Group B Preview: Danish champions face tough debut against Finns, Swiss and Czechs
HPK Hämeenlinna, EV Zug HC, Pilsen and Rungsted will contest Group B

A very unpredictable Group B features two debuting league champions– HPK Hämeenlinna and Rungsted Seier Capital, a six-time CHL participant – EV Zug, and one of last year’s strongest teams – HC Pilsen.

EV Zug and HC Pilsen are an especially interesting matchup, as they were the top two teams in terms of points gained in last year’s Group Stage (17 and 16 points gained respectively).

HPK Hämeenlinna

Despite finishing fifth in the Regular Season of Liiga, HPK Hämeenlinna surprised many when they beat Regular Season champions Kärpät Oulu in Game 7 of the Liiga Finals to secure their second ever Liiga title. With that they also secured their first ever start in the CHL, where they will face a trio of international teams they have never played before. HPK have had to deal with a few departures over the summer – right-wing Eetu Tuulola, who recorded 36 points last season, signed for the Calgary Flames and main goaltender Emil Larmi departed for fellow Finnish club Tappara Tampere and subsequently transferred to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Head coach Antti Pennanen was named Liiga’s best coach in 2018/19 and has coached HPK for three seasons now. He has not only been successful with them, but also with the Finnish national team as an assistant coach, winning last year’s IIHF World Championships with Finland. One of the club’s former players, Santeri Alatalo, who made a total of 110 appearances over five seasons for HPK, now plays for EV Zug and will face his former club when the pair meet.

Read our interview with HPK defenceman Petteri Nikkilä

EV Zug

Swiss National League Regular Season runners-up and Playoff finalists EV Zug have participated in all six previous seasons of the CHL, but despite being an experienced team full of talent and ambition that compete for the domestic title each year, they have struggled to make their mark in the CHL and have never made it past the Round of 16. Despite having trouble in the competition, last season Zug recorded 16 points from 5 wins and a sole overtime loss in the Group Stage – the second highest amount of points of all teams last season but were unable to overcome eventual finalists Red Bull Munich in the Round of 16.

They are the most experienced team in their group and will certainly be looking to repeat last year’s Group Stage success. Despite losing centre Garett Roe, who recorded 4 points in 3 CHL games last season and forward Dennis Everberg, the club signed 29-year-old Jan Kovář, who transferred from fellow Group B rivals HC Pilsen. With nearly 300 KHL games to his name and countless years of Czech national team experience, Kovář adds even more experience to an already experienced team and maybe even that extra bit of insider knowledge about HC Pilsen.

HC Pilsen

  • Qualified as Third-place Regular Season finishers
  • Third CHL appearance
  • Club information
     

HC Pilsen’s first season in the CHL wasn’t one to remember. Despite making it past the Group Stage, the club exited the competition as early as the Round of 32. Last year was a different story though, as HC Pilsen dominated a strong Group H, that included defending champions JYP Jyväskylä, winning all 6 of their Group Stage matches to advance to the Playoffs from top position. With 17 points from 5 regulation wins and 1 overtime win, HC Pilsen not only had the highest amount of gained points but were also the only team to go undefeated in the Group Stage of the competition.

Their run only ended in the Semi-Finals, where they lost to eventual champions the Frölunda Indians. This year Pilsen will have to do without key player David Stach, who recorded 3 goals and 8 assists in 6 CHL Group Stage matches. The departure of Jan Kovář to fellow Group B rivals EV Zug is also a big blow for the club, but they see promise in new acquisition Zack Malik – a talented young 18-year-old defenseman. Pilsen were also able to extend the contract of club star and captain Milan Gulaš – with 23 points in 28 CHL games he is a key player in their game plan.

Rungsted Seier Capital

Rungsted are another club debuting this year and similarly to HPK, they are unknown to their opponents. When looking back at previous seasons of the competition, it is evident that Danish teams have always found it hard to compete in the CHL – they have never advanced past the Group Stage and the highest return of a Danish team has only been 4 points (SønderjyskE Vojens in the inaugural 2014/15 CHL season).

Rungsted are desperate to break the Danish spell and have strengthened their ranks with 6 new acquisitions over the summer. The most notable is 25-year-old Canadian defenseman Shane Hanna, who transferred from AHL club the Texas Stars. Last season’s head coach Erik Hjalmarsson has stayed on and heads into his sixth straight season with Rungsted (2 seasons as a player, 2 as an assistant coach and the final 2 as head coach).

Read our interview with Rungsted captain Marcus Olsson