Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Champions Hockey League will resume next season

Slavia's Michal Vondrka (left) hits Zürich captain Mathias
into the boards during a Champions Hockey League
game at O2 Arena, December 3, 2008. Photo courtesty AP and
Petr David Josek.
The IIHF has announced that, after a two-year hiatus, the Champions Hockey League will resume for the 2011-12 season.

The league will feature 16 teams divided into four groups. After a group stage that will see each team play six games, the top two teams in each group will advance to the quarter-finals, followed by sem-finals and finals. All playoffs will be two-game, total points, home-and-away series.

The 2011-12 CHL season will run from September 7 to January 25. The regular-season and playoff champions from the top seven European hockey leagues will gain berths, as will the 2011 Continental Cup winners and ZSC Lions Zürich, the winners of the 2009 Champions League. The top seven European leagues are those based in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia (KHL), Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The league operated in the 2008-09 season to great reviews. However, due to the world economic crisis, the CHL's two main sponsors, Reebok and Gazprom, pulled out after one season. Unwilling to shoulder the enormous operating costs alone, the IIHF decided to put the league on hiatus.

“The inaugural Champions Hockey League showed that European ice hockey is ready for a pan-continental league,” said IIHF President René Fasel. “It showed that all stakeholders, primarily the clubs and its large fan base, can be the beneficiaries of this competition which provides an additional value on top of the already successful domestic competition.”

In the first edition of the Champions Hockey League, 12 teams from seven countries were divided into four groups of three. After each team played four round-robin games (home and away against the other two in the group), the four group winners advanced to the semi-finals, and then to the finals, which were both played in the two-legged, home-and-away format.

The event was won by ZSC Lions Zürich of Switzerland, who defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia in the final. Czech clubs HC Slavia Praha, who were the defending champions of the country, and HC Mountfield České Budějovice, who had finished first in the regular season, competed in the event. Both clubs finished second in their respective groups. Slavia hosted Zürich at Prague's O2 Arena on the last day of the group stage and could have advanced to the semi-finals with a single point. The crowd of 8,137 saw a great game for two periods with the score tied 1-1, before Zürich scored four times in the third to win the group.

The Swiss club was led by Jean-Guy Trudel of Sudbury, ON, who scored 4 goals and 9 assists in 8 games to lead the tournament in scoring. Trudel retired this past summer.

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