The second year of the reborn Champions Hockey League is underway with an expanded field and updated format. The group stage concluded over the weekend and on Tuesday, the CHL announced the seedings for the field of 32, which will start up on September 22.
Among the notable match-ups in the playoff portion of the CHL tournament, three intra-league match-ups will take place with two sets of Swedish teams pitted against each other — last year’s champions, Luleä against Färjestad for the 16th time in CHL history and Växjö versus Stockholm — and a Finnish face-off with TPS Turku taking on JYP Jyväskylä.
The second stage of the CHL playoffs will feature each set of teams playing each other home and away with the first game of all 16 matches set for September 22 and the second game set for October 6.
Already a Historic Year
The format changed this year with the tournament being upped to 48 teams from 44 last year. That was in service of the opening round featuring three games, opposed to five, in each group in an attempt to avoid meaningless games on the final days of the group stage with so many teams knowing their whether or not they qualified for the next round already by the final day in the old format.
The new format appeared to work well, with only two teams ending the group stage with zero points: England’s Sheffield Tigers and the NLA’s EV Zug, who were hampered in their final match against Tappara Tampere by not having former Minnesota Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard due to a suspension for a knee-on-knee collision. Bouchard had a goal and two assists in EV Zug’s first three games.
— Champions Hockey League (@championshockey) September 8, 2015
The opening round had some great drama, with Grenoble winning a game, becoming the first French team to win a game in the CHL. It’s a great boost for French hockey on the international stage, even with Grenoble being eliminated in the group stage.
Also historic was this year’s inclusion of teams from the U.K., which featured Braehead Clan, a team from near Glasgow. They are the first Scottish team to play in the tournament.
It’s also notable that of the 12 leagues that participate — all major European leagues with the exception of the KHL, who were instrumental in re-establishing the CHL — six leagues are well represented, four have just two teams and two have only a single team. The Norwegian Ligaen is one of the teams that has just two teams representing and both the Storhamar Hamar and the Stavanger Oilers made it out of the group stage. That’s great for hockey in Norway and will help establish the country as a serious contender in coming years.
The Slovakian club HC Kosice is the only other team from that smaller six league pool who has advanced to the playoff round.
Fans in the U.S. and Canada can stream games live when the CHL kicks off again next week.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.