Skellefteć AIK went wire-to-wire to bring home its first Elitserien hockey title in 35 years.
SAIK swept past Luleć in the finals, winning the Le Mat trophy April 18 with a 4-0 win in Game 4 in front of 6300 fans at the Norrbotten Coop Arena. Skellefteć was making its third-straight appearance in the finals, losing in 2011 to Färjestad and last year to Brynas. Luleć was in the finals for the first time since 1997.
Skellefteć started the season comparing its quest for the gold medal to the epic—albeit mythical—quest of Frodo Baggins in "Lord of the Rings." When the final whistle blew and team captain Joakim Ericsson hoisted the Le Mat trophy, assistant coach Bert Robertsson was quick to use Tolkien-esque imagery to describe the moment.
“We've gone into Mordor. We have done it,” Robertsson said. “We have thrown the ring right down the volcano and come out from there. We are heroes.”
The new champions played like heroes all season long. Skellefteć either led or was at the top of the standings throughout the regular season, finishing first with 123 points. Canadian import Bud Holloway racked up 72 points to lead SAIK into the playoffs.
Once there, Skellefteć showed no signs of slowing down. The 2013 champions lost just once in 13 playoff games, sweeping its first-round series and the finals.
Skellefteć went into Game 4 sensing victory. Goaltender Ericsson made 28 saves in Game 3 as SAIK rallied from a 1-0 first-period deficit to claim a 2-1 lead. It put Skellefteć on the brink of sweeping the series and every player was ready.
“Jocke put us in a position to win,” said Robertsson. “He played a fantastic game.”
The champions wasted little time in taking control of Game 4. Oscar Möller put SAIK on top at 3:33 of the first period, which Skelleftea dominated. SAIK took 18 shots in the opening stanza while limiting Luleć to just eight. Erik Forsell scored the seemingly inevitable second goal of the period when he banged in a pass from Holloway at 15:22 of the first period.
Johan Forsberg made the score 3-0 when he tallied at 5:32 off a pass from series MVP Oscar Lindberg. The point was Lindberg’s team-leading 12th in the playoffs.
Luleć came to life in the third period, firing 16 shots at Ericsson, but the Skellefteć net minder stopped each one. Luleć pulled its goalie, Johan Gustafsson, with four minutes left to play in a desperate effort to get on the scoreboard. Forsell, however, dashed those hopes when he scored into the empty net at 16:22. As the final seconds ticked down, Skellefteć began its celebrations.
“I am proud that I get to do this with the players I played with all season,” said MVP Lindberg. “I've grown as a player all the time and now in the playoffs. I'm not really surprised at how we just moved in and have run and done well. Honestly, it hasn’t really sunk in one hundred percent yet.”
The shutout was Ericsson’s third of the playoffs. He finished with a miniscule 1.06 goals against average in the playoffs and didn’t lose in 10 playoff starts.
“It is wonderful that we have fought for this and won,” Ericsson said. “I have worked constantly to focus and this year it felt fantastic, our group is worth it here. The whole team is absolutely fabulous and always goes the extra mile all the time.”
For Luleć, the four-game sweep was a disappointing end to a season in which it finished third overall in points.
“It's hard right now, but one must realize that Skellefteć was better,” said Luleć center Niklas Fogström. “They won 4-0 in matches and 4-0 in the day, so just to congratulate Skellefteć."