The draw for the group stage of the 2019-20 Champions Hockey League took place in Bratislava on the 22nd May, with 32 teams from 13 of Europe’s top leagues learning their fate. Of those 32 teams, 10 will be making their debut in the competition.

Since the competition’s inception in 2014, Swedish sides have dominated, making the final each year and winning four of the first five tournaments. Frölunda HC, based in Sweden’s second city of Gothenburg, have made four of the five finals, winning three. Their most recent success, this February, came as the first part of a double, as they would later go on to win the Swedish Championship for the fifth time in their history, in early May.

CHL Comes to Belfast

Whilst the Swedish clubs have undoubtedly managed to garner a stranglehold on the competition, it is fair to say that the CHL has captured the imagination of the fans of all clubs who have been fortunate enough to compete thus far. One of the sides making their debut in the upcoming campaign, the Belfast Giants, are no different. With a relatively brief history, having been established in the year 2000, the Giants were invited into this season’s competition as a wildcard entry. Traditionally, the winners of the Continental Cup are allocated a wild card slot in the following season’s CHL. The Giants gained their ticket to Europe the hard way.

Having lost out in the decisive Continental Cup game to Kazakhstan’s Arlan Kokshetau, by the narrowest of margins (a sudden-death shootout), the Giants might have been forgiven for thinking that they had missed their big chance. However, with the Kazakh champions having already been made aware that they were not eligible for the CHL, for logistical reasons, there was a glimmer of hope for the Belfast side. The CHL board took the best part of a month to weigh up their options, ultimately deciding that they would offer the spot to the Giants. Their press release cited the team’s competitiveness, support and organisation as three key factors in the decision.

The Giants would subsequently go on to win the EIHL regular season, staging a miraculous comeback and winning nine of their last 10 games. In doing so, they pipped the Cardiff Devils to the top spot, ensuring that both sides will compete in the CHL next season. The Devils are no strangers to the competition, having competed in each of the past two seasons. In 2017-18, they won two of their three home group stage games, including a defeat of the eventual runners-up, Växjö Lakers.

EIHL Struggles

Overall, EIHL sides have struggled to make an impact on the competition. They have never made it to the knockout stages, winning only nine of their combined 38 games played. They average 2.24 goals per game, compared with 4.58 against. Indeed, none of the EIHL sides has ever managed to finish anywhere other than the bottom of their group. Will that fact dampen the spirits of the Giants or the Devils? Not a chance. In fact, the one area where the EIHL sides have excelled has been in their support. Nottingham, with an average CHL attendance of 4,468, are 10th out of the 77 teams to have played in the competition, in terms of their average attendance. Sheffield, at 4,187, is just four places back, in 14th.

Traditionally, Belfast has been one of the best-supported teams in the EIHL. The most recent IIHF attendance report has the Giants as the 79th best-supported team in Europe, only behind the aforementioned Panthers (42nd) and Steelers (35th) amongst Elite League clubs. With the novelty of Europe’s top competition being on their doorstep for the first time, the Giants are sure to come out in their droves for their three home games later this year, and plenty is bound to travel to Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic.

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A Brief Guide to All 32 Qualified Teams

Group A

EC KAC (Austria)

A Brief History: Also known as EC Klagenfurter Athletiksport Club, KAC is in existence 110 years this year, having been founded in 1909. They are the most successful team in Austrian ice hockey history, having won 31 domestic titles between 1934 and 2019.

How they Qualified: Austrian Hockey League Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Are appearing for the third time, but have never managed to bypass the group stages.

Geography: Based in Klagenfurt, the sixth largest city in Austria.

Arena: Stadhalle Klagenfurt (5,500 capacity).

Colours: Red and White.

Player To Watch: Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen led the league in both SV% and GAA last year. Having played in several European leagues in his time, his numbers consistently clear .900 SV% and are well sub-3 GAA.

Tappara (Finland)

A Brief History: With ten playoff successes to their name, Tappara is joint with TPS as the most successful team in Kanada-malja history. The club shares some history with the Belfast Giants, as they were both home to Canadian legend Theo Fleury. Fleury had a brief spell with the side during the 1994-95 lockout, before later playing for the Giants in 2005-06.

How they Qualified: Finnish SM-liiga Regular Season Runner-Up.

CHL Pedigree: Ever-present in the competition so far, Tappara has 22 wins in 38 games to date. They have made it past the group stage on all five attempts, but won just a single knockout tie and have never made it as far as the final eight.

Geography: Playing in the largest Finnish city outside of the Greater Helsinki area, Tampere.

Arena: Hakametsä (7,300 capacity).

Colours: Blue, Orange and White

Player To Watch: Kristian Kuusela was second in the SM-liiga in assists last season, and third in overall points scored. In 2007, he scored the SHL championship-clinching goal, in his only season in the league. At 36 years of age, and with league championships in Sweden and Finland, Kuusela’s influence on the team cannot be underestimated.

EHC Biel (Switzerland)

A Brief History: Celebrating 80 years in existence this year, EHC Biel are three-time winners of the Swiss National League. Their last victory, however, came some 26 years ago, in 1983. During the 2012-13 NHL lockout, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Kane moved to Europe to play for Biel, with both averaging well over a point per game.

How they Qualified: Swiss National League Regular Season Fourth Place.

CHL Pedigree: The second of the three Swiss newcomers.

Geography: Based in the bilingual city of Biel, also known as Bienne.

Arena: Tissot Arena (6,521 capacity).

Colours: Blue, Maroon and White.

Player To Watch: NHL fans will be familiar with Jonas Hiller (G), who played nine seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and later the Calgary Flames. Hiller had the best SV% and GAA in the 2018 Olympic games. The signing of Peter Schneider from Vienna Capitals is also likely to give Biel-Bienne additional scoring threat.

Frisk Asker (Norway)

A Brief History: Whilst still some distance short of Vålerenga in their quest to be Norway’s most successful side, Frisk Asker have now won 4 GET-ligaen titles. The Ice Hockey wing of the club was founded in 1935, with their current arena dating back to 1969.

How they Qualified: Norwegian GET-ligaen Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: A first campaign for the Norwegian champions.

Geography: Based in the Greater Oslo Region, in Akershus county.

Arena: Askerhallen (2,400 capacity).

Colours: Orange and Black.

Player To Watch: Kyle Bonis (LW) led the team in points last season, with 49 in 48 games in his first season outside North America.

Group B

HPK (Finland)

A Brief History: Established in 1929, Hämeenlinnan Pallokerho (HPK) won just their second Finnish SM-liiga championship in 2019, having won their first in 2006. This year, they defeated regular season champions Kärpät in Game 7 overtime, with Markus Nenonen scoring the winning goal.

How they Qualified: Finnish Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: HPK will make their CHL debut in 2019-20.

Geography: Based in the historic city of Hämeenlinna, in the south of Finland, with a population of approximately 68,000. The city is roughly halfway between the larger cities of Helsinki and Tampere, about 1hr from Helsinki airport.

Arena: Ritari-areena (5,360 capacity)

Colours: Orange, Black and White.

Player To Watch: Local boy Petteri Nikkilä has spent his entire career thus far with HPK, aside from a couple of loan spells in the second-tier Mestis league during his late teens. Last year, Nikkilä put up career-high numbers, with 42 points in 59 games. This was the second best return for any defenseman in the SM-liiga.

EV Zug (Switzerland)

A Brief History: Founded in 1967, Zug has been Swiss National League champions on just one occasion, in 1998. Perhaps their most famous moment came in 2011 when they defeated the New York Rangers 8-4 in an exhibition game.

How they Qualified: Swiss National League Regular Season Runners-Up.

CHL Pedigree: An ever-present in the CHL, this is Zug’s sixth campaign. Their performances so far have not seen them pass the Round-of-16, with a marginally slight winning record overall (17 wins, 15 defeats).

Geography: From the affluent region of Zug, in central Switzerland.

Arena: Bossard Arena (7,200 capacity).

Colours: Blue, White and Grey.

Player To Watch: Garrett Roe (C). Drafted in the seventh round by the LA Kings in 2008. Roe has averaged over a point per game in the past two seasons with Zug, and was joint top-scorer in the 2019 playoffs, with 17 points in 13 games.

HC Plzeň (Czech Republic)

A Brief History: Now in its 90th year, HC Plzeň were Czech Extraliga champions in 2013 – their one and only success in that competition. They have also been runners-up on four occasions, the most recent being in 2017-18.

How they Qualified: Czech Extraliga Regular Season third Place.

CHL Pedigree: Comprehensively beaten over two legs in last year’s semi-final against eventual winners Frölunda, Plzeň is back for their third CHL campaign. They have lost just five of their 18 CHL games, and boast an impressive 3.39 goals scored per game.

Geography: Based in the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic, Plzeň, a town famous for being the birthplace of Pilsner beer in the 1840s.

Arena: Home Monitoring Aréna (8,236 capacity).

Colours: Blue and White.

Player To Watch: The top-scorer in the Czech league last season with 62 points in 51 games, Milan Gulas is a CHL veteran, having played previously for Färjestad. As captain of Plzeň last season, he scored 13 points in 10 CHL games, and had the highest plus-minus in the competition, at +11.

Rungsted Ishockey (Denmark)

A Brief History: Founded in 1941, Rungsted are four-time champions of Denmark (1955, 1963, 2002 and 2019). Originally named the Nordsjælland Cobras, they were forced to change their name after the Cobras were made bankrupt in 2010.

How they Qualified: Danish Metal Ligaen Playoff Champions

CHL Pedigree: CHL debutants.

Geography: Formed in the wealthy Rungsted suburb of Copenhagen.

Arena: Bitcoin Arena (2,460 capacity).

Colours: Red, Blue and White.

Player To Watch: Canadian Tim Daly was the highest scoring Defenseman in the Metal Ligaen last season, amassing 46 points in 40 games. He led D-men in goals, assists, and plus-minus, and was tied for most points for a blue-liner in the playoffs, with 11 in 14 games.

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Group C

Luleå HF (Sweden)

A Brief History: Luleå Hockeyförening were founded in May 1977, and have one Swedish Hockey League championship to their name, in 1996. An ever-present side in the top division of Swedish Hockey since 1984. They were the inaugural CHL champion in 2014-15, beating Swedish rivals Frölunda 4-2 in the final, after an incredible final period comeback.

How they Qualified: SHL Regular Season Runner-Up.

CHL Pedigree: Winners in 2014-15. Competing for the fourth time.

Geography: The most northerly team in this year’s tournament, Lulea is not accessible directly from either Belfast or Dublin. Visitors will have quite an itinerary and expense on their hands if they are to make the trek to Luleå. There are direct flights from Stockholm, which take approximately 70 minutes. Alternatively, there is a 14-hour-long night train from Stockholm…

Arena: Coop Norrbotten Arena (6,300 capacity).

Colours: Red and Yellow.

Player To Watch: With more games played, the lowest GAA and highest SV% in the SHL regular season, Joel Lassinantti is undoubtedly the best goaltender in Sweden at the moment. Although small in stature, the Luleå-born netminder has already led his local side to CHL victory. In 2014-15, he played eight games in his side’s victorious campaign, with a very impressive 1.51 GAA and .937 SV%.

Bílí Tygři Liberec (Czech Republic)

A Brief History: In operation since 1956, HC Bílí Tygři Liberec were beaten in the 2019 Czech playoffs final.

How they Qualified: Czech Extraliga Regular Season Winner.

CHL Pedigree: Competing for the fifth time in the competition, having been one of the two Czech teams beaten at the semi-final stages in 2017-18. A very marginal losing record overall in the CHL, with 16 wins, one tie and 17 defeats.

Geography: Just over an hour north of Prague, near the Polish and German borders, Liberec is the fifth-largest city in the Czech Republic, with a population of around 150,000.  Coincidentally, the city is twinned with their Group C rivals, Augsburg.

Arena: Home Credit Arena (7,500 capacity).

Colours: Blue and White.

Player To Watch: Winger Marek Kvapil was second in points in last season’s Czech Extraliga, with 57 points in 47 games. The 34-year-old veteran was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 2005 draft, sixth round, but never played in the NHL. Kvapil was part of the Czech team that won World Championship gold in 2010.

Augsburger Panther (Germany)

A Brief History: Founded all the way back in 1878, Augsburger is the oldest club in this year’s competition. Their third-place finish last season was their highest since the German league was founded in 1994.

How they Qualified: Deutsche Eishockey Liga Regular Season Third Place.

CHL Pedigree: Competition newbies for 2019-20.

Geography: Situated just 80km west of Munich, and easily accessible in around an hour, from the Bavarian capital via public transport.

Arena: Curt Frenzel Stadion (6,218 capacity).

Colours: Red, Green and White.

Player To Watch: A goaltender from Quebec, with the surname Roy, but of no relation to the legendary Patrick, Olivier Roy made a name for himself in the German league in 2017. An especially good playoff run last year, with a GAA of just 1.82 and a .940 SV%, have him as the one to watch next season. At just 27 years of age, there is plenty more to come from the one-time ECHL All-Star.

Belfast Giants (United Kingdom)

A Brief History: Founded at the turn of the century, the Belfast Giants are the current Elite League and Challenge Cup winners. With four league wins, they are second only to Sheffield in terms of total league victories. Founded as an antidote to sectarianism in the divided city of Belfast, the Giants are a massive success story in the community and attract large crowds to their home games. In October 2010, a Giants Elite League Select welcomed the Boston Bruins to the Odyssey Arena; the first and only NHL team to have played on the island of Ireland.

How they Qualified: UK Elite Ice Hockey League Regular Season Winners / Continental Cup Wild Card.

CHL Pedigree: First time out for the most westerly team in CHL history.

Geography: Based in the capital of Northern Ireland, the Belfast Giants are the only professional team on the island of Ireland.

Arena: SSE Arena (9,957 Capacity).

Colours: Teal, Red and White.

Player To Watch: Exciting left-winger Darcy Murphy led the EIHL in goals and points last season, scoring 39 times and accruing 79 points in 58 games.

Group D

Oceláři Třinec (Czech Republic)

A Brief History: On the go since 1929, Oceláři Třinec are based in Teschen Silesia, just 4km from the Czech-Polish border. They have won their domestic league both in 2011, and 2019.

How they Qualified: Czech Extraliga Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Are competing for the fifth time, having lost out narrowly in the semi-finals in 2017-18. Will be looking to improve on last season’s exit in the group stages.

Geography: Located in the very east of the country, right on the Polish border. Prague is an arduous seven-hour trek via multiple modes of transportation. Krakow is just 2 hours away by car, but twice that on public transport.

Arena: Werk Arena (5,200 capacity).

Colours: Red and White.

Player To Watch: Martin Ruzicka (RW) was the only player on the team to average over a point per game last season, accruing 44 points in 42 games. He was a top-10 player in goals, assists, and plus-minus.

Lausanne HC (Switzerland)

A Brief History: Another side approaching their centenary, Lausanne HC were founded in 1922, and have one of the largest fan-bases in Europe. In spite of their impressive history, they have never been crowned champions of their nation.

How they Qualified: Swiss National League Regular Season Third Place.

CHL Pedigree: One of three Swiss sides making their CHL debuts this year.

Geography: Located in French-speaking Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva in western Switzerland.

Arena: Currently in the process of moving from the Patinoire de Malley 2.0 (6,600 capacity) to the Vaudoise Arena (9,600 Capacity). The move is due to be complete in September 2019.

Colours: Red and White.

Player To Watch: In spite of missing a portion of the season, assistant captain Jonas Junland had 23 assists and 26 points in just 31 games. When playing in the SHL for Linköping, Junland was voted Defenseman of the Year and led D-men in assists.

Pelicans (Finland)

A Brief History: The Lahti Pelicans were founded in 1996, though the ancestry of the club goes back to the 1890s. Under their most recent guise, the Pelicans have yet to win the Finnish liiga. Infamous NHL bad boy Sean Avery played just 2 games in Lahti during the 2012-13 lockout, amassing three goals and 26 penalty minutes. Another alumnus of note is Frölunda forward Ryan Lasch.

How they Qualified: Finnish SM-liiga Regular Season Third Place.

CHL Pedigree: Debut CHL season.

Geography: 100km north-east of the Finnish capital city of Helsinki, Lahti is one of the primary economic hubs in Finland. Lahti has an asteroid named after it, which was discovered in 1938 in Turku.

Arena: Isku Areena (5,530 Capacity).

Colours: Teal, Black and White.

Player To Watch: A massive breakout year for Oliwer Kaski in 2018-19, as he finished with nine points more than the next-best defenseman. His tally of 51 points in 59 games is the most for a D-man since Brian Rafalski registered 53 points in 53 games, in 1998-99. Kaski was selected as the Best Player of the Regular Season, an award previously won by Saku Koivu, Tim Thomas and Antti Raanta.

Yunost Minsk (Belarus)

A Brief History: The most easterly of the sides in the 2019-20 CHL, Minsk are the most successful club in Belarus, with eight titles to their names since 1992. They have also won the Continental Cup three times (2007, 2011 and 2018), which is a competition record.

How they Qualified: Belarusian Extraleague Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Two previous campaigns for Minsk have seen them make the knockout stages on one occasion. Five wins from 12 games put them in the bottom half of the overall table.

Geography: The most easterly team in this year’s CHL, Minsk is the Belarusian capital city. Along with Dinamo, Yunost is one of two sides based in the city.

Arena: Čyžoŭka-Arena (8,807 capacity).

Colours: Blue, Red and White.

Player To Watch: Yunost had both the top point-scorer and top goaltender in last season’s Belarusian Extraleague, in Mikhail Stefanovich and Igor Brikun. The latter has had the best SV% in Belarus on three occasions now, including twice in the last four seasons.

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Group E

SC Bern (Switzerland)

A Brief History: Founded in 1931, they are by far the best-supported team in European hockey, having ranked number one in that category for 18 consecutive seasons. They are second only to HC Davos in terms of domestic titles, with 16 Swiss championships to their name, including three in the last four years.

How they Qualified: Swiss Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: SC Bern has competed in every CHL campaign thus far, with a Quarter Final defeat in 2017-18 being their best finish so far.

Geography: Located in the de facto Swiss capital city, Bern.

Arena: PostFinance Arena (17,031 capacity).

Colours: Red, Black and Yellow.

Player To Watch: Veteran NHL journeyman Mark Arcobello finished second in the Swiss scoring charts last season with 53 points (21 goals) in 49 games. Having played 139 NHL games for five different franchises (including four in the 2014-15 season alone), he brings a wealth of experience to the Bern organisation. He also has averaged over a point per game for three successive seasons in the NLA.

Kärpät (Finland)

A Brief History: Only Tappara and TPS have had more domestic success than Oulun Kärpät in Finland, and no team has won more this century. Founded in 1946, the club battled back from bankruptcy in the 1990s to become a dominant force in Finnish ice hockey. A number of high-profile NHL players once plied their trade in Oulu, including Pekka Rinne, Jussi Jokinen, Tim Thomas, Joonas Donskoi and Sebastian Aho.

How they Qualified: Finnish SM-liiga Regular Season Winners.

CHL Pedigree: Beaten finalists in the 2015-16 season, this will be the Finnish outfit’s fifth entry into the competition. Having been beaten just seven times in 41 games in the competition, they can be depended upon to make life difficult for all their opponents. Historically, they have been defensively solid, allowing a competition-best 1.63 goals against per game.

Geography: The second most northerly team in the 2019-20 CHL, behind Luleå, Oulu is the most populous city in northern Finland. It is also one of the most technologically advanced and aware cities, often used to trial new technologies before the rest of the world. NFC technology, for example, was trialled here in the earlier part of this century.

Arena: Oulun Energia Areena (6,614 Capacity).

Colours: Black, Yellow and White.

Player To Watch: It would be unfair to single out just one of the Kärpät goaltending tandem of Veini Vehviläinen and Jussi Rynnäs. With a 2:1 split of the starts last season, respectively, they managed an incredible 1.58 and 1.62 GAA, and .933 and .930 SV% (numbers one and two in the league in both).

Skellefteå AIK (Sweden)

A Brief History: At 98 years young, Skellefteå AIK is just two years shy of celebrating one hundred years of existence. In reality, the Ice Hockey wing of the club did not begin until 1943, so they have a few more years to wait for that celebration. They have been champions of Sweden on three occasions, the most recent in 2014. In addition to those victories, they have been beaten finalists eight times. Of the ten finals contested this decade, they have appeared a remarkable six times (more than any other team).

How they Qualified: SHL Regular Season Fifth Place.

CHL Pedigree: Semi-finalists in the first CHL season of 2014-15, Skellefteå have made all but one of the campaigns to this point. Average a full goal more per game than their opponents in the competition (3.13 goals for, versus 2.13 goals against).

Geography: Nicknamed “Gold Town” due to its mining past, Skellefteå is a city of 32,000 in a municipality of 72,000. Alt-Rock band The Wannadies, famous for their hit “You and Me Song”, are originally from the town.

Arena: Skellefteå Kraft Arena (6,001 Capacity).

Colours: Black, Yellow and White.

Player To Watch: The signing of 17-year-old defenseman Philip Broberg is sure to be cause for excitement amongst Skellefteå supporters. Eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry draft, and widely expected to go in the first round, Broberg has already won gold at the World Juniors in his home nation this year. He was named the best blue-liner at the tournament, with six points in seven games. 

Brûleurs de Loups (France)

A Brief History: The interestingly named “Wolf Burners” of Grenoble date back to 1963, and list Cristobal Huet amongst their former players. Starting in 1981, Grenoble has won seven French titles, including three this century.

How they Qualified: French Ligue Magnus Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Just one previous appearance for the Grenoble side, who finished bottom of their three-team group in 2014-15.

Geography: Grenoble prides itself as being the ‘Capital of the Alps’ and hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968. It is a sporting hotbed, with Rugby Union, Football and Ice Hockey all thriving.

Arena: Patinoire Pôle Sud (3,496 Capacity).

Colours: Blue and Red.

Player To Watch: French centre Guillaume Leclerc led the league in points last year, and was voted best French player. Between the regular-season and playoffs, Leclerc had 82 points in 59 games.

Group F

Adler Mannheim (Germany)

A Brief History: The Mannheim Eagles were founded in 1938, and have won the Deutsche Eishockey Liga Championship on no fewer than seven occasions since its inception in 1994. In 2019, Mannheim was the fifth-best supported team in Europe, with an average attendance of 11,422.

How they Qualified: Deutsche Eishockey Liga Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Adler Mannheim will be competing for the fifth time, and looking to improve on their previous best of reaching the round-of-16.

Geography: Mannheim (nicknamed the City of Squares due to its grid-like layout) is located just 70km south of Frankfurt, which is well connected with much of Europe.

Arena: SAP Arena (13,600 capacity).

Colours: Blue, White and Red.

Player To Watch: With a plus-minus of +26, no penalty minutes and 32 points in 51 games, D-man Mark Katic is about as solid as they come. A third-round pick by the Islanders in 2007, Katic has played in the NHL, AHL, KHL, SHL and now plies his trade in the German top division.

Djurgårdens IF (Sweden)

A Brief History: The most successful Swedish team of all-time, Djurgårdens IF Hockey are 16-time winners of the Le Mat Trophy, with the first coming as far back as 1926. The club is approaching it’s centenary, having been founded in 1922.

How they Qualified: SHL Regular Season Fourth Place.

CHL Pedigree: A fifth bite at the cherry for the Swedish side, having not made it past the last-16 on their previous four attempts. 14 wins from 26 games give them a slim winning record, overall. Traditionally very strong on the penalty kill, at 88.8% in their CHL lifespan.

Geography: Based in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm.

Arena: The team plays at both Hovet (8,094 Capacity) and Stockholm Globe (13,850 Capacity), depending on the capacity requirements of the game.

Colours: Red, Blue and Yellow.

Player To Watch: With no skaters in the top ten in points last season, Djurgårdens were heavily dependent on their back line to keep them in games. Goaltender Adam Reideborn stepped up, playing 39 times in the regular season and finishing second in the league in both GAA and SV%.

Vienna Capitals (Austria)

A Brief History: The youngest club in the CHL this year, at just 18 years of age. In their brief history, they have managed to win two Austrian League titles, in 2005 and 2017, the latter disrupting Red Bull Salzburg in their quest for four-in-a-row.

How they Qualified: Austrian Hockey League Regular Season Pick Round Winner.

CHL Pedigree: Have not missed a campaign yet, and are looking to make their first quarter-finals, having stumbled in the last-16 in the inaugural season. Have made group stage exits in each of the past three seasons.

Geography: Based in the Austrian federal capital, the Capitals (understand the name now?) are just one of many successful sports teams in the region. Other sports in the city include Football, American Football, Volleyball, Baseball and Rugby.

Arena: Erste Bank Arena (7,022 Capacity).

Colours: Black and Yellow.

Player To Watch: Losing both right-winger Peter Schneider and centre Chris De Souza in the past month was a huge blow to the Capitals. Schneider had finished tied for the league lead in scoring in last season’s Austrian Hockey League, with 69 points in 54 games, whilst De Souza led the league in goals, with 36 tallies. It remains to be seen as to who will fill their sizeable boots, come the start of the new season.

GKS Tychy (Poland)

A Brief History: Founded in 1971, GKS Tychy is four-time Polish champions. Three of those wins have come since 2014-15. They finished in third position in the 2016 Continental Cup.

How they Qualified: Polish Polska Hokej Liga Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Made their only previous appearance in last year’s Group Stage, winning one of their six games and conceding 30 goals in the process.

Geography: Located just 20km south of Katowice, Tychy is famous for its local beer, Tyskie.

Arena: Stadion Zimowy w Tychach (2,753 Capacity).

Colours: Green, Black and Red.

Player To Watch: Mike Cichy was Tychy’s top point-scorer last season, has won the Polish scoring title on two occasions, and holds the club record for points (95) and assists (61) in a single season, from 2015-16.

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Group G

Färjestad BK (Sweden)

A Brief History: Founded in 1932, Färjestad Bollklubb is another of Sweden’s most successful sides. Having won the Swedish Championship a total of nine times, including four since the turn of the 21st century, they lie third in the overall Roll Of Honour. In 2014, Färjestad took part in the 2014 AHL All-Star game in Newfoundland, losing 7-2 to the AHL All-Stars.

How they Qualified: SHL Regular-Season Winner.

CHL Pedigree: Having competed on three occasions, their best previous performance was a Round-of-32 appearance in 2016-17 (when 48 teams competed).

Geography: Based in Karlstad, reputed to be the sunniest town in Sweden.

Arena: Löfbergs Arena (8,645 capacity).

Colours: Green and Gold.

Player To Watch: With Adam Werner and Jesse Virtanen having moved to the NHL and KHL respectively, it remains to be seen as to who will step up to the plate next season. Last season’s leader in playoff points and PIM’s, Michael Lindqvist is sure to be one to entertain in next season’s CHL.

Red Bull München (Germany)

A Brief History: Founded just 21 years ago, in 1998, Red Bull München have been a dominant force in German hockey over the past five seasons. A second-place finish last season put an end to a winning streak of three consecutive titles.

How they Qualified: Deutsche Eishockey Liga Regular Season Runner-Up.

CHL Pedigree: Last year’s beaten finalists, RB München return for their fifth attempt at European glory in this season’s CHL. Their relatively low attendance numbers belie their competitiveness at this level, with 20 wins and two ties, from 33 games overall.

Geography: Based in the capital of Bavaria, Red Bull is situated in one of the most sports-mad cities in Germany.

Arena: Olympia Eishalle (6,256 Capacity).

Colours: Blue and White.

Player To Watch: Goaltender Danny aus den Birken led the German league in Goals Against Average last season (1.91 GAA) and was second in save percentage (.926 SV%). He was the German goaltender during their incredible Olympic run in 2018, eventually losing in overtime in the gold medal game.

HC Ambrì-Piotta (Switzerland)

A Brief History: Amongst the more interesting clubs in this year’s competition, HC Ambri-Piotta were founded in 1937, as an amalgamation of two neighbouring villages, Ambri and Piotta. The combined population of the two villages is in the hundreds, but the club boasts 40 fan clubs from all around Europe. They have played in the top tier of Swiss hockey since 1985, never being relegated and never winning the championship. They were back-to-back winners of the Continental Cup in 1999 and 2000, so are not entirely without European pedigree.

How they Qualified: Swiss National League Regular Season Fifth Place.

CHL Pedigree: The last, but not necessarily least, of the three Swiss newbies.

Geography: Nestled perfectly into the Leventina Valley, below the Swiss Lepontine Alps, Ambri-Piotta is surely one of the most scenic locations in this year’s CHL.

Arena: Stadio Valascia (6,500 Capacity).

Colours: Blue and White.

Player To Watch: 23-year-old Czech winger Dominik Kubalík was the top scorer in the Swiss league last season, with 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in just 50 games. As a result, he was selected to the media All-Star team, was voted Best Forward and MVP. Whilst playing with HC Plzeň, he was the top goalscorer in the Czech Extraliga in 2015-16, and also amassed a huge 33 penalty minutes in just six games the following season.

HC ’05 Banská Bystrica (Slovakia)

A Brief History: Although HC ’05 Banská Bystrica was founded in 2005, the club was in existence as far back as 1922. Having undergone several name changes over their history, they have now firmly established themselves as the most powerful force in Slovak hockey. Since 2015, they have finished as either champions or runners-up for five consecutive seasons, completing a three-in-a-row this year.

How they Qualified: Slovakian Tipsport Liga Playoff Champions.

CHL Pedigree: Third time out for the Slovakian playoff winners, who have not made it past the group stages in their previous two attempts. With a heavily negative goal differential, and with just three wins from 12 games, the odds are stacked firmly against these minnows.

Geography: Located on the Hron River, in central Slovakia, Banská Bystrica was first settled in over 700 years ago.

Arena: Banská Bystrica Ice Stadium (3,000 Capacity).

Colours: Red, White and Black.

Player To Watch: Canadian Forward Éric Faille top-scored in the Slovak league last season, but has since moved on to EHC Kloten in the Swiss league. In his place, fellow Canadian Brock Higgs may be required to improve upon his 59 points in 43 games from last season.

Group H

Frölunda HC (Sweden)

A Brief History: Established in 1938, and with a few subsequent name changes, Frölunda HC is the most successful club in the short history of the Champions Hockey League. On the domestic front, they are quite a distance behind Sweden’s most successful club, Djurgårdens IF, who have been crowned champions on 16 occasions. However, Frölunda is making up ground, with four wins already this century, giving them a total of five.

How they Qualified: 2018-19 CHL winner.

CHL Pedigree: Nobody comes close. Three wins and a second place in the first five tournaments. They have the most games, wins, points and goals in the competition’s history.

Geography: Based in Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg.

Arena: Scandinavium (12,044 capacity).

Colours: Red and Green.

Player To Watch: Ryan Lasch. This team although filled with Scandinavian talent, this American right-winger sticks out above the rest. It is his second spell with the club, He has averaged over a point per game for the past two seasons and was named the CHL MVP in 2015-16. In that season, as well as last season, he was also the competition’s scoring leader. Keep an eye out also for Henrik Lundqvist’s twin brother, Joel.

Graz 99ers (Austria)

A Brief History: Somewhat unsurprisingly, the 99ers were founded in 1999, after their predecessors, EHC Graz, folded due to financial difficulties. NHL fans will be familiar with Thomas Vanek, who played for the side during the 2012-13 lockout.

How they Qualified: Austrian Hockey League Regular Season first Round Winner.

CHL Pedigree: 2018-19 debutants.

Geography: Graz is Austria’s second city, and has no fewer than six universities within its boundaries. The city had been preparing a bid to co-host the 2026 Winter Olympics but withdrew from the process in July 2018.

Arena: Eisstadion Liebenau (4,126 Capacity).

Colours: Orange and Black.

Player To Watch: The diminutive but wonderfully named Colton Yellow Horn was the leading points scorer for the 99ers last season with 58 points in 51 games. The Canadian left-winger left North America in 2013 and has spent most of his playing time since then in the Austrian league.

Mountfield HK (Czech Republic)

A Brief History: Originally founded in 1925, Mountfield has gone through a number of guises in their 94-year history. Most recently, they were forced to change their name over a sponsorship dispute involving rival beer companies. They finished in third place in the Czech Extraliga in 2016-17.

How they Qualified: Czech Extraliga Regular Season Fourth Place.

CHL Pedigree: A third bite at the cherry for Mountfield, who have yet to make it past the Group Stage. Just three wins from 12 games in their two ventures into European competition.

Geography: Based in the piano-producing university city of Hradec Králové, in Bohemia.

Arena: ČPP Aréna Hradec Králové (6,890 Capacity).

Colours: Red, White and Black.

Player To Watch: With a wealth of experience, journeyman winger Radek Smolenak is one to keep an eye on for next season. 34 points in 38 games last season showed that the 32-year-old still has plenty to contribute and is by no means finished just yet.

Cardiff Devils (United Kingdom)

A Brief History: Founded in 1986, the Devils have been one of the EIHL’s most successful teams in recent years. After winning back-to-back leagues in 2017 and 2018, they managed to win back-to-back Grand Finals in 2018 and 2019 also. They have been runners-up in no fewer than five Grand Finals. Prior to the EIHL, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Devils were one of the most successful sides in the UK, winning seven league titles.

How they Qualified: UK Elite Ice Hockey League Regular Season Runners-Up.

CHL Pedigree: A third CHL campaign for the Welsh side, who have made their exit at the Group Stage on their two previous efforts. With just two wins from their 12 games and a heavy 4.42 goals against per game, the Devils have shown how tough the CHL can be for Elite League sides.

Geography: Cardiff is the largest city in Wales, and serves as its capital city. It is also the eleventh-largest city in the United Kingdom.

Arena: Viola Arena (3,088 Capacity).

Colours: Red, White and Black.

Player To Watch: Canadian left-winger Charles Linglet amassed 75 points in 59 regular season EIHL games last season, as well as eight playoff points in four games. That kind of production will be crucial for Cardiff next season, as they take on their European counterparts. At 36 years of age, Linglet has been around the block a few times, playing in no fewer the top league in North America, Britain, Germany, Russia, Finland and Switzerland.

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Dublin born and raised, I first got into hockey as an impressionable 12-year-old on a family trip to Alberta, CA in 1998. Since reaching adulthood, I've made it my mission to get to as many hockey games and stadia as my wallet will allow. So far, I've made it to games in Belfast, Madison Square Garden, the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Boston, Stockholm, and Helsinki. My love of Hockey is coupled with a passion for numbers, analytics, and writing. I'm a keen Fantasy Hockey buff, having both contributed to and appeared on the Keeping Karlsson podcast in the past. I firmly believe that, in spite of all sport appearing random and unpredictable, when you dive deep enough into the numbers you will find patterns that can explain a lot. I also collect hockey jerseys and have a few signed ones, including Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe. And if you're buying, I'll have a Guinness.