SDHL - Swedish Women’s Final: Luleå HF v Linköping HC

SDHL - Swedish Women’s Final: Luleå HF v Linköping HC

02 Apr 2018Adrian J»
 

This week saw the final of the women's hockey championships here in Sweden with the top two teams from the regular season going head to head in a Best of Three series.

 
 
 
 

With 14 Olympians from Korea were on the ice as well as a host of internationals from countries that did not qualify for this year's Winter Games, it was no surprise that we were treated to three games of the highest quality with drama, controversy and, eventually after 3 hours of hockey, one team was crowned Swedish national champions 2017/8.

Match 1 in Linköping

A thrilling opener and despite their being so much at stake, both teams attacking with abandon forcing outstanding goalkeeping from Luleå's Maria Omberg and Switzerland national keeper, Florence Schelling for Linköping. The best chances fell to the player who has the most Goals and Assists in the league's history, Austrian Denise Altmann. The Linköping striker found herself on more than one occasion alone on the breakway as Luleå pressed forward only to have her shots saved by the in-form Omberg. So it was the top line from Luleå HF who decided the match with a cleverly worked face off in the last minute of the game.

Canada's Olympic silver medallist Jennifer Wakefield won the face off, passing back to Finland's Ronja Savolainen who shot from the blue line, meanwhile Swede Emma Nordin had slid across from the face off circle to block Schelling's view and possibly take the deflection that beat the Swiss keeper. 1-0 and advantage Luleå with two home matches to finish out the series.

Match 2 in Luleå

The match was also even, but not if you look at shot statistics, where it was 45- 21 to the home team. But whilst Luleå succeeded in firing the puck in, they failing to get people in front of the net to block or take rebounds. Nor could they repeat a goal from the resulting face-offs which saw an epic battle between Linköping and Sweden's Pernilla Winberg and Wakefield.

Like Match 1, this game was also settled in the last minute, but not without two incidents of controversy that took up a lot of the post match discussions.

First was Savolinen's goal that was waved off by the referees. The Finn skated powerfully into the offensive zone skating around Canadian World Cup Gold medallist, Courtney Birchard, and avoiding the poke check to get free to shoot. But as she moved in on Schelling and her feet entered the blue paint she started to fall backwards, her skates kicking the Linköping keeper. The pair of them ended up in a heap pushed the goal loose from its moorings and the puck slid into the net just inside the right-hand post. Confusion reigned on the ice, the benches and even in the commentators' box. In or Not In? Officially the goal was waved off because the goal had moved from it's base before the puck crossed the line. But the TV replay didn't support that.

Then the Lara Staldar Affair. Already accused of diving by Luleå, the league's top goal scorer, Lara Staldar, was checked by Wakefield in an unquestionable Kneeing at 41.35. But whilst the Canadian went to sit down for two minutes, the Swiss striker lay on the ice in agony. The Olympian eventually climbed off the ice with the help of trainer and a colleague and it appeared her game, or even season, was over. But just four shifts later she was out on the ice appearing to skate unhindered.

And with less than a minute of the match, who should it be but the Swiss star who stole the puck in her own defensive zone as Luleå pushed forward. Chased by Luleå's Johanna Fällman, she sprinted through the mid-zone and towards Omberg. The Swedish Olympian managed to catch the Linköping forward deftly pushing her around and behind the goal. But Staldar remained on feet, picking up the loose puck again she continued clockwise around the goal. Then she narrowly missing a flying Wakefield who was trying to check her into next week. Suddenly, Staldar found herself alone and unmarked in front of goal. With just forty seconds to go, she backhanded the puck beautifully passed Omberg. 1-0 Linköping and 1-1 in matches, meaning a final deciding match in Luleå would be needed to separate the best two women's teams in Sweden.

Match 3 in Luleå

Schelling's heroics had kept Linköping in Match 2. But she could do little to stop the rocket fired by Finnish back Jenni Hiirikoski from the right hand side on Luleå's first power play at 2:30 in the first period of the decider. The goal gave a hitherto unseen confidence and fluidity to the home team who suddenly started to play like the dominant, champions-in-waiting they had promised to be all season long.

10:02 minutes later that had gone up to 3-0 and, of course, it was their top players who rose to the occasion, with Finn Michelle Karvinen and then Nordin scoring the goals. The team from Östergötland were completely out-played, but a glimmer of hope was lit when Sweden and Linköping's captain, Emilia Ramboldt got a goal back with a 1.28 of the first period left to play. But that glimmer was soon snuffed out, when Savolainen netted after just 2:23 of the second period.

When Karvinen scored her second with just 55 seconds to go in the second period it wasn't just that it was 5-1, but the way they scored that showed why the SDHL championship was going to Luleå HF this year. With the puck in the mid-zone the Linköping team tried to make a line change. But the puck was collected by Luleå centre, Nordin, who suddenly found that her and Karvinen were the only players on the ice between the half way line and Schelling in the Linköping goal. The Luleå duo glided towards the goal totally unmarked causally passing the puck to each other, like in a training exercise, until Karvinen ruthlessly slammed the puck in. It was the SDHL's regular season and Playoff top points scorer, Karvinen, verses the SDHL's regular season and playoff top goalkeeper, Schelling, and the game was effectively over with the third period in-played.

Luleå HF deservedly, the SDHL 2017/8 Champions by 2-1 in games.


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