Playoffs, Alavaara explains, “Our team consists of very different players with very different strengths.” He goes on to assure, “we will skate a lot and never give up.”
Rounding out Group C is a club that has been successful albeit inconsistent in their CHL appearances.
Lukko Rauma have advanced past the Group Stage in each of their previous campaigns and even reached the Quarter-Finals against Luleå in the 2014/15 season. In their fourth campaign (and fifth qualification), the Liiga Champions hope to, “to play hard and get good results since the first game,” according to Head Coach Marko Virtanen.
Previously the Head Coach of CHL club JYP Jyväskylä , the 52-year-old Finn moved on to TPS Turku in 2019/20 where he led the team to the Semi-Finals of the Spengler Cup. Virtanen later joined Lukko Rauma in the 2020/21 season overseeing the U20 team and was recently promoted to Head Coach of Lukko for the upcoming season.
"I hope our young team will be able to present a fast-paced and skillful puck-controlled game."
Lukko Rauma Head Coach Marko Virtanen
For Virtanen, getting good results begins with preparation, and preparation begins even before the CHL season starts.
“First you must earn a place in the previous season by playing well.” He continues, “you really need to be in a good condition in the long run, and during the CHL series, you must get even better condition when the opponents get harder and harder after every round.”
Hopes of advancing to the later stages of the tournament rest on the shoulders of the young talent Lukko will be showcasing this year and Virtanen expects them to be ready, saying, “I hope our young team will be able to present a fast-paced and skillful puck-controlled game.”
While nothing is set in stone when it comes to competing in the CHL, teams have come to anticipate an elevated brand of hockey. Series become direr, opponents become harder; Virtanen sees these situations as part and parcel of the experience.
“Every team has earned its place in the result of success. All the teams are winning organisations so this will be a tough challenge to us,” he explains.
About their Group C opponents, Virtanen notes that both Lausanne and Adler, “are very traditional teams in their national leagues,” but Cardiff is a different story. “Cardiff is very interesting and a new acquaintance for me which I´m looking forward to.” In fact, Virtanen wonders if this could, “be the first time a Finnish team faces a Welsh team in CHL history?”
The answer to his question is yes – this will be the first time a Finnish team will face off against a team from Wales.
Whatever the outcome, the experience to play in the CHL is not lost on Virtanen, Lukko Rauma, or their fans. “For players, this is a rare and great opportunity to get to play international games against the top teams in Europe. Not everyone, even in the national team, gets the opportunity to experience this,” he says, “For supporters, this is a great opportunity to see other countries top teams and players.”
Of course, Virtanen could be speaking about the supporters of any team representing their city in the CHL. A great opportunity awaits everyone involved and the fans can enjoy all the action come August.
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 C knowledge with a chance to win three CHL European Trophy keychains!