2020-21 SDHL Preview
Get ready for the Swedish women’s hockey season!
The 2020-21 SDHL season is here!
The puck drops on Sept. 12, with all 10 teams in action on the first day of play, including a rematch of the cancelled final series between HV71 and Luleå. You can find a schedule of the whole season on the SDHL’s site.
The Swedish league has made it possible to watch the SDHL wherever you are in the world. Their broadcast deal with C More in Sweden continues and they have a streaming site for those outside of Sweden as well.
HV71 ran away with the regular season in 2019-20. They only lost three games all season, winning the other 33 for 99 total points. They outscored opponents by an absurd 118 goals by scoring 170 and only allowing 52. Luleå was second in standings, finishing with 81 points from 28 wins and 8 loses. Brynäs finished third with 74 points and Djurgården fourth with 69.
A 20-point gap separated the top four from the other six teams, as AIK, SDE, Linköping, Leksand, and MODO all bunched up in the middle of the pack to come in fifth through ninth, respectively. It was yet another rough go for Göteborg, finishing with only 14 points on three wins, two overtime loses, and a shootout win.
As with much of hockey, the playoffs unfortunately fell with the outbreak in COVID-19. HV71 and Luleå both swept their first and second round opponents to make it to the Finals. They were able to play Game 1 of the best-of-five series before the league shortened it to a best-of-three and ultimately cancelling it hours before Game 2 was set to start.
HV71 look to repeat their dominance this season. But their biggest enemy this season might be injury rather than another team.
Initially, they were poised to bring back five of their six top goal scorers in Kennedy Marchment, Hanna Olsson, Sanni Hakala, Sidney Morin, and Michelle Löwenhielm. The only player missing is Kaitlyn Tougas, who is not currently rostered with the team.
However, they were dealt a few potentially crushing blows in the preseason. First, Olsson injured her ACL in practice and will be out for a while, if not the whole season. Then, Löwenhielm was stretchered off the ice during one of their last preseason games. According Hockeysverge, the forward has no vertebrae damage from the initial test. In the same game, Hakala injured her shoulder too. The team also announced that goaltender Anna Amholt is out for the season. She still has issues from an October 2018 concussion that caused her to miss substantial parts of last season.
Not a great start for the team that was one win away from winning the SDHL Championship before the finals were cancelled due COVID-19.
On the plus side, at least they still have Marchment and Morin, the reigning Defender of the Year, who were second and fifth in points in the league, respectively. Maybe HV71 should consider putting the two of them in protective bubbles just to be safe.
That’s not to say HV71 doesn’t have depth. Because they do, but when so much of their offense was concentrated on five forwards, they could struggle to score as the depth players aren’t as adjusted to their new roles.
For goaltending, Spanish goaltender Alba Gonzalo stepped up well after Amholt decided she couldn’t play after five games. Her .932 SV% was good for second in the league and she led the league in goals against average with 1.36.
The second place team in last season’s regular season lost a huge part of their team this off season as Michelle Karvinen left her long-time team to head to Switzerland. Between her scoring power and her veteran presence on the team, Karvinen has left big skates to fill.
But Luleå went out and got Micheal Cava from Brynäs to help replace that offensive fire power. Cava, a Canadian forward entering her fourth season in the league, has a proven track record of putting up points with 1.52 points per game over her SDHL career. They also added defender Johanna Olofsson from Brynäs, who should slot in nicely among Luleå’s offensive defenders Jenni Hiirikoski and Ronja Savolainen. The pair combined for 39 total goals last season.
Unfortunately, they’ll be without Petra Nieminen, the league MVP and Luleå’s leading scorer from last season, as she had a minor knee surgery three weeks ago and will not be ready for the beginning of the season, according to NSD. The forward had 55 points in 36 games.
Their goaltending duo shared some of the duties with Sara Grahn appearing in 23 games and Minatsu Murase in 12. Murase was second in the league in GAA with 1.58 while Grahn was third with 1.64. Their strength and depth in goaltending should help out when push comes to shove.
Honestly, its Lara Stalder’s world and we’re all just being scored on by her. Brynäs will be glad to have the league leading scorer and last season’s best forward back after her 1.97 point per game season, blowing the next highest out of the water by nearly a full 0.2 points. Her 42 goals were 10 better than the next player.
Czech stars Katerina Mrazova and Denisa Křížová are both back with the team as well, to keep piling on the goals. Stalder, Mrazova, and Křížová accounted for nearly half of the team’s goals last season. They added RMU alum Jaycee Gebhard as well, who will play in her first post collegiate season. She averaged 1.75 points per game, good for fourth in nation in NCAA.
Their weakest link is most definitely goaltending. Brynäs’ two goaltenders allowed 99 goals last season, by far the most among the “top tier” teams in the SDHL. Among the 17 goaltenders who played more than 10 games, Agnes Åker was 13th in SV% (.897) and Ellen Jonsson was 17th (.885). They’ll need to shore up their goaltending and/or defending if they want to make a run at the finals this season.
Jinx! Stalder gör två snabba för Brynäs i andra perioden som visar stor överlägsenhet på isen. 7-0 efter två perioder, Stalder x2, Nylén-Persson, Mrazova, Krizova målskyttar i andra perioden. pic.twitter.com/DFyMGhKGLc— Mats Bekkevold (@Smats1984) August 15, 2020
It’s not great when the biggest storylines for a team heading into the season is who they won’t have playing for them. But Djurgården had two major losses that are going to hurt.
First off, Canadian forward Jennifer Wakefield left for Linkoping. Despite finishing fourth in the league in the standings last season, Djurgården was not exactly an offensive powerhouse, only scoring 96 goals in 36 games. Losing Wakefield will hurt as she put up 13 goals in 30 games. Her 28 points led the team as well.
The second big loss is goaltender Samantha Ridgewell who returned home to play for the Toronto Six in the NWHL. The Canadian saw a majority of the games (22) and finished with the sixth-best SVS% in the league at 91.96%.
The good news there is the remaining goaltender, Lovisa Berndtsson, played well in her 15 appearances. Look for Djurgården to rely more on her as their other two goaltenders have significantly less experience.
It’ll be tough to replace Wakefield but Sarah Bujold and Josefine Jakobsen are both returning and both mostly kept up with her scoring pace last season, netting 25 and 22 points respectively. They also gained an offensive-minded defender in Abby Cook after she finished her senior season at Boston University. On a strong offensive team, Cook was tied for second in points with 20, including 10 goals. Djurgården’s current defenders don’t put up a lot of points so the addition of Cook to the blue line should help bolster them.
AIK startar bäst med ett tidigt öppningsmål av Bialik, men framåt mitten av första perioden biter DIF tillbaka och är dödligt effektiva. 5-1 till hemmalaget efter Östensson x2, Bujold, Holmgren och sist ut Tärnblom. #SDHL pic.twitter.com/AjvylkyoAr— Mats Bekkevold (@Smats1984) August 12, 2020
AIK finished last season nicely in the middle of the table.
Their top scorer, Lisa Johansson, is returning. Last season wasn’t her best performance in her SDHL career. But after a longer off season than normal, and no international games, the possibility to bounce back to her point-per-game past is there.
She’ll be buoyed by the addition of Alva Johnsson, who played for Long Island University last season and opted to stay in Sweden for the 2020-21 season because of COVID. In the NCAA, she scored 12 goals, second her team. Johnsson has played three previous seasons in the SDHL as well, where she wasn’t quite as successful. How a season in the NCAA will translate to a return to the SDHL will be interesting to watch.
Captain Sabina Küller is back for fourth season with the team. She doubled her goals scored last season with 12, and another improvement like that would do wonders for the teams, especially since Fanny Rask retired.
Rask, a Swedish star, was tied for first in points on the team last season and leaves a hole in their forward corps that someone will definitely need to step up into.
AIK’s team defense wasn’t anything to write home about last year. They allowed 97 goals, the sixth-most in the league and now they are moving forward without Meeri Raisanen. She played 26 of the team’s games with a GAA of 2.43 and .924 SVS%. Last season’s second goaltender, Sabina Eriksson, will either be called on to step up, or Jule Flötgen, who played for Leksands last season, will oversee the goaltending duties. Both Eriksson and Flötgen had similar stat lines, even though Flötgen played in almost all of Leksand’s games last season.
Djurgården känns än starkare i andra perioden men när AIK börjar hitta rätt i försvarsspelet så blir det desto svårare att komma fram på mål. Olivia Sohrner mycket bra för AIK och kommer trots sin ålder att bli en grym ordinarie pjäs för gnaget den här säsongen. 5-1 efter två. pic.twitter.com/ae7BjTRGKn— Mats Bekkevold (@Smats1984) August 12, 2020
Let’s start with the most obvious storyline for SDE: Sofia Reideborn. The controversial goaltender made some extremely inappropriate comments this offseason on the official SDHL podcast, and following the (expected) negative reaction to them, left the team.
SDE won’t miss her in net though as Lindsey Post, last season’s Goaltender of the Year is returning. The Canadian led the league in SVS% with .942 and was fourth in GAA with 2.01. Joining her in the crease is Linn Jansson Almgren, who has a long history in Linköping’s system but only two games at the SDHL level. The pressure will be mostly on Post to keep the team upright in net.
The rest of SDE stayed mostly intact this off season. There was very little, if any, turnover or changes to their roster. The key for them will just be scoring more and making sure Post gets help, as their backup option in net is not nearly as reliable as last season.
SDE comes out strong in the third an pulls up to 2-3, but a finishing touch by Bullock brings the win to Linköping. Final score 2-4. pic.twitter.com/F1319SuNtW— Mats Bekkevold (@Smats1984) August 15, 2020
Linköping made some major moves this offseason, granted some of them were a result of players not returning to the team.
They lost their top scorers in Zoe Hickel (coaching at Ohio State University) and Saana Valkama (playing for Leksands). Together, they made up for 24 of the team’s 73 goals. That’s 33 percent of the team’s total offense — a big hole to fill.
Luckily, they picked up defender Gracen Hirschy from MODO who scored eight goals last season, forward Jennifer Wakefield from Djurgården who scored 13 goals, and defender Celine Tardif from Göteborg who was their assist leader with 11. They also added Carly Bullock from Princeton. Bullock averaged 1.21 points per game in her NCAA career including 30 goals in 33 games last season. Integrating these new players into the system and team will be critical to Linköping’s success. If they’re preseason games are any precursor though, they’ve found their stride already.
In net, they lost their main goaltender Eveliina Sunopää to Leksands as well. But they gained Stephanie Neatby out of Princeton and Emma-Sofie Nordström. Neither have top-tier SDHL experience, but a strong offense should help that.
Rhyen McGill gets the opening goal midway through the 2nd period which opens the tap for Linköping and good rebound conversion by McGill and Haug Hansen getting back to back goals in just a few minutes. Wakefield comes up on a solo performance making it 0-3 for Linköping. pic.twitter.com/s7lmFKzNAo— Mats Bekkevold (@Smats1984) August 15, 2020
Leksand might be something of a wildcard this year after a very busy offseason. Canadians Emma Woods and Brooke Boquist each had 29 points last season (good for second on the team), but are now in the NWHL with the Toronto Six. But they (and others) have been replaced by a promising group that has made Leksand the youngest team in the league entering the 2020-21 campaign.
After tearing it up in the SWHL last year with a league-leading 28 goals in 19 games, Dominique Rüegg has taken her talents to Leksand and the SDHL. Rüegg is joined by fellow member of the Swiss national team Sarah Forster, who was a valuable defender for Brynäs in the last two seasons. Along with Team Finland’s Saana Valkama, who had 22 points with Linköping last year, they will be expected to compliment Kajsa Armborg’s offense.
The other big story in Leksand is a potential serious upgrade in the goal crease. Team Finland’s Eveliina Suonpää and 18-year-old Swede Amanda Johansson are filling in for German Jule Flötgen, who is now with AIK. Suonpää, 25, is capable of being a workhorse starter and had rock solid numbers for Linköping last year and Johansson has a ton of potential. They will be playing behind a blue line that has added Abby Thiessen from St. Cloud State and Amanda Butterfield from St. Lawrence University.
MODO’s blue line is going to look a lot different this year now that Gracen Hirschy is with Linköping. Hirschy finished second on the team in scoring last year with eight goals and 11 assists, so replacing her production will be key if MODO wants to climb the standings. There will definitely be a lot of eyes on defender Paula Bergström, who is back with the team after winning a conference championship with Long Island University.
Another new face who could help that cause in a big way is Team Norway’s Josefine Biseth Engmann. Engmann had 13 goals in nine games in the Norwegian league last year with Sparta Sarpsborg and gained experience playing in Norway’s U16 boys’ league. Fellow newcomer Jaycee Magwood could also make a impact in MODO’s offense. Last year, she led the University of Regina (USports) with 11 goals and 10 assists in 28 games.
Regardless of what happens with MODO’s offense, the big story here is that goaltender Klára Peslarová is between the pipes. With the Czech star in net, MODO has the potential to catch up to clubs like Leksand and Linköping. Peslarová earned a .908 save percentage facing an average of 32.43 SA60 last year.
For the past three seasons Göteborg has been in the basement of the SDHL’s standings. Heading into the 2020-21 season, there’s little reason to expect that to change. Hanna Thuvik, who led the team in scoring last year, is gone. So too are Canadians Sam Fieseler and Celine Tardif.
The good news for Göteborg is that they still have Louisa Lippiatt Durnell and Emma Keenan. They also brought in a lot of young talent over the offseason.
Czech forwards Tereza Radová and Klára Seroiszková signed in early July, so too did rising Polish star Wiktoria Sikorska. All three of them played together for SK Karvina in the Czech league last year, so there could be chemistry there. Sikorska led Karvina in scoring with eight goals and 10 assists in nine games. So, if you’re looking for a rising star on an underdog team to fall in love with, Sikorska is the player for you.
The other noteworthy additions for Göteborg are Dutch forward Esther de Jong, French forward Margot Desvignes, and Canadian forward Hannah Clayton-Carroll. Yep, that’s a lot of new forwards in the mix.
Last year, Desvignes had 10 goals in 18 games in the SWHL for Neuchâtel Hockey Academy Dames. Clayton-Carroll was the top scorer for the UBC Thunderbirds in 2019-20 and consistently put up points throughout her USports career. However, the SDHL is a big jump in speed and skill from all those leagues, so there’s no telling how Sikorska, Desvignes, and Clayton-Carroll will fare at this level.