The SDHL playoffs get underway tomorrow and the quarterfinal matchups are set. Eight of the league’s ten teams made the postseason and will compete for the league’s top prize. Each series is decided in a best-of-three.
Brynäs - Luleå
In the standings: 8th (34 points) and 1st (95 points)
Yes, that’s a 61-point difference in the standings. Despite having veteran and Olympian Sara Grahn in net, Brynäs struggled all year long and managed only nine wins this season. No one on the team cracked the league’s top 25 in scoring and they finished ninth in scoring efficiency.
Meanwhile, Luleå won 29 games and asserted their dominance at almost every opportunity. They come into the 2018 playoffs with last year’s painful memory of missing the finals after an upset by HV71 in the semis. They’ll be looking to take care of business swiftly and efficiently, and with a roster boasting some of the world’s best in Jenni Hiirikoski, Michelle Karvinen, and the newly-acquired Jennifer Wakefield, there’s no reason why they can’t do just that.
Prediction: Luleå in two games. Anything else would be a major upset.
AIK - Linköping
In the standings: 7th (34 points) and 2nd (87 points)
It was a disappointing year for AIK, with only ten wins and a drop in the standings from fifth in 2017 to seventh this year. Despite sending five players to the Olympics and some high-caliber talent at forward, this is a young team whose growing pains showed all year long.
Linköping is coming off a strong season that’s seen Swiss rookie Lara Stalder emerge as one of the SDHL’s hottest scorers. She finished first in the league for goals with 39 and second in points with 61.
They’re also the least-penalized team and boast the league’s top goaltender in Florence Schelling. She pitched a whopping 10 shutouts in 31 games and finished the season with a .9485 save percentage.
Prediction: Linköping in two games.
Leksand - MODO
In the standings: 6th (45 points) and 3rd (85 points)
Leksand saw improvement this year, moving from seventh to sixth in the standings and earning three more wins than they did in the 2016-2017 season. They’ve been a consistently middling team all season long, not the worst but never earning a sniff at being the best.
MODO showed tremendous growth after some major off-season acquisitions jumpstarted the scoring. Center Michela Cava and winger Jenelle Kohanchuk, both formerly of the CWHL’s Toronto Furies, slotted effortlessly into the lineup. Cava in particular had a stellar season, scoring 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points, fourth in the SDHL. In net, the tandem of Sara Berglind and Emma Söderberg were steady all season long; their save percentages finished second and third in the league respectively.
Prediction: MODO, most likely in two games. While Leksand could steal one and take the series to a Game Three, it’s a tall task.
HV71 - Djurgården
In the standings: 5th (50 points) and 4th (72 points)
HV71 had a down season after making it all the way to the SDHL Finals last season. The team that defeated them for the gold? Djurgården. A major drop in production from star forward Fanny Rask didn’t help matters either: Rask, 26, went from 20 goals in 2016-2017 to just eight this year. While her assists stayed consistent, HV71 needs Rask to start hitting the back of the net if they want to make it through this round.
Last year’s SDHL champions Djurgården struggled to find their footing early in the season, winning only one of their first five games. They stocked up for the playoffs by adding a trio of University of North Dakota alumni, including Team Canada’s Halli Krzyzaniak, just before the February 15 transfer deadline.
In addition, they’ve played HV71 three times in March, winning all three matches.
Prediction: Djurgården in three games. They’ve shown they know how to capitalize on HV71’s mistakes, but HV71 won’t go quietly.