The NWHL and SDHL recently announced that in September the two champions of their respective leagues, the Metrolpolitan Riveters and Luala, would face off against each other in a three-game series to compete for the Champions Cup.
I thought I would take the time to learn a little more about women’s hockey across the pond in Sweden, the European power house that is Luleå HF and who their key players in the series are likely to be. Quite a few NWHL fans might have heard of the league before due to Molly Engstrom who used to captain the Connecticut Whale. Following salary cuts for NWHL in the second season of operations, she left the Whale for a more financially stable contract with Djurgårdens who compete in the SDHL.
First of all I would like to apologise if any information is incorrect, a lot of the main news and information is in Swedish, which being a Brit, I can’t understand so I’ve had to do my best to find sources in English, all the information here is correct to the best of my knowledge.
Let’s look at where the women’s game is for the country as a whole. There are over 5500+ registered female players, up from the 3000 mark in 2011. The national team, which played its first game in 1987 sit 5th overall in the world rankings and recently finished 7th at the 2018 Olympic Games. However their best Olympic performance was in 2006 where they claimed silver and claimed to their highest world ranking of 2nd.
The top tier of women’s hockey is played in the Svenska damhockeyligan, SDHL, which was founded in 2008. It consists of 10 teams with a promotion and relegation system in place so that teams can work their way up from the lower leagues. The top teams then compete in a playoff format which features 3 game series.
— SDHL.se (@SDHLse) March 31, 2018
The Riviters’ opponents, Luleå HF, made it into the top league just three seasons ago for the 2015/16 (although they were founded in 1977). Since then they have been a force to be reckoned with. For each of the three seasons they’ve competed in the SDHL they’ve topped the regular season table each year posting a record of 93-11-4 in that time. They won the championship in their inaugural season in the SDHL, fell in the semi’s the year after and reclaimed their title this year.
There are three key players that I have identified that will almost certainly be appearing on the scoresheet in the series against the Rivs. The first player is the captain, the defence women, Jenni Hiirikoski who won bronze with Finland at the Korean Olympics. She is a strong presence on the blueline but also brings a lot of fire power to the offence with 22 goals and 55 points in the regular season.
Pronssimitalisti ja turnauksen paras puolustaja Jenni Hiirikoski:
”Ihan huikeaa. Mahtava fiilis päästä hakemaan mitali, spesiaalipäivä. Meillä on hieno joukkue, sitä kautta joskus tulee näitä henkilökohtaisiakin huomionosoituksia.”#PyeongChangFi #olympicteamfi pic.twitter.com/xzvHj86lFA
— Olympic Team Finland (@OlympicTeamFI) February 22, 2018
Second on my list of people to watch is Michelle Karvinen, an absolute point producing machine in the league, registering over 2 points per game this season, ending with a league leading 68 points this season. With her three seasons with Luleå HF she has consistently topped 30 goals each year.
Finally, another name that you will probably be hearing a lot come September is Emma Nordin, who recently won Swedish player of the year. She finished 3rd in the league in points with 58 and at the Olympics put up 4 points in six games. She is a versatile centre and playmaker who can pick up goals as well as assists in any given game.
— SDHL.se (@SDHLse) April 6, 2018
There we have it, Luleå HF are a strong team who has shown no signs of weakness, they are an established force in European women’s hockey. Meanwhile, the Rivs have just had their first breakout year, having by far there most successful season and topping it off by winning the Isobel Trophy in their third year of existence. Head to head, the matchup is mouth-watering, the only worry is that the Rivs roster could look very different to the championship winning side from March. However with the signing of Amanda Kessel, they have already added some great talent to their squad.