Group E Preview: One of 2019/20's “Groups of Death”?
SC Bern, Kärpät Oulu, Skellefteå AIK & Grenoble contest Group E

Group E is definitely going to be one to watch, as the race for the Playoffs will surely go down to the wire. French champions Grenoble have a huge challenge against them, as they will face some of the most experienced teams in the competition’s history. SC Bern, one of a handful of teams to have played in every CHL season, whilst Kärpät Oulu and Skellefteå AIK are set to make their fifth appearance in the competition.

SC Bern

Finnish head coach Kari Jalonen has brought the good times back to Bern. In 2018/19, Jalonen guided SC Bern to their second Swiss title in three years, but success at the European level has continued to elude the Swiss club. SC Bern are still smarting from their Quarter-Finals defeat against Malmö Redhawks last season, and this just may be Bern’s year to become the first Swiss side to lift the European Trophy.

The biggest question for Bern heading into the 2019/20 season is whether or not the team can cope with the loss of superstar goaltender Leonardo Genoni, who moved to EV Zug in the summer. Genoni recorded a 0.946 SVS% in the 2018/19 NLA Playoffs, and the burden of responsibility now falls on the shoulders of last year’s back-up Pascal Caminada and new addition Niklas Schlegel, who signed from ZSC Lions Zurich.

Elsewhere, the club have compensated for the loss of Gaëtan Haas by signing exciting young forward Vincent Praplan, who will be looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2018/19. Praplan scored 39 points in 47 games in his last season in the NLA before making the switch to North America. Additionally, former Kärpät Oulu defenceman Mikko Koivisto will get a return to his former club, as the Gold Medal winner at the 2019 IIHF World Championships joins SC Bern from the KHL.

All in all, it is much of the same for SC Bern. Kari Jalonen will continue to make the club competitive, and you can always rely on the likes of Mark Arcobello and Simon Moser. However, some questions remain going into the 2019/20 season.

Kärpät Oulu

A true Finnish powerhouse. Kärpät Oulu came oh-so-close to making it back-to-back Liiga titles. The Finnish Finals went to overtime in Game 7, but the side from Oulu lost out to HPK Hämeenlinna in sudden-death. Kärpät have a long tradition of success in the CHL, having reached the Final in 2015/16 and Semi-Finals in 2014/15, losing to Frölunda Indians on both occasions. Can this be their year to become the second Finnish champion in Europe?

It may take some time for the Kärpät machine to get into action, as it has been an off-season of change for the club. Their continued success over the last few years has seen the NHL come calling, as no less than four players have left to try their luck across the Atlantic. These include young netminder Veini Vehviläinen, forward Aleksi Heponiemi and defencemen Teemu Kivihalme and Jani Hakanpää.

In the opposite direction, Juho Lammikko joins from the Florida Panthers after playing 40 NHL games last season, whilst the hole left in net by Vehviläinen’s departure has been addressed with the signing of Slovak national team goalie, Patrik Rybár. In perhaps the most hyped move off the off-season, one of Kärpät’s favourite sons, Janne Pesonen, will make his return to the team after 11 seasons away. In 2007/08, Pesonen had one of the best seasons in Liiga history, scoring a remarkable 78 points in 56 games.

It remains to be seen if this can be the year that Kärpät makes another run at the European Trophy, but it would be a mistake to count them out. With star talent such as Jussi Jokinen leading the forward lines, you can expect to see goals when you watch the side from Oulu next season.

Skellefteå AIK

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

The pride of Västerbottens län. Skellefteå return for their fifth CHL campaign desperate to make it past the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 2014/15. Last season, Skellefteå finished fifth in the SHL Regular Season, before a Quarter-Finals exit in the Playoffs. They will be hoping for more in 2019/20.

There has been significant turnover on the Skellefteå roster for 2019/20. A number of big names including former CHL MVP Mathis Olimb and Bud Holloway have departed for pastures new, whilst young stars Tim Söderlund and Emil Djuse are both set to cross the Atlantic after signing NHL deals.

To address these departures, Skellefteå have been highly active in the summer. Former NHL forward Tom Pyatt has signed, as has Danish forward Jesper Jensen. In one of the most intriguing summer moves, 2019 NHL first-round draft pick Philip Broberg will start the season with Skellefteå and will look to make a big mark in his first CHL appearance.

All-in-all, Skellefteå are full of confidence to make this year their year in the CHL. After last season’s disappointment on penalty shots against HC Pilsen in the Quarter-Finals, some big new additions may help the club to spring a surprise or two in a highly competitive Group E.

 

Grenoble

  • Qualified as French Champions
  • Hold victory over Finnish side Espoo Blues
  • Club information
     

It is a huge welcome back to Grenoble! The team from the French Alps made their mark in their only previous CHL appearance in 2015/16, where they caused a massive upset over Finnish side Espoo Blues on home ice. They have their work cut out for them in Group E, but the club is ready to cause some upsets against highly-favoured competition.

Two third-period goals in Game 7 lifted Grenoble over Rouen Dragons, and both Christophe Tartari and Damien Fleury, the two goal scorers in that game, will remain with Grenoble for 2019/20. The club has experienced some turnover in the off-season, as four import players have left the club, including Olivier Latendresse, who scored 30 points in 44 games last season. However, top scorers Guillaume Leclerc, Denny Kearney and Joël Champagne will all hit the ice for Grenoble in 2019/20.

In terms of player signings, Grenoble have definitely added more than they have subtracted. Canadian defenceman Yann Sauvé joins the side after a storied career. In 2017/18, he was part of the Nottingham Panthers side which reached the CHL Playoffs. Grenoble also managed to pry last season’s Ligue Magnus top goal scorer Alex Aleardi from rivals Rouen. Aleardi had 35 goals in 44 games in French domestic hockey last season.

It will be tough work for Grenoble, but they are up to the challenge. They will be desperate to score another upset and follow in the footsteps of their rivals Rouen, by making the CHL Playoffs.