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Silly Season Extravaganza: Newcomers Raising the Bar

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It feels like the season ended ages ago and I’m feeling very excited about there only being a month left before the pre-season games commence. And I will tell you this off-season has dropped some huge names here in Sweden, still I’m sort of disappointed in some of the teams who don’t present anything that’s happening during their preparation phase. We need more publicity to keep women’s hockey growing and it’s such a pleasure reading everything that’s going on with the NWHL, something I hoped the NHL would play a bigger role in though, but all in good time.

Since 2008 I’ve seen Linköping grow into a real modern dynasty team growing stronger for every year since then and this years defiling unbeaten streak throughout the regular season culminating with a 5-0 victory over AIK in the last championship game in front of a nearly 3000 people strong home crowd really conquering their second straight title, that is impressive! But I do believe it will be tough to hold on to this climactic feeling when the new season begins, sure the team is not complete yet and there might still be some big names dropping in. However it will not be a walk in the park taking one of the two first spots this coming season as I see how both newly promoted HV71 and the phoenix Luleå rising out of the former MSSK (Munksund/Piteå) who had a turbulent year this last season.

Can I just tell you how cool it is that we will get to watch as a couple of the world’s real elite players take the Swedish league yet another step as the best league outside North America. The ones I’m talking about are Swiss goalkeeper Florence Schelling and Finnish attacker Michelle Karvinen, I would say both are top 5 worldwide at their respective positions.

Let me break down what’s going on with the top teams this winter:

Luleå is a well established SHL team and has been playing at the top level of Swedish hockey since 1984, they are actually my pre-women’s hockey favorite team and naturally it felt a bit special that they have finally decided to invest in a women’s hockey team by taking over the former MSSK team, much like both Djurgården and Färjestad did the last season. Luleå did have a team in the first division already, but they haven’t really put any effort into it before now.

This is where Karvinen landed and this will be the first season since Josefine Jakobsen played in Sweden that outstanding point scorer Denise Altmann (Linköping) will have a fight for the scoring title which she has won for 4 years straight. A big factor for Luleå will also be hometown heroes Melinda Olsson and UND’s Johanna Fällman, both belonging in the new jersey and they bring lots of national team experience. And last but not least, Emma Nordin decided to switch out her Modo jersey for something new, being one of, if not the best, forward in Sweden just extends the team with an even greater offensive punch. With a world class goalie they would be a shoe-in for the gold.

HV71 has been battling in the first division for two straight seasons after being demoted and now they are finally back where they belong. A lot learned since the last time and the team is stacking up with high end players. Already with a good core spiked with Maja Jakobsson who should have been given a chance with the national team, but has been neglected when playing at a lower level. Her sister Sara Jakobsson returned from playing in Riksserien to make sure HV would succeed in the qualification series and she heads a talented defensive featuring classy young players like Ida Karlsson and Linnéa Andersson. I’m very impressed with the new additions to the team, first out they recruited Finnish national team player Jennica Haikarainen from Modo and then came the bomb(!), Linköping and Sweden’s captain Jenni Asserholt had signed with the team. I was a bit shocked over this but with her saying she needed a new enviroment to motivate herself, I could appreciate that our strong captain will add her ferocious game and leadership to a new team.

HV keeps building on the team and will do so until the season begins I suspect. To once again see Fanny Rask play for one of my favorite teams will be amazing, she was my first favorite player in 2008 and has grown so much as a player since then even making the Olympic team in Sochi. Arriving from the far side of the Atlantic are a quartet of players and I think they have struck gold in the signing of Duluth captain Emma Stauber, from what I can gather she is a top end defenseman from the WCHA and along with RPI’s Delaney Middlebrook the blueline looks super strong only matched by Linköping in the league.

Last out are of course a couple of Canadians, these are the hardest to know what they will bring to the team, but should be good enough if they show some of what Katie Kennedy and Kendra Finch brought last season. Anyway both are forwards from the University of Calgary (Dinos) and how could you go wrong with Chip’n’Dale? Very much looking forward to seeing what Chelsea Peterson and Jenna Smith can do.

Even with Janine Weber opting out of her contract to sign with the Riveteres (NWHL) the Linköping team will be a top 3 team. Just the fact that scoring leader Denise Altmann and runner-up Pernilla Winberg remain on the team puts the offense above most of the leagues. The roster is looking a bit thin at the moment and there are still players on the way in so it’s hard to tell how high the team might reach this year, but replacing Kim Martin-Hasson with Florence Schelling makes the defense number one, probably in all of Europe. The only thing really lacking in the team is the intensity from Asserholt and Matildah Andersson who have both left and it’s only the returning Cornelia Gillberg who can fill that slot so far. The young Norwegians Lene Tendenes and Emilie Kruse joining the hockey high school will be interesting to follow, hopefully for some immediate impact on the team.

There hasn’t been much noise from most of the other teams, but on the noteworthy side:
Erica Udén-Johansson rejoins Sundsvall Wildcats after finishing her last year at Quinnipiac.
The Netherlands Julie Zwarthoed signs with SDE, as the teams third dutch player.
SDE also signed Canadian Maggie Litchfield-Medd, recently graduated from the University of Manitoba and a silver medalist at the 2015
Universiade in Granada.

Laslty, a couple of fun facts from the Swedish first division as Claudia de la Pompa becomes the first Spanish player to play in Sweden, personally I’m glad that the World Championship’s Division 2 are getting some attention since I’ve been checking them out first hand the last two years and ther are players worthy of competing at a much higher level there. Claudia will be playing for Karlskrona who last year brought in the first Icelandic player in Diljá Björgvinsdóttir and now they will be facing each other not only at Worlds but also here as Diljá has moved over to Göteborgs HC in the same league.

I’ll be back when I’ve inhaled the cool icy fresh air as the players step back on the ice in August, until then I hope you all enjoy your summer and keep up with the off-ice workouts!

Mats

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