Metal Ligaen 2016-17 season review

Metal Ligaen 2016-17 season review

11 Jun 2017 | Martin Rasmussen
 

The 2016-17 season will be remembered as one of the more interesting and competitive ones in Danish hockey in recent years, and a season that saw Esbjerg win their 7th Danish Championship and for the first time in team history win two straight league titles.

 
 
 
 

With Esbjerg winning the 2015-16 season the Danish Elite League (Metal Ligaen) had seen sort of a shift as Esbjerg’s win marked the first time since 2004, where a team other than Herning and SønderjyskE clinched the Danish Championship.

Going into this year’s tournament the general view was that several teams would compete for the title; SønderjyskE always being one of the front runners, Esbjerg looking to repeat, Herning with former head coach Todd Bjorkstrand back for a 2nd stint with team and hoping to return to the finals, Frederikshavn lead by former SønderjyskE & Herning coach Mario Simioni and having lost in the semi-finals three years in a row also looking to improve and a Odense team trying to avoid yet another quarterfinal lose.

In Rungsted expectations were also higher than in recent years and there was always the possibility that a team or two could step up, the latter something that did in fact turned out to be the major storyline this season.

For most of the 2015-16 season Aalborg was a none-playoff team, but eventually they managed to sneak into the playoffs, but only to be swept 4-0 by SønderjyskE in the quaterfinals. So heading into the new season, the overall outlook was perhaps a bit modest.

However when the season started new coach Brandon Reid had found the right formula and thanks to the strong play in net by French international Ronan Quemener, Aalborg started the season on a very strong note winning 8 straight games and topped the league from an early going and stayed there throughout the regular season.

Odense was one of several teams in the opening part of the season trying to position themselves as a Top-4 team in the league and while they initially were found outside of it, the play of goalie Tadeas Galansky and forwards Dale Mitchell & Tony Romano helped the team move into 2nd place behind Aalborg in late December and they managed to keep that position for the remainder of the regular season.

As a Top-4 team Frederikshavn was pretty consistent this season and from start to finish was in a position to secure home ice-advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Esbjerg finished the regular season in 4th place and considering that they for the most part of the season was found in 8th place, including as late as in early January the strong finish to the regular season indicated that the team was peaking at the right time.

Another of the traditional top teams struggling in the opening part of the season was SønderjyskE Eventually things improved for them and close to mid-season they found themselves in 2nd place. But with other teams stepping up, SønderjyskE had trouble staying in the Top-4 and finished the season in 5th place

After a 15th year absence Gentofte returned to the Metal Ligaen prior to the 2014/15 season, but in each of its two first seasons the team missed out the playoffs. This year would be different as Gentofte, relying on the goaltending of Teemu Seppänen and a strong defensive team game was able to compete for a spot in the Top-4 for most of the season. In the end they would have to settle with finishing in 6th place.

Herning lost both the 2014 & 2016 finals and after a five-year championship drought the team was looking to turn this tendency around. But as the season progressed it was evidently that things weren’t working for the 16-time Danish Championships and while they found themselves closing in on the Top-4 in early December, the team lost momentum and dropped in the standings and finished in 7th place.

For Rungsted the opening part of the season looked very promising as they quickly established themselves as a Top-4 team. From mid-December and with several players missing from the lineup due to various reasons Rungsted started to drop in the standings and ended in 8th place.

Much like Rungsted, Rødovre had a good to start to the season, but shortly after the team had trouble playing with consistency and a mid-season 10 game losing streak made the playoffs seem very unlikely and when the regular season concluded, Rødovre found themselves over 30 points away from a playoff spot.

Herlev finished the season with just win one in regulation and missed the playoffs by more than 50 points. With this being year one in a planned three-year rebuild Herlev was expected to have a difficult year, but everyone around the team had hoped for a few more points to say the least.

With the regular season having concluded, attention now turned to the playoffs.

The #1 seeded Aalborg could pick amongst the teams ranked 5-8 (SønderyskE,Gentofte,Herning & Rungsted) for its quarterfinal matchup and the general view was that this year’s top team would choose between Gentofte & Rungsted and this proved to be the case as Aalborg opted for Gentofte.

Aalborg entered the series as the favorites, but both teams won their respective home games in game 1-4. After a game 5 overtime win it however looked like the momentum had shifted towards Aalborg for game 6. Still Gentofte managed to win that game 1-0 and a game 7 would be needed.

In game 7 Gentofte put up another strong performance and won the game 3-0 and moved on to the semifinals for the first time in over 20 years.

It came as no surprise that the #2 seeded Odense picked Rungsted and in the only 4-0 series in this year’s playoffs, Odense swept Rungsted.

For Frederikshavn the choice came down to SønderjyskE or Herning and perhaps not surprisingly (especially given their playoff history against the former), Herning was picked and in a relatively close series with 4 out of 6 games being decided by one goal, Frederikshavn eventually won the series 4-2.

The last matchup in the quarterfinals would hence be between rivals Esbjerg & SønderjyskE and going into that series, the odds were that team winning also would be part of the finals.

Each team won their opening games on home-ice but in a close game 5 & 6, both overtime games Esbjerg won and clichéd the series 4-2.

As the new top seeded team Odense opted for Gentofte, but whether it was the prolonged break from playing games or the absence of top forward Tony Romano, Odense was missing something and Gentofte won the opening three games.

In game 4 Odense got a win on the road and with game 5 on home-ice this might was the opening Odense needed in order to get back in the series. But in a close game, where Gentofte scored first Odense wasn’t able to get the tying goal and Gentofte won the game 2-0 and clinched the series. With the win Gentofte would for the first time in team history be playing in the Danish League Finals.

The Frederikshavn-Esbjerg series was expected to be a close one and it also turned out to be the case. It was also a series that took a bit of a turn after game 2 as the next 4 games would see the away team get the wins and thus setting up a game 7 in Frederikshavn.

For the home team things started well and midway through the 2nd period got the lead. In the 3rd period Esbjerg managed to get the tying goal and yet another overtime game looked likely, but with less than one minute remaining, Jordan Knackstadt scored the game winning goal. While Esbjerg moved on to the finals, Frederikshavn had to settle with yet another semi-final loss.

After the three first games in the finals Esbjerg had a 2-1 lead, but the series was a close as expected with all games having being decided by one goal. In game 4 Esbjerg scored after just 40 seconds and with Gentofte unable to get the tying goal Esbjerg eventually went on the win 2-0 thanks to an empty net goal and could now clinch the title on home ice.

In game 5 Esbjerg got the first goal and with less than 6 minutes left in the game they had expanded their lead to 3-1. But in less than 2 minutes Gentofte scored twice and the game would head into overtime. While both teams had plenty of chances to close the game a second overtime period was needed.

Esbjerg was the team to come out on top as Jared Knight scored the game winning goal after 5 minutes of play and Esbjerg could start celebrating, which also marked the end to 2016-17 Metal Ligaen season.

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