Welcome! I am sure by now you have heard about the Swedish Hockey League. It’s a very good league. Or at least so they say. Every year there is some new superstar breaking ground in the big leagues. “The SHL is very good at developing players”, is something you might have heard. But there is a problem. The Swedes speak an odd language and getting immersed in the league seems very hard, until now that is.
With the help of ABNT, you will become an expert on Swedish hockey. After all, is there anything more impressive than casually dropping names like Jörgen Jönsson and Ted Brithén? And don’t worry, you will always be able to return to this page to refresh your memory when needed.
The History of the SHL
Surprisingly, we can thank the French-born, American raised Raoul Le Mat for popularizing hockey in Sweden. He convinced the Swedish Olympic Committee to compete in ice hockey for the Olympic Games in 1920. The team, coached by Raoul himself and a roster consisting of “bandy” players, did better than expected and ended up in fourth place.
In 1922 the first Swedish championship started, and Raoul acted as referee in the final. In 1926 he got funding from the American media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to create the analogy of the Stanley Cup: the Le Mat Trophy. Up until this day, the Le Mat Trophy is the trophy of the champion of the SHL.
The modern history of the league can be traced back to 1975. This was when the current structure of the league was created. Back then it was called Elitserien, but it changed to the more internationally viable SHL in 2013.
Historically, Djurgården from Stockholm is the most successful team with 16 gold medals in Swedish Hockey. However, the Karlstad team of Färjestad are the most successful team since 1975, with nine wins. Trailing Färjestad and Djurgården are Frölunda, who won the season of 2018-19, which was their fourth win since 1975.
What makes the SHL such a great league is not only the quality of the game, but the fans watching it. As with many sports in Europe, spectators are not only watching the game, they are participating. In the arenas the short side is usually reserved for the “klack”, meaning the part of the crowd which stands up for the entire game. These people are leading the chants.
The seated crowd is expected to participate in the singing during critical moments of the game. Often, the chants go beyond the variants of “Go Team” and make references to the city and the history of the team. One of the key reasons for the very active community is that all teams must be 51% owned by the fans.
In this clip, the fans of Djurgården are singing “Matte Alba har ingen näsa”, which translates to “Matte Alba does not have a nose”. The history of the chant goes back to when Djurgården faced their Stockholm rivals of AIK in the finals of 1984. The now icon of Djurgården, Håkan Södergren, slashed the AIK player Mats “Matte” Alba in the face, drawing blood and resulting in a broken nasal bone. From that event, a chant was born. You can still hear this chat despite the fact that the two teams playing in different leagues.
This might seem odd, but the culture and the chants are very important to Swedish sports. Hockey thrives on its rivalries, whether it is about big cities like Stockholm, or within smaller regions, or historical rivalries. No matter the context, derbies can sometimes be described as being more of a war than a game.
The regular season starts in the second week of September and ends in
March. During the regular season, all 14 teams play 52 games. All teams face each other four times during the season. If you win, you get three
points. If there is no winner by the end of the regular game time, both teams are awarded one point each. Then there is a fight for the extra point, which is 3-on-3 overtime and if still no winner, a shootout.
The winner of the regular season receives a monetary award of one million Swedish crowns (about €93,000), and the top ten teams go to the playoffs. The lowest two teams go to the dreaded Kvalserien where they battle for survival against the top teams from the second-tier league, Allsvenskan. The two teams that come out on top will go to the SHL. Teams that finish the 11th and 12th, their seasons end rather anti-climactic, right there at the end of the regular season.
How the playoffs work: Teams who ended the regular season in the top six, automatically qualify for quarterfinals. Then the other four teams, play an extra series, consisting of three games, in order to decide who of the bottom playoff teams gets to go to the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals are then played from top to bottom. The team who won the regular season will face the lowest seeded teams in the quarterfinals. Team number two faces the second lowest seed, and so on. From quarterfinals and onwards the series consists of a seven-game matchup, where the higher seeded team is given home-ice advantage in case of a seventh game. The winner of the final is given the Le Mat trophy.
The Teams of the SHL
The teams are arranged depending on their final position at the end of the regular season. Brackets indicate how they performed in the post-season.
1. Färjestad BK (Semi-finals)
Arena: Löfbergs Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Nine.
The quick take: The most successful team in modern Swedish hockey, Färjestad did not disappoint last season. It has been a few quiet seasons for the team, but after overcoming a tough start to the season, Färjestad picked it up and went on to win the regular season. But like the year before, they failed to live up to the high expectations in the playoffs. However, it seems that Färjestad is looking to stay at the top of the SHL.
Keep an eye on Victor Ejdsell. This 195cm tall winger has returned home after spending three years away from Färjestad. He has during that time scored 20 goals for HV71, while also getting valuable experience in the AHL and NHL. He will definitely make an impact for Färjestad in the coming two seasons.
2. Luleå Hockey (Semi-finals)
Arena: Coop Norrbotten Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: One.
The quick take: While they were formerly known as a hard-hitting and gritty team, Luleå was expected to end up somewhere in the middle of the table. Hailing from the very north of Sweden, Luleå is known for putting the team before the individual. Most often without superstars in the team, they rely on homegrown talent to make up a team that looks to compete every season.
Look out for Joel Lassinantti. The best goalie of the SHL in 2018-19 was rumoured to go to the KHL after his award-winning season. But he chose to stay with Luleå, the team he has played for his entire career aside from a few stints on loan. He is quite small for a goalie, but he keeps the puck out of the net with his reflexes, agility, and ability to read the play.
3. Frölunda HC (Champion)
Le Mat Trophies: Five.
The quick take: In the last 20 years Frölunda has been one of the best teams in the league. This year they managed to win both the Le Mat Trophy and the CHL. They started the season without looking like champions, but they certainly proved everyone wrong in the playoffs. Aside from this, they can boast not only with a skilled team but also with an arena that can seat up to 12,044 spectators.
Look out for Joel Lundqvist. He is most famous for being the twin brother on Henrik Lundqvist, but he is arguably the most important player for any team in the SHL. Aside from three years in the Dallas Stars organization, he has played his entire career for Frölunda. During this time he has played over 700 games, and the center has for the last ten years been the team’s captain. It is hard to find any weakness in his game, he is the model captain every player can look up to.
4. Djurgården Hockey (Final runner up)
Arena: Hovet and Ericsson Globe.
Le Mat Trophies: 16.
The quick take: Djurgården is one of the oldest teams, and historically the best, having won the league a staggering 16 times. The last gold came in 2001, and since then the team has struggled. They even had a spell in the second-tier league of Allsvenskan, but came back and are now one of the strongest teams on paper. This season, they had an incredible ability to come back from weaker periods. This ability to bounce back carried them all the way to the final. Djurgården fans are well known to be a bit upper class, being from Stockholm, but it’s a reputation they fully embrace.
Look out for Jacob Josefson. Last year he came back to his former team after spending eight years in the NHL. And it was a success. Josefson is a two-way center who tallied 35 points in 40 games last year. It came as no surprise when he was awarded the trophy for being the most valuable player. This season he will continue to command games. Expect him to be dominant on both sides of the ice.
5. Skellefteå AIK (Quarterfinal)
Arena: Skellefteå Kraft Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Three.
The quick take: Skellefteå has been a dominant force throughout this whole decennium. In the last nine seasons, they have only missed out on two finals. However, this period ended with only two golds. And as of this season, it seems like they have lost their aura of superiority. Coming fifth is not bad, but the expectations are higher. Combine this with being outplayed in the quarterfinals, this season it seems like they have lost their Untouchable status. Look for Skellefteå to prove everyone wrong this season.
Look out for Albin Eriksson. This big winger is just 18 years old, but he has been putting up points in the juniors and did produce in the SHL too. It is likely that he will continue to improve this year as well.
6. Malmö Redhawks (Quarterfinal)
Arena: Malmö Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Two.
The quick take: It has been a while since Malmö was in winning mode, but they are always tough to meet. Malmö in the south of Sweden used to be a popular destination for imports but have in recent years built an impressive youth system. Last season Malmö iced a team that was mediocre on paper but surprised everyone with their effective play. They were able to do this while their starting goalie was injured for a large period of time. Malmö today is all about team spirit and working hard for the team. All of this inside the largest arena – it can hold up to 13,000 spectators.
Look out for Fredrik Händemark. Lead by example, that’s how the captain of Malmö plays hockey. A big body and good overall skill, he embodies the new spirit of Malmö. He did lead the league in PIMs the season before, but his hard style of play also is key to his production rate.
7. Växjö Lakers (Quarterfinal)
Arena: Vida Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Two.
The quick take: As still the newcomers in the Swedish Hockey League (2012), Växjö quickly established themselves as a top team while winning gold both in 2015 and 2018. This season was not a good one for Växjö and they had great troubles in the playoffs. They are currently rebuilding and will most likely come out stronger than ever.
Look out for Emil Pettersson. Växjö has an abundance of quality centers, but Emil Pettersson is the real deal. Last time he was in Växjö he was playing at a point per game rate. Now he is coming back after two good years in the AHL. With great technical skill, he can get through the defensemen quite effectively, just like his brother Elias. He could use some extra mass in order to reach his full potential. Luckily for Emil, the SHL is easier to succeed in with being a bit on the lighter side
8. HV71 (Quarterfinal)
Arena: Kinnarps Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Six.
The quick take: HV71 has been around since 1971 when the clubs of Husqvarna and Vätterstad merged. The team from the Swedish bible belt quickly advanced through the systems and ended up in the top league just after 15 years. HV71 has become a force to be reckoned with, and they have the budget to match their high expectations. This past season was a chaotic one, where they both looked like champions but at the same time were fighting to avoid relegation. This inconsistency resulted in the firing of the coach. When HV71 finds their stability, they will be at the very top.
Look out for Emil Johansson. He is only 23 but has a tonne of experience. After two seasons with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, he has gained a tougher edge. Chances are he is the stability HV71 needs. He has also shown that he can score some goals from the blue line.
9. Rögle BK (Eight final loss)
Arena: Lindab Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Zero.
The quick take: The team from Ängelholm is the eternal underdog. Never having a big budget and coming from a small city, Rögle has never won a championship. They had bigger expectations coming into this past season, but it is hard to criticize the underdogs. Rögle played well and still have a good core of players. If they can get a bit more consistent and get a young player with a breakout year, Rögle can go deep in the playoffs.
Look out for Roman Will. Rögle has signed a new goalie for this season. Czech native Roman Will has been the backstopper for Liberec the last three years and has led them to the Czech finals twice. Rögle’s ability to win games will be largely dependent on their goalie winning games. Will has proven to be able to log a lot of games and will be relied on greatly.
10. Örebro Hockey (Eight final loss)
Arena: Behrn Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Zero.
The quick take: Also a fairly new team, but the rewards are yet to come. Just like with HV71, their season was eventful for the wrong reasons. They managed to pull themselves together, but it was too late. This is a team that often relies on foreign players, mainly North Americans and Finns. If everything runs smoothly next season, expect Örebro to fare much better.
Look out for Dominik Furch. Another Czech goalie, but this time from the KHL, where Furch has proven that he is a top-quality goalie who can put up good numbers. He has also been trusted in international tournaments for the Czech national team.
11. Brynäs IF (Did not reach playoffs)
Arena: Gävlerinken arena
Le Mat Trophies: 13.
The quick take: The team from Gävle had its hay days during the seventies when they won seven championships in just ten years. No surprise – they are second after Djurgården in the amount of Le Mat trophies won. This season was not a good one for Brynäs. Things didn’t really click. Even though they have some of the best defensemen in the league, they had a hard time producing when their top players weren’t up to par or injured. If they are to contend again, they will need to improve their forward corps greatly.
Look out for Anton Rödin. He is both quick and smart. Brynäs will look to Rödin to provide offence. He has played with Brynäs earlier in his career and did so in a terrific fashion. Brynäs will trust him to provide not just good playmaking but also be able to decide games on his own.
12. Linköping HC (Did not reach playoffs)
Arena: Saab Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Two.
The quick take: With a smaller budget, Linköping needs to model their game after Rögle and Luleå. Back when they could spend more money, Linköping for many years was a big player, but not anymore. Therefore, the expectations were not high coming in, and they ended expectedly at the bottom. They are currently changing a lot of personnel off the ice, and if they can avoid collapsing in the end, they might climb a few places.
Look out for Broc Little. After playing in the NCAA, Broc Little left for Sweden. Since then he has become a consistent point producer. We can expect him to not surprise us, which means being close to a point per game player.
13. Leksands IF (Promoted from Allsvenskan)
Arena: Tegera Arena.
Le Mat Trophies: Four.
The quick take: It has been a long time since Leksand won any trophies, but they are hungry. They are new to the SHL for this coming season, promoted after a few years in Allsvenskan. Leksand is one of the most hockey-crazy towns in Sweden. Even the arena can host a larger number of people than the town population consists of. Leksand is going to fight with everything they have got in order to stay in the top league. They might not have the biggest stars, but they have the biggest hearts.
Look out for Filip Johansson. This defenseman was drafted in the first round in 2018 and is probably eager to go overseas. He was with Leksand in Allsvenskan and was trusted, being put in for important situations. He is going to go out and prove that he can do the same in the SHL.
14. IK Oskarshamn (Promoted from Allsvenskan)
Arena: Be-Ge Hockey Center
Le Mat Trophies: Zero.
The quick take: The biggest surprise in Swedish hockey, Oskarshamn entered the SHL for the first time ever after defeating Timrå in an incredible seven-game series. It seems likely that Oskarshamn has to fight to avoid relegation. The team was gutted upon entering the SHL, where almost half of their players have gone to play for other teams. The new half consists of players from Allsvenskan, DEL, and the Finnish league – leagues that are good, but still some steps below the SHL.
Look out for David Goodwin. The American center has proven that he can play in the USHL, NCAA, and Finnish Liiga. Now it is time for him to prove that he can play at the next level. Goodwin will have to provide the experience needed for the otherwise inexperienced roster.
If this is your first time keeping up with the SHL, then you are in for a treat. Will Växjö bounce back to glory? Will Leksand and Oskarshamn be able to stay in the league? Will Frölunda and Djurgården retain their form from last season? The league is more competitive than ever and every team has something to prove. Make sure to tune in to your broadcast for the beauty of Swedish hockey, and to ABNT for your in-depth information on the league.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)