Crunch time in national leagues unveils more than a third of 2017-18 Champions Hockey League participants; CHL Board assigns the remaining two wild cards to Poland and Great Britain; CHL Group Stage Draw to take place 17 May in Cologne.
With the newly introduced qualification system to the Champions Hockey League based on pure sporting merits, the end of regular seasons in Europe’s top ice hockey leagues was a thrill. Teams in Austria (EBEL), Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland were hardly vying for the top-2-ranks which entitle to CHL participation next season. Finish TPS Turku is the last team who qualified via regular season on Monday night, deciding a narrow head-to-head for rank 2 in their favour.
“I’m delighted to see, how well the implementation of our new qualification system is received. Teams are on fire, media and fans follow the race to qualify – that’s exactly what we aimed to reach. Crystal-clear qualification criteria, valid for all teams and easy to understand for anyone, paired with a new competitive format including only 32 teams in total and a six-year prolongation with our exclusive media and marketing partner Infront Sports & Media gives us much more than only a long-term perspective to develop club-ice hockey in Europe”, CHL CEO Martin Baumann says.
The race to qualify will continue in the playoffs where more teams from founding leagues, but also teams from challenge leagues will qualify and complete the field for the 2017-18 season.
Wild cards to Poland and Great Britain approved
At their meeting on Monday in Copenhagen, the CHL board decided to award the last two wild cards for 2017-18 to Poland and Great Britain and therewith fixed the participation structure for the upcoming season. 24 teams from the six founding leagues will be joined by 8 teams from so called “Challenge Leagues” who enter the competition via wild card system. Wild cards are awarded by the CHL board to national champions outside the founding leagues or other deserving clubs such as the IIHF Continental Cup winners. As it is one of the CHL’s main goals to involve the KHL in the competition, the CHL board reserves its right to award 2 additional wild cards for KHL teams with direct entry to the playoffs in case an agreement between the parties shall happen before the end of April.
The Polish Hockey League (PHL) will send their champions for the second time to compare with Europe’s elite. In 2016-17 their current titleholder Comarch Cracovia made the Polish debut in the Champions Hockey League, challenging the European top brands Sparta Prague (CZE) and Färjestad Karlstad (SWE) in the Group Stage. Although the on-ice Cinderella story failed to appear, the Poles stood out with their enthusiasm – 6666 spectators visited their CHL home games in Tauron Arena in average, while the club usually plays in a small rink with 2514 capacity. Further, nearly 100 media representatives were accredited at the first CHL game ever in Krakow.
The Elite Ice Hockey League is represented in the Champions Hockey League since its start 2014-15. Great Britain is the lone exception as the EIHL, in line with their tradition, determines their national champion following the regular season (not in the playoffs). The team that wins the regular season standings is the national champion in Great Britain/EIHL. Therefore, it has been agreed with the EIHL that the national champion will obtain the Wild Card.
As the Nottingham Panthers already qualified for the Champions Hockey League via the IIHF Continental Cup, Great Britain will send two representatives to the 2016-17 competition. Nottingham already took part in the inaugural CHL season, while the Sheffield Steelers (twice) and the Braehead Clan were involved consecutively. The British teams are well-known among the CHL family for having amazing fans who enjoy traveling to games abroad.
2017-18 Qualification Overview
The Champions Hockey League underwent major changes for the 2017-18 season: The total of teams was reduced to 32 (from 48), thereof 24 from the six founding leagues. A qualification system based on pure sporting merits has been installed, which means that for the first time all teams must earn their CHL spot on ice in their domestic leagues. The number of teams per founding league is dependent on how they’ve performed in the CHL so far (see CHL League ranking). 8 wild cards are awarded to champions of Challenge Leagues and the IIHF Continental Cup winners, as mentioned earlier, to complete the field.
So far, 14 teams have qualified for the 2017-18 season:
Founding Leagues (team allocation according to CHL league ranking)
- Sweden:5 teams. Already qualified: Frölunda Gothenburg (CHL champions), Växjö Lakers (regular season winners), HV71 Jönköping (regular season runner-up).
- Finland:5 teams. Already qualified: Tappara Tampere (regular season winners), TPS Turku (regular season runner-up).
- Switzerland:4 teams. Already qualified: SC Bern (regular season winners), ZSC Lions Zurich (regular season runner-up).
- Czech Republic:4 teams. Already qualified: Bili Tigry Liberec (regular season winners), HC Ocelari Trinec (regular season runner-up).
- Germany:3 teams. Already qualified: Red Bull Munich (regular season winners), Adler Mannheim (regular season runner-up).
- Austria (EBEL): 3 teams. Already qualified: Vienna Capitals (regular season winners), Red Bull Salzburg (regular season runner-up).
Criteria: 1. CHL Champion, 2. National League Champion, 3. Regular season winners, 4. Regular season runner-up, 5. Losing playoff-finalist, 6. Higher regular season ranked losing semi-finalist, 7. Lower regular season ranked losing semi-finalist, 8. Third placed team in regular season
Challenge Leagues (1 team each)
- Great Britain:champion
- IIHF Continental Cup winners:Nottingham Panthers, GBR
2017-18 Playing format & Group Stage Draw
The CHL Group Stage Draw takes places on 17 May in Cologne (GER) at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
The Group Stage of the 2017-18 season starts on 24 August and finishes on 11 October. The total of 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four and each team plays six games – one home and one away against the other three teams in its group. The first- and second-placed teams in each group then advance to the Playoff Stage.
With 16 teams in the playoffs, four rounds are required to determine the European club champions. The first three rounds are all two-game, home-and-away, total-goal series, similar to the previous seasons. The playoffs start on 31 October and finish with an ultimate one-game final on 6 February 2018.