The Champions Hockey League

Image courtesy of puckworlds.com.

On December 9 2013, the International Ice Hockey Federation made the announcement myself and other European ice hockey fans had been waiting rather impatiently for: they are having another go at the Champions Hockey League. Only this time, it would be better. Much better.

Unofficially, 2014/15 will be the competition’s first season, but in 2008, for their 100th anniversary, the IIHF implemented a Champion’s tournament on a much smaller scale with fourteen clubs from the KHL (Russia), Liiga (Finland), DEL (Germany), NLA (Switzerland), Slovak Extraliga (Slovakia) and Czech Extraliga (Czech Republic). In the final, January 28 2009, SC Bern from NLA defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL 5-0 in Rapperswil, Switzerland.

This time around however, I’ve got a lot more faith it will be not only a lot more interesting and competitive, but a lot more highly regarded as well. This Champions Hockey League will catch the world’s attention. Forty, that’s right, forty of Europe’s top-tier clubs will participate in a tournament running from 21 August 2014 – 04 February 2015. On May 21 2014, coinciding with the 2014 World Championships in Minsk, the IIHF will hold a draw for the groups.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown on how it’s shaping up.

“A” License

Twenty-six clubs are determined to be “A License”. These are the “founding” teams which will not have to qualify this inaugural season. They include:

  • Austrian Hockey League: HC Red Bull Salzburg. Vienna Capitals
  • Czech Extraliga: Liberec, Pardubice, Sparta Praha, Vítkovice Steel
  • Liiga: HIFK, JYP, KalPa, Kärpät, Tappara, TPS
  • Deutsche Eishockey Liga: Mannheim, Eisbären Berlin, Ingolstadt, Krefeld
  • National League A: SC Bern, HC Fribourg-Gotteron, ZSC Zurich, EV Zug
  • Swedish Hockey League: Djurgården (The only non-top-tier club to make the list), Frölunda, Färjestad BK, HV71, Linköping, Luleå

“B” License

Next up, we’ve got “B License” organisations:

  • Skellefteå AIK (#1 in Swedish Hockey League Regular Season)
  • Bolzano-Bozen Foxes (#2 in Austrian Hockey League Regular Season)
  • Hamburg Freezers (#1 in Deutsche Eishockey Liga Regular Season)
  • HC Oceláři Třinec (#2 in Czech Extraliga Regular Season)

“C” License

Lastly, those considered “C License”, will be “Wild Card” teams. They’ll be selected from other European top-tier leagues, other than the “Founding” leagues.

The caveat is this:

“If this does not bring up the total number of participating teams to 40 (i.e. a regular-season winner also won the playoffs, or Djurgården failed to promote), other top teams from the founding leagues will be invited to give exactly 40 teams.”

KHL’s Absence

An interesting side note to all of this, is that Alexander Medvedev’s Kontinental Hockey League, arguably the most dominant league on the continent, will not be sending any clubs to participate in this year’s tournament.

We will see if that changes in the coming years. I for one, hope it does. KHL competitors would bring a wider audience and some heavier hitters to the ice.

Format

The first portion of the tournament consists of the “Regulation Round”. Matches begin August 21 and run through October 7. The league will be made of up those forty clubs, drawn into ten groups of four. Similar to Champions League Soccer or Europa League, they’ll compete in home-at-home, round-robin style.

It’s yet to be determined if IIHF will implement a Goal or Game Aggregate system. For me, goals are a fair and more exciting measure, but many argue for the Game Aggregate setup; in some minds, its an easy way to make this unique from the aforementioned soccer competitions in Europe.

Those ten group winners will advance to the “Playoff Round” which will be held 4 November 2014 – 4 February 2015. To make an even bracket going forward, the group runners up will be ranked according to points and the next six best will be added to the top ten to make up the Playoff Round.

Spotlight on Europe

Up to this point, there’s not a whole lot floating around out there about this league, but I think as the Group Draw on May 21 in Minsk gets closer, we’ll find out a lot more.

I’m really pulling for this one. It’s something I think European ice hockey has been lacking and an event which will give more clout and recognition to the best clubs on the continent. Soccer has their Champions League, it’s time hockey got it’s spotlight!

Lastly, I’ve got no idea whatsoever how much, if any, coverage this will receive in the United States and Canada, but I hope its ample. There’s no question, if North American fans could have easy access to the Champions Hockey League next season, we’d see a sizeable boost in interest in the international game.

As I started out saying, I am beyond pumped up for this. It’s something I’ve waited for and now, it’s arrived. Keep your eyes open for more information as the tournament gets closer this fall and prepare for some of the best hockey you’ve ever seen. In the mean time, mark May 21 on your calendars. Draw-Day in Minsk!

*The official site of the Champions Hockey League can be found here.

Follow Dylan on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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