Next year will be the inaugural season of the Champions Hockey League, which will consist of 40 teams vying to be crowned the number one European club.
The Founding Members
The new pan-European competition is a cooperative between the IIHF, the six founding leagues and the 26 founding teams, which receive an automatic qualification into the tournament that includes:
- Austria (EBEL): EC Red Bull Salzburg, UPC Vienna Capitals.
- Czech Republic (Tipsport Extraliga): HC Bili Tygri Liberec, HC Pardubice, HC Sparta Prague, HC Vitkovice Ostrava.
- Finland (Liiga): IFK Helsinki, JYP Jyväskylä, KalPa Kuopio, Kärpät Oulu, Tappara Tampere, TPS Turku.
- Germany (DEL): Adler Mannheim, Eisbären Berlin, ERC Ingolstadt, Krefeld Pinguine.
- Switzerland (NLA): SC Bern, Fribourg-Gottéron, ZSC Lions Zurich, EV Zug.
- Sweden (SHL): Djurgården Stockholm, Frölunda Gothenburg, Färjestad Karlstad, HV71 Jönköping, Linköpings HC, Luleå Hockey.
“This is the competition that the clubs were asking for,” said Håkan Loob, president of hockey operations for Färjestad BK. “It’s a great opportunity to see what the best teams in Europe can do against one another.”
Other European Clubs
The remaining spots will be filled by regular season and national champions from the founding leagues, as well as a select number of wildcard spots. These wildcard spots will have the opportunity to be filled by members of clubs outside the founding six, which could include teams from the leagues in Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, France, Italy and Great Britain. Inclusion into the CHL will be contingent upon the club having a strong infrastructure, being well financed and the club playing in an arena that meets the demands of the CHL board.
There will also be a wildcard spot reserved for the winner of the annual Continental Cup. The club competition will now feature a “best of the rest” to include European clubs that didn’t qualify for the CHL.
However, there is one glaring omission here – the Kontinental Hockey League is not represented. According to CHL officials, they were in talks with the Russian league and offered the KHL an opportunity to participate on the same grounds as the other member leagues, but an agreement was not reached. While KHL clubs won’t participate in the inaugural season, there is the possibility for them to join in the future as discussions are still being held.
The league will open on August 21st with group play. There will be 10 groups of four. The draw for the groups has tentatively been set to take place May 21st in Minsk, Belarus during the IIHF World Championships. The teams in each group will play each other in a round robin format, meaning that 120 games will be played at the preliminary stage.
Each group winner as well as the six best second place finishers will advance to the knockout stages, where home-away knockout games will be played beginning November 4th. A single game final will be held February 4th to crown the championship club of Europe, concluding the 149 game tournament.
“[The CHL ] is guaranteed to last and will not be a one shot deal,”said Peter John Lee of the Eisbären Berlin. “If we are going to grow the game of hockey and make it the number one winter sport in Europe, it can’t be about your country, but we must look at the whole of Europe.”