A quartet of former NHL players has taken the Elitserien by storm, leading one team toward the top of the standings and another out of the basement.
by Chipp Reid Jan Hlavac and Jarolsav Hlinka have turned Linköping into the hottest team in Sweden. The two Czechs made their debut for LHC in October and have registered at least one point each in every game they’ve played. Over that span, Linköping moved from fifth to second, closing within a point of first-place HV 71 on Dec. 21 before slipping back to five points back on Jan. 5.
Hlavac, who had a pair of stints with the New York Rangers as well as Vancouver, Montreal and Nashville, leads the Elitserien with 24 goals. He also has 11 assists for 35 points in just 23 games. Hlinka, who spent two years with Colorado, has seven goals and 28 assists in 23 games. The two former NHL players made their debut for Linkoping on Oct. 26 and in their 23 games, LHC has gone 17-2-6.
The pair of Czechs, however, isn’t the only reason why Linkoping is a legitimate contender for the league title. Goalie Frederick Norrena has tightened his own play, picking up four shutouts since Hlavac and Hlinka arrived.
Modo is also benefitting from cherry picking a couple of former NHL stars as Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund continue to hoist the Örnsköldsvik team back into contention for the playoffs.
When the two former NHL superstars joined Modo, the team was in dead last. Now, Modo has 44 points, just six behind Brynas for the eighth and final playoff and the entire team is playing with new focus and determination. Forsberg has 15 points in 10 games while Naslund has 12 points in 12 games.
The new life in both Linköping and Modo is a stark contrast to the free fall Färjestad is experiencing. The Wolfpack led the league in November but when December hit, Färjestad apparently thought more about sugar plums than hockey. Färjestad has lost five straight games since Dec. 10, its most recent loss coming Jan. 4 to Luleå. It was the first time the Wolfpack have ever lost to Luleå at the Löfbergs Lila Arena.
Färjestad also suffered a 4-1 loss to Frölunda Dec. 29 in the first-ever Elitserien game played on an outdoor rink. Borrowing a page from the NHL, which this year played an outdoor game in Boston at Fenway Park, the Elitserien turned Gamla Ullevi Stadium in Göteborg into a hockey rink.
The game drew a league record 31,444 fans, who cheered as Göteborg native Fredrik Pettersson notched a hat trick to lead Frölunda to the win.
"We broke the European attendance record for club hockey,” said a happy Tommy Töpel, Sport Director of Hockeyligan.
Frölunda took command from the start, scoring twice in a 12-second span. Pettersson put Frölunda in front when he beat Färjestads goalie Henrik Karlsson. Just 12 seconds later, Joel Lundqvist in poked a rebound f a shot from defenseman Christian Bäckman.
Färjestad cut the deficit to 2-1 at 15:33 of the second period but Pettersson scored his second goal of the game 49 seconds later to restore the two-goal cushion. He completed his hat trick in the third period.
“The atmosphere was fantastic out there today.” Pettersson said. “It’s like a dream and it’s not going to be easy to go to sleep tonight.”
The hat trick was the first in the career of Pettersson, who is in his rookie season with the Chiefs. He said he decided his feat made his change his usual post-game routine.
“I usually give away my sticks to kids after the games. I’ve been there myself and know how much a thing like that can mean to them,” he said. “But this one I won’t give away. I will save it to remind me of this night.”
The Elitserien standings as of Jan 4 were: