A longer article looking at each team in the SDHL this 2018/9 season.
This weekend, the first in February, saw the final games played in this year's regular season in the SDHL.
The series champions- Luleå/ MSSK
For the fourth year in a row Luleå/ MSSK have won the title. Their Finnish international stars have dominated, Jenni Hiirikoski is the league's top scoring defender and finished second in Total Points whilst Michelle Karvinen (Uni. of North Dakota) came in fourth and Noora Tulus fifth.
But the team's Swedes also produced with Emma Nordin taking the top goalscorer with 31, at the same time coming in third in Total Points and Sara Grahn, the league's best netminder with a 93.19 SVS%.
In total they have won 31 out of 36 matches this season and the only teams to beat them were MODO Hockey, Linköping HC, HV71 and finally Leksand IF - the only only team to beat them twice.
However the challenge still remains to win the playoffs- something they have done two of the last three years.
The Final Table
By the end of the season the table has shuffled itself into four groups of teams.
The Top Three (93-75 pts)
The top three teams have been Luleå, MODO Hockey and Linköping HC, the second and third teams separated by only four points whilst these three provided 10 of the top 13 scorers in Total Points. Indeed they are have won five of the last seven SDHL championships.
MODO Hockey may look back and wonder what might have been had they not lost three of their highly talented import players during the season. Canadian trio Breanne Wilson Bennett - Colgate Uni. , Brooke Boquist - Providence - (both concussion) and Lauren Wildfang - Univ. (personal reasons) had notched up 66 points between them and Wildfang managed more than a Point Per Game. But a second place and first in Total Points for Canadian and former Toronto Furies forward, Michela Cava - albeit by just one point- will have to do. Their goal now will be to go one better than last year's semifinal.
Linköping HC certainly have missed Boston Pride drafted Lara Stalder's goal scoring prowess. She had 38 points in just 18 games, but has spent half the season out due to a shoulder injury. So their top scorer was new signing, Canadian Kennedy Marchment, who has also been NWHL drafted by Buffalo Beauts.
For the first time in the club's history they have also not had a first choice international keeper in net. Finnish second choice keeper Eveliina Suonpää finished eighth in the goalkeeper's competition on SVS%.
Linköping may have won more matches in regulation than MODO, but the team from Örnsköldsvik were able to finish off more matches in Overtime including three on penalties.
Last year Linköping beat MODO in the semis only to lose to Luleå in the final. This year both will be hoping to return to past glories and lift the trophy again.
The Contenders (63-65 pts)
The three teams in fourth, fifth and sixth were Leksand IF, HV71 and Djurgården IF were separated by just three points and are all capable of beating the top three in the forthcoming playoffs.
For Leksand IF top scorers have been Sweden's Anna Borgqvist and Canadian import from Calgary Inferno, Danielle Stone whilst 22 year old Julia Åberg (who has done one year at Johnson and Wales University) has performance well in net also getting the chance to play for the Swedish national team. They will be looking to find their early season form again which saw them top the table and beat Luleå in back to back meetings.
HV71 have the league's top performing import netminder, Alba Gonzalo from Spain in her second season at the Jönköping club. The team is also the home of another batch of Finnish internationals. The team's top scorers are 45 year old, Riikka Sallinen (formerly Välilä) and 21 year Sanna Hakala both of whom who were in the top ten of Total Points. Two years ago they knocked out favourites Luleå in the semifinals and will be hoping for similar result this year.
Meanwhile Djurgården IF will be going into the playoffs without one of their (and Sweden's) best players - 20 year old, Hanna Olsson, who quit the club dramatically this month. That leaves the other Nordic members of the squad, both former Uni of North Dakota students, Norwegian, Andrea Dalen (who finished in 11th on Total Points) and Dane Josefine Jakobsen (15th), left behind to continue to provide firepower upfront if the Stockholm team are to defy the odds and take the title again as they did in 2016/7.
The Strugglers (36-40 pts)
Both Brynäs IF and AIK are not bad teams, but just have not been able to keep it together often enough over a full 60 minutes. They have both lost 21 regulation matches over the season whilst Brynäs IF have just 12 wins and AIK only 9.
Brynäs finishing a disappointing seventh place overall. Their season was undoubtedly hampered by injury to Canadian superstar and former Toronto Furies’ Jennifer Wakefield. She only played nine matches for the club this season but scored 18 points, including 13 goals. Veteran, Erika Grahm took up the points scoring duties at the Gävle club, earning the 28 year old Swede further international caps.
For AIK it was eighth place, with 26 year old Lisa Johansson their top scorer whom alongside 24 year old, forward and Olympian Sabina Küller has also been selected for international duty for Sweden for the club that has fewest import players of all the teams in the SDHL.
The Relegation Regulars (<20 pts)
SDE have a survival instinct and will enter the relegation battle for the fifth year in a row - that is every year they've been in the SDHL - knowing they've always won though to fight another season.
Six players have played over 100 matches with the club, including two Dutchwomen Julie Zwarthoed and Kayleigh Hamers and the 19 year old Swedish goalkeeper, Sofia Reideborn. Even captain and Englishwoman Leanne Ganney has been here before and they know collectively what it takes to remain in the SDHL.
It was assistant captain Zwarthoed and Ganney have led the way in points coming in a very respectable 24th and 28th in Total Points above talented players such as Hanna Sköld (LIF), Fanny Rask (HV71), Petra Nieminen (LHF).
Ultimately they might be disappointed with ninth place and four regulation wins with their top scorers repeatedly finding the net. If Lovisa Selander returns from the NCAA to her home club instead of taking net at NWHL club, Boston Pride who drafted her in December, they might surprise a few people next year.
Gothenburg HC in their second year in the top division have struggled gaining only six points all season with one regulation win as they sadly could not compete other the teams above them.
The team contains three of the five British internationals playing in Sweden but top scorers are Canadian Alyssa McMillian (played in NCAA and USports leagues) and Swede Anna Borgfeldt (Quinnipiac, NCAA). However, they only had 11 points each on the season putting them in a lowly 76th and 78th place respectively.
But it is not just going forward that has been a problem, the club has let in over 200 goals this season, with an average of nearly six in every game.
Both teams will start their best of three qualification matches on 28 February against DamEttan playoff qualification winners.
If they survive the qualification matches back to the SDHL another tough year awaits the club from Sweden's second city.
The Playoffs will start on 13 February after the Six Nations Tournament in Russia. Each match will be a best of five series, with home advantage to the first team:
Luleå HF v AIK
MODO v Brynäs IF
Linköping HC v Djurgården IF
Leksand IF v HV71
Luleå remain favourites for their third title in four years.