Bílí Tygři Liberec shocked the European hockey world in the Round of 32 by going into Gothenburg, down by a goal on aggregate, and emerging victorious over the two-time CHL champion Frölunda Indians. Their reward in the Quarterfinals is a date with the very first team to be crowned winners of the Champions Hockey League back in 2008/09 – ZSC Lions Zurich.
In this incarnation of the CHL, this is the farthest Liberec have gone, having previously gone as far as the Round of 16. As for Zurich, they advanced as far as this stage last season before falling to the Växjö Lakers. This season, both teams finished as group runners-up before toppling group winners in the Round of 16 – Liberec over Frölunda and Zurich over the Nottingham Panthers.
After two seasons of near dominance in the Czech Extraliga – two regular-season titles, two trips to the finals and one title – the White Tigers have had a tougher time this season. They currently sit ninth in the 14-team Extraliga with 37 points in 27 games but have won eight of their last 11, including a 4-3 overtime win over Litvínov on Sunday afternoon. The Lions, meanwhile, have had back-to-back seasons of regular-season success in Switzerland followed by playoff disappointments. After 27 games this season they are third place with 47 points, coming off a 3-2 overtime win over league-leading SC Bern on Saturday.
Both of these teams have offensive talent, so it promises to be an entertaining two-game set. Liberec have scored 30 goals in eight CHL games with Martin Bakoš leading the way with nine goals and four assists. He also leads the team domestically with 20 points in 27 games, including three in Sunday’s win. The Lions roster, meanwhile, includes some of the CHL’s top scorers, including Fredrik Pettersson with 15 points, Robert Nilsson with 10 and Pius Suter with nine.
In goal, Lukas Flueler has continued to be the go-to guy in Zurich, with Niklas Schlegel filling in admirably when needed. In Liberec, young Roman Will was left alone behind a sometimes suspect defence for much of the season. The recent acquisition of veteran Slovak Jaroslav Janus gives the White Tigers a solid one-two punch between the pipes.