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 F.
For Oceláři Třinec, it’s the sixth time they’re appearing in the Champions Hockey League, and in a group where they’re the most experienced, they’ll be hoping to make that count for a deep run similar to the one they enjoyed in the 2017/18 season.
Head Coach Václav Varaďa was in charge of the club when they reached the Semi-Finals that season, and he’s aware of the honour the club has of participating in the competition again.
“Our organization is very grateful for being part of the CHL again,” Varaďa said following the Group stage draw.
“We do all it takes to become a very successful organisation in the whole of Europe.”
Václav Varaďa, Oceláři Třinec Head Coach
Třinec may have to deal with teams with less experience in the competition than themselves, but Varaďa has shown he has enough knowledge about his opponents coming into the opening stage of the tournament.
"Fribourg have an experienced team with lots of good Swiss players and foreign players that are used to putting points on the board. Leksands worked hard to get back into the SHL a couple seasons back and are playing very well, skating and their transition game is one of the main things in their game plan," he said.
One side that Varaďa wasn’t able to comment on previously was Slovan Bratislava.
The Slovak side were awarded a wildcard after the Draw, replacing Yunost Minsk of Belarus, and will be making their CHL debut this season.
For their Head Coach, Robert Döme, making their debut is reason to celebrate enough, but it’s a big year for the club in general.
"The CHL is a celebration of hockey in Europe and it is the highest level that you can achieve as a European hockey club."
Slovan Bratislava Head Coach Robert Döme
"Our club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and it’s a great opportunity to be part of the CHL. For us as hockey coaches in general, the CHL is a celebration of hockey in Europe and it is the highest level that you can achieve as a European hockey club. We are very pleased to be taking part. We appreciate it so much that we have been given the opportunity to be a part of this great tournament,” he started.
Brastislava have only been in the domestic league in Slovakia for a couple of years after previously competing in the KHL. They’ll be hoping to do their league and nation proud and will be drawing on the wealth of experience Döme has heading into his first full year with the side.
“I must admit I know a lot about the clubs in our group. I have been living in Sweden for the past ten years so naturally, I know Leksands very well. They were one of the best teams in the SHL last season. I know quite a few players from their past season’s roster," said the 42-year-old Head Coach.
"From every perspective, Oceláři Třinec are no doubt one of the biggest clubs in the region of Central Europe. They are a fast and strong team. Fribourg-Gottéron have also been one of the top teams in Switzerland for several consecutive years now," he added.
“Obviously, we will have watched a lot of videos with games of each of our opponents by the beginning of the CHL group stage. One thing is for sure, each game will be a big challenge for our players,” concluded Döme,
Another side debuting this season are Leksands IF of Sweden, who finished third in the SHL last year to earn their first CHL qualification.
A side that in recent years has seen disappointment, spending time in both the SHL and second tier Allsvenskan, they’ll be hoping to capitalise on last year's success to become a regular competitor for the CHL spots.
"It means a lot for our club to be back at the top level of Swedish and European hockey again."
Leksands IF General Manager Thomas Johansson
“It feels really good to be able to give this experience to our incredible fans that have been supporting us through some tough times over the past 20 years," he added.
While they don't have much knowledge about the teams they’ll face, there are a couple of links to the club within the other teams.
“We don't know particularly much about the other teams in our group except Fribourg-Gottéron. Forward Mattias Ritola and assistant coach Mikael Karlberg have both played for the club. They look back at their time there with good memories and are looking forward to competing against them.”
With two sides debuting in the group, Leksands will be hoping that experience won’t play too big of a factor in determining who advances to the next round, but that hasn’t stopped Johansson from setting his targets high for the campaign.
"We are pushing to be a contender for winning the CHL this season," he concluded.
Lastly, out of Switzerland, Fribourg-Gotteron are back for their third season in the CHL and their first appearance since the 2016/17 season.
“We’re playing this competition to go as far as possible."
Fribourg-Gotteron General Manager and Head Coach Christian Dube
“Playing in the CHL is important for our team.” General Manager and Head Coach Christian Dube said following the draw.
“Playing against the best teams in Europe is a big challenge, so we’ll take that competition seriously and it’s a good challenge for us,” he added.
With every team earning their right to compete in the CHL through their domestic performances, it's no surprise that most coaches think their Group Draw is a tough one, and that's no different for Dube and Fribourg.
“I think we have a pretty tight group. We have the Czech champions, and Leksands who finished third in Sweden, so with us who finished third also I think it’s a really tight group I think it’s going to be a big challenge."
"But I think it’s really exciting to go all over Europe and challenge those guys," said Dube.
Each club is hoping to impress early on, a win in your opening game can be a huge help, but for Fribourg, the aim is to go as far as possible, but not get too far ahead of themselves in the process.
“We’re playing this competition to go as far as possible. We’ll go step by step so hopefully we’ll playing good games and qualify for the next round,” 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 F knowledge with a chance to win three CHL European Trophy keychains!