Group D Preview: No giants but no weaklings
Two teams new to the CHL. Two returning veterans. Who makes the Playoffs?

With no runaway favourites and no easy opponents either, Group D is one where all four teams enter with a reasonable chance to advance to the Round of 16, but at the same time could be stopped at the Group Stage if results don’t go their way.

Czech and Belarusian champs Oceláří Třinec and Yunost Minsk have been here before, while Swiss and Finnish qualifiers Lausanne HC and Lahti Pelicans are charting new territory.

Oceláři Třinec

​The reigning Czech champs are the most experienced team in this group with four previous CHL appearances, reaching the Semi-Finals two seasons ago. They have been a perennial contender in their domestic league and have qualified for the European championship again after winning the Extraliga title this past spring. Despite that success, “the Steelers” know all too well how a poor start can hurt your chances – they dropped their first two group games on home ice a year ago and never recovered.

One notable departure from the team is netminder Šimon Hrubec, the 2017/18 CHL MVP, who has signed with the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star. However, with the acquisition of Patrik Bartošák, who performed well for the Czech Republic in this spring’s IIHF World Championship, goaltending shouldn’t be a problem. Up front, most of the usual suspects are still around, including Martin Růžička, Jiří Polanský and Martin Adamský, who have all been with the club for close to a decade, giving them a level of stability rarely seen in European club hockey.

 

Lausanne HC

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

Lausanne have never been a Swiss hockey power but this past season recorded their best season ever, finishing third in the National League regular season and reaching the Semi-Finals, qualifying for the Champions Hockey League for the first time in their history, and reaching their first international tournament of any kind since the 1950s. The team was led by Dustin Jeffrey, Joel Vermin, Christoph Bertschy, Ronalds Kenins and Jonas Junland, who are all returning.

It’s hard to know if last season was just a one-off but, based on their off-season moves, it appears that Lausanne want to stay among the elite teams in Switzerland and compete in Europe as well. The team has made several key additions that have CHL experience, including forwards Cody Almond and Mika Partanen, defencemen Fabian Heldner and Victor Oejdemark, and especially goaltender Tobias Stephan, who was instrumental to EV Zug’s success last season. The brand-new Vaudoise Arena, which is set to open its doors in September and will co-host the IIHF World Championship in May, will be the site of Lausanne’s last group-stage game against Třinec on 15 October.

Read our interview with Lausanne's Swiss superstar, Joël Vermin

Lahti Pelicans

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

Like Lausanne, Pelicans qualified for the CHL for the first time ever after a third-place regular season finish in their domestic league, Finland’s Liiga. Like Lausanne, they will also try to build on that success, but there are some question marks in their lineup. The team’s top three scorers from last season – defenceman Oliwer Kaski and forwards Jesse Sarinen and Hynek Zohorna – have all moved on, with Kaski having signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Also gone is goaltender Juho Olkinuora – a backup on Finland’s World Championship team, which means the netminding duties will probably be shared between a couple of youngsters – Jakub Škarek and Atte Tolvanen. The biggest name coming to the team is veteran defenceman Topi Jaakola, who played just one game for TPS Turku last season.

Despite these departures, Ville Nieminen’s team is loaded with young talent, so there are some young players who will get the opportunity to fill those holes. They include Jesse Ylönen, who was on the Finnish team that won last year’s World Junior Championship, and two forwards who have a great chance to make this year’s team: Samuel Salonen and Alex Haatanen. Also look for 16-year-old defenceman Matias Rajaniemi making his professional debut. At the very least, this should be a fun team to watch

Check out our interview with Lahti captain Hannes Björninen

Yunost Minsk

Despite coming from the lowest-ranked league in Group D, Yunost benefit from their expensive international and CHL experience. Over the past two seasons, the club from the Belarusian capital has won the IIHF Continental Cup once and competed in the CHL twice. And while they’ve yet to advance to the last 16 of the European club championship, they haven’t been far off. They’re especially tough to beat at home, having won three of their five home contests. If they can get a good start with their opening two home games against Lausanne and Třinec, and then manage to pick up some points on the road, they could stand a reasonable chance at being the first Belarusian club to advance.

Fortunately for Yunost, returning for them is goaltender Igor Brikun, who was instrumental to their success last season and was solid in the CHL. Unfortunately, they have lost top scorer Mikhail Stefanovich, whose success has attracted the attention of the KHL. They will look for others to pick up the scoring slack - so far the only addition up front this summer is Russian Denis Tsygankov.

Check out our interview with Yunost GM Alexei Torbin