The Capital city team found themselves in Group G alongside EV Zug of Switzerland and Esbjerg Energy from Denmark. But in what looked a relatively straight-forward group the Finnish giants struggled, losing their first three games before putting Seven goal past the hapless Danes to secure qualification.
Fri, Aug 26 Zug (a) 1-2
EV Zug had taken care of business with a win in Esbjerg and now an impressive 2-1 decision on home ice against a strong IFK Helsinki squad. What made the win impressive was how dominant they were, with a 27-20 edge in shots. If not for some solid goaltending from ex-NHLer Nicklas Backstrom – especially in the second period – it could have been worse. The first period was fairly evenly played, though, and it looked like the teams would be headed to their respective dressing rooms still scoreless, but on a late power play – just after IFK failed to convert a shorthanded breakaway – Lino Martschini hopped on a rebound and put it away with 16 seconds showing on the clock. In the second period it was all Zug, thanks in part to three straight power plays, but Backstrom stopped all 12 shots he faced. At the other end, Tobias Stephan only had to make two saves but the second one was a spectacular glove save in the last minute off Thomas Nykopp from close range on an IFK power play. With under seven minutes to play, Zug got some breathing room. A nice passing play was finished by Emmanuel Peter, with Backstrom having no chance on the backdoor play. IFK Helsinki pressed late and, with Backstrom pulled for a sixth attacker, they got one back on a Tommy Taimi slapper with 1:45 to go. That was as close as they would come, however, as Zug continue the strong showing by Swiss clubs at this year's CHL.
"Well, how happy can you be when you lose a game?" IFK Helsinki coach Antti Tormanen asked rhetorically. "The last period was good because we put our heart and energy into the game but overall I'm disappointed. It was a great game for the crowd, and although it was a low-scoring game both teams had good chances and it was a great atmosphere in the rink."
"It was a hard-fought game, very intensive," said Zug coach Harold Kreis. "5-on-5, I think we edged it and had a bit better control of the game, but they made us work for it at the end. We wanted to give everything today to win the home, because next we go to Helsinki and that will be very tough."
Fri, Sep 02 Zug (h) 1-4
If anybody thought EV Zug's performance in Group G so far was a fluke, those thoughts were erased with the team's strong performance in Helsinki to beat IFK – the team most assumed would win the group – for the second straight time. After a scoreless first period, which was played rather defensively other than a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for IFK Helsinki in the early going, Zug opened the scoring early in the second. Just 20 seconds in, in fact, Robin Grossman intercepted a clearing attempt and fed Carl Klingberg, who fired it off the post and in. Later in the period Klingberg got the play started for Zug's second goal. Niklas Backstrom stopped him on a breakaway, but he recovered the puck behind the net and fed Jarkko Immonen in front, who fired it home.
“It was a dangerous pass from their forward (Juuso Puustinen) and I read it. Great job by Klingberg afterwards,” Grossman said of his play leading to the first goal. On the second, which he was also on the ice for, he said, “I tried to get a stick there to block their pass and then put it forward. There was a race for the puck and Klingberg missed the breakaway, but afterwards it was a nice goal from Immonen.”
Teemu Eronen got IFK on the board a minute into the third period with a beautiful wrist shot on the power play, but any momentum they may have got from that when Zug answered on a power play of their own less than two minutes later – right off the faceoff, Lino Martschini fired it in.
That took the wind out of the sails of IFK Helsinki, who had trouble generating much offence after that and took two penalties. Immonen's second goal of the game into an empty net sealed the victory and the spot in the Round of 32 for EV Zug.
“You play this game to win and today we didn’t succeed,” sighed a disappointed Backstrom, who stopped 31 of 34 shots on the IFK goal. “Zug is a really professional team from top to bottom. They played a very disciplined game and didn’t lose pucks. Also, they forechecked hard and played solid in front of their own net. We didn’t really get any dangerous rushes going in these two games.”
"My team worked extremely hard," said a happy Zug coach Harold Kreis. "We knew we had to keep the pressure up and I think we worked hard on our goals. IFK had some chances but we came up with some big blocks. I think we worked hard on our 3-on-5 – that could have been a game-changer but we worked really hard. That's the important thing. Working hard on offence and defence, and they do it naturally, so that's the key right now."
Fri, Sep 09 Esbjerg (a) 4-5 OT
Danish club Esbjerg Energy hosted IFK Helsinki in their final CHL home game of the season, and at the beginning of a home and away series against the Finns to decide who will get the second qualifying place in the group. The home side, knowing that three points would see them into the next round, start well and took the lead early on – David Lidstorm scoring at 8:43. That lead however didn't last very long, with IFK's Juuso Puustinen tying the game exactly three minutes later. Just under five minutes before the end of the period Helsinki completed the turnaround when Lennart Petrell found the back of the net to put his side 2-1 up – a lead they held into the break. Midway through the middle session the home side got themselves back on level terms through Ryan Martindale – the Energy making use of a 5-on-3 advantage to make it 2-2. However just 40 seconds before the period came to an end, IFK re-established hitter lead through Teemu Eronen on the PP to lead by a goal after 40 minutes. The Danes however again refused to give up, and on a powerplay of their own levelled again through Sune Hjulmand. That was by no means the end of the scoring though. IFK again took the lead, this time thanks to Miro Saarelainen, with 46:16 played. The lead held until the closing stages, and the Finns looked to be taking the points home with them until a penalty on Thomas Nykopp at 58:16, followed by two minor penalties on the visitors, put Esbjerg on a two-man powerplay for the final 1:11 of the game. With goalie Mathias Seldrup out in favour of the extra attacker, Esbjerg eventually made their 6-on-3 count Tyler Fiddler the hero with just nine seconds left on the game. Of course Esbjerg then started the overtime period with a two-man advantage, and opted to pul the goalie out again to see if they could get the win. The bold move paid off, with Brock Nixon sending the home crowd wild as he scored at 60:31 to win the game for the Danish champions – their first win in the CHL.
"I’m really disappointed how we finished this game," said IFK Helsinki coach Antti Tormanen. "We played a decent game in the first period, had many chances. But in the third period we started to collect one penalty after another – moreover, stupid penalties. I must say that the penalties killed us. I can’t say anything about the 4–4 goal, because I didn’t see the video, but it was only around 16 seconds till the end, so we should have been able to finish the game with three points."
The OT win isn't enough to put the Danes through to the next round yet; however, they head to Helsinki on Sunday two points ahead of their opponents. They need just one more point to advance, but it won't be easy.
"It was a pretty good game," thought Esbjerg coach Mark Pederson. "I'm really happy that the team didn't give up at the end of the third period and tied it. Our determination was great and I hope I'll see the same in the next game in Helsinki. It’s a big win for us. In the first and second period it was quite back and forth, in the third they played strong. We still need a some point from the next game and you never know how the game in Helsinki will look like. But I’m sure we will play with the same attitude."
Sun, Sep 11 Esbjerg (h) 7-0
In their first three CHL games, IFK Helsinki had yet to collect a win. If that losing streak had reached four games, there wouldn't be a fifth this year. However, they got off the schneid in a big way by blowing out Esbjerg Energy 7-0, getting revenge for an overtime loss to the same team on Friday.
IFK Helsinki had the edge in play early, but that was expected. The more shots Mathias Sldrup saved, however, the more confidence he would get and the more frustrated the IFK players would become. It took until 12:13 for them to break through, with Lennart Petrell making a great move to cut in front of the net and backhand. Seldrup got a pad on his backhand deke attempt, but the puck was just lying in the crease and Petrell was able to get his stick back on it and tap it in.
In the meeting between the two teams on Friday, IFK Helsinki took the lead three times and Esbjerg answered all three times. But this time Helsinki added a second goal less than three minutes later – Seldrup stopped Petrell's shot, but Tomi Tuomisto was there to put in the rebound. Juhamatti Aaltonen made it 3-0 in the last minute of the first period with a wrister from the right-wing boards, and there was little doubt about who would win the game by that time.
Petrell and Aaltonen each added their second goals of the game in the first seven minutes of the second period, and IFK Helsinki went into cruise control. The game ended 7-0. In addition to Petrell's 2+1 output, Micke Asten also had a three-point game – all assists. Nicklas Backstrom only had to make 11 saves for the shutout.
“This was a good performance from our team," Asten said. "We got our offence going and that was the base of our game today. We scored seven goals and we haven’t scored so many goals in the CHL so far. That’s really positive.”
"Certainly their talent showed today," Esbjerg coach Mark Pederson said about the strength of IFK Helsinki in this game. "We had a heck of a week, though, taking the bus down to Zug and earning a point down there, then another great game back home and a win on Friday. We were up against some tough opposition, but the guys played their best and it was a great experience. We're the youngest team in the whole tournament and Denmark hockey is growing, and I hope this experience helps it continue to grow."