EHFD: Elitserien

Last week, Puck Worlds started a series of introductory posts for the various European professional hockey leagues.  The response has been great so far, but in case you missed them, here's my introduction post (European Hockey for Dummies), and my follow-ups on the Czech Extraliga and the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.  The following piece deals with one of the more prominent European professional leagues, Sweden's Elitserien.

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When the Elitserien was formed in 1975, club hockey had long existed in Sweden, back to the days when the sport was introduced to the country by American film director (and first Swedish national team head coach) Raoul Le Mat.  Le Mat donated a championship trophy in 1926, which to this day is given to the winner of the Swedish club championship, the Le Mat Trophy.  So while the league is fairly new, it is merely the modern reorganization of what had developed in Sweden from the early 1920s up to the mid 1970s, a time when Swedish players were being attracted to the North American professional leagues (the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League), leaving their amateur status in Sweden and becoming capable of earning a good salary by just playing hockey, not through a second job.  What the Elitserien's development marks, then, is the professionalization of Swedish hockey, a move that has proven very fruitful for the country.  The quality of today's Elitserien is so strong that if Swedish nationals don't believe the NHL is a viable option, very few will leave the Elitserien for another league, whether that would be the American Hockey League or the Konitnental Hockey League.  Swedish players make up approximately 70% of the players in the Elitserien, a strong number in spite of the fact that Sweden is becoming the top European producer of NHL talent again, and has always been near the top in that department.

Compared to other European leagues, the Elitserien is a small circuit, consisting of only 12 teams.  Teams play an odd numbered 55 game schedule, playing each team 5 times.  Inevitably, a team will not play the same amount of home and road games in the same year as a result.  Teams qualify for the league through the promotion/relegation tiered system, but they must do so by winning an end of season playoff between the two lowest teams from the Elitseren and the highest four teams from the Allsvenskan, the second division of Swedish club hockey.  This relegation series is called the Kvalserien.  Typically, this results in very little movement, and currently only two clubs that have won the Le Mat Trophy since the Elitserien's formation in 1975 are playing below the top level, being IF Björkloven (1987 winners) and Mälmo Redhawks (1992 & 1994 winners).

Club City Arena Capacity Founded Championships (most recent)
AIK Ishockey Stockholm Hovet 8094 1921 7 (1984)
Brynäs IF Gävle Läkerol Arena 8265 1939 12 (1999)
Djurgårdens IF Hockey Stockholm Hovet 8094 1922 16 (2001)
Frölunda HC Gothenburg Scandinavium 12044 1938 3 (2005)
Färjestads BK Karlstad Löfbergs Lila Arena 8647 1932 8 (2009)
HV71 Jönköping Kinnarps Arena 7038 1971 4 (2010)
Linköpings HC Linköpings Cloetta Center 8500 1976 0
Luleå HF Luleå Coop Arena 5750 1977 1 (1996)
Modo Hockey Örnsköldsvik Fjällräven Center 7600 1921 2 (2007)
Skellefteå AIK Skellefteå Skellefteå Kraft Arena 6001 1943 1 (1978)
Södertälje SK Södertälje AXA Sports Center 6200 1925 7 (1985)
Timrå IK Timrå E.ON Arena 6000 1938 0

 

To see where these teams are located, click on my Google Maps file for the Elitserien

Djurgårdens are Sweden's traditional powerhouse, based out of Stockholm and playing playoff games out of The Ericsson Globe, the arena that has been used to launch recent NHL seasons.  The 16 championships dwarfs that of AIK, who they share an arena with in Stockholm.  In recent years, that arrangement has allowed fans in the city to see high quality Elitserien and high quality Allsvenskan games in the same building, but AIK gained promotion to the top division this past year, meaning the same arena will host two Elitserien teams.  It's just as well, too, as AIK had been invited to join the KHL last year.  They weren't allowed to proceed by the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, so the oldest major hockey club in the country will re-join the Elitserien instead. 

While Modo Hockey has been a provider for high end hockey talent (Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Victor Hedman are all Modo products), they have never really been a powerhouse in club play.  Northern Swedish cities like Skellfteå and Luleå have had a traditional disadvantage against the more urbanized teams, but they are starting to be more competitive.  Sweden is a large European country, and according to Google it takes about 16 hours to drive from Gothenburg to Luleå, so road fatigue can play a larger role in the Elitserien than in some of the other European leagues. 

The quality of play at the Elitserien is quite high.  It likely ranks as the third strongest hockey league in the world, and it's stars are frequent targets of NHL teams trying to find a diamond in the rough.  The latest in that trend seems to be Mats Zuccarello Aasen, a pint-sized Norwegian winger who will play for the New York Rangers this coming season.  With so many recent high end draft picks coming out of Sweden, the league is under heavier watch by NHL scouts than it has been in years. That being said, the Elitserien is also a place where former Swedish NHLers rejoin their youth clubs to end their careers.  Current team captains include former NHLers like Dick Tarnstrom, Andreas Dackell, and Marcus Ragnarsson.  And, of course, there's that Peter Forsberg guy.

HV71 are the most recent Swedish powerhouse.  Their unique name simply reflects the merger of two hockey teams, Husqvarna and Vätterstads, back in 1971.  The team has won the Le Mat Trophy three times since 2004, including two fo the past three seasons.  Playoffs are done quite simply in this 12 team league:  8 teams qualify, with a seeding of one through 8, and you have to win three best of seven series to win the Le Mat Trophy.

The league has some visibility on cable television throughout Scandanavia, and all games are televised at some level, although most of it is through pay per view.  That being said, it's probably one of the more visible hockey leagues in the world, and during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, games were even broadcast in Canada through Sportsnet.  If you're from North America and have seen an European club game, chances are it's from the Elitserien. 

To follow the Elitserien a bit more closely, the resource website Elite Prospects is primarily dedicated to Swedish hockey, though it is a useful service for all European Leagues.  Also, the Elitserien is the first league of the ones we've featured to have an English version of their website.

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