The first ever 'Red Bull Derby' in the Champions Hockey league could not come at a more crucial time for the sides from Munich and Salzburg.
Both made it through to the Quarter-Finals as milestones not only for themselves, but also their leagues, and then bettered the feat by making it to the Semi-Final stage. As the crow flies these teams are separated by only 115 kilometres, making the travelling distance one of the shortest in the CHL. Indeed, both teams travel further distances in their own league.
Red Bull Munich, the lower seeds in this matchup, qualified as runners up from their Group behind Malmö, losing to the Redhawks on Game Day 6 to finish below the Swedes. Their path in the playoffs saw them overturn a one-goal home deficit against EV Zug by winning 2-0 in Switzerland, and then getting revenge on the Redhawks with an overtime winner after the 120 minute series ended tied at six each. MVP nomination Trevor Parks' hat-trick in the return game ultimately saw his team through.
What Munich have had in the CHL so far this season is solid goaltending: Olympic silver medalist Danny aus den Birken has stopped 92.09% of shots faced in just under 500 minutes so far, and posted two shutouts. With him in net, Munich have won five of eight games.
Red Bull Salzburg qualified as group winners thanks to a Game Day six victory over SC Bern. Many would say they drew arguably the weakest team in the Round of 16 in Rouen, however the French side arrived in Salzburg after the first leg tied at three, and pushed their Austrian hosts for the best part of three periods in the reverse matchup as well. If Salzburg got a favourable draw in the Round of 16, their Quarter-Final opponents were anything but! Defending Finnish champions, former CHL finalists and current Liiga leaders Kärpät Oulu were tipped by many to go far in this season's competition but were ultimately undone by John Hughes' winner with 23 seconds left in the first leg - a goal possibly now more famous for the celebration than the excellent move made to score it.
With a one-goal lead Salzburg headed to Oulu and went two up on aggregate before Kärpät levelled the game on the night, and then proceeded to shut out the Finns for over 38 minutes to hold on to a 4-3 aggregate win. MVP nominee Stephen Michalek leads the CHL with 92.69% of shots faced saved, while outfield the team has five players with seven or more points.
Germany vs. Austria
While it's also a Red Bull derby, this series pits two nations with great sporting competition against each other. After their Olympic success, Germany and the DEL would perhaps have expected, and certainly had previously hoped, to get a team much further in the CHL than in previous years. For Austria and the EBEL to be two games away from a CHL Final is remarkable.
Austrian teams have stopped German opponents at crucial moments before - the 2014 Winter Olympic qualifiers one of the more recent memories. Before that game Eisbären Berlin's Constantin Braun was asked why Germany often struggles against Austria. "Because it's Austria" he answered simply. One set of Red Bulls will be hoping for a repeat of that, the others no doubt trying to block it out.