Friday, November 21, 2008

Champions League....(hockey)


For those of you that are familiar with the champions league format in
soccer, there is also one in hockey in europe in the past few years clubs from russia have won the tournament, but this year the tournament gained official standing, sponsorships, TV coverage and contracts.  It's goal is to become the premier standard for club competition in europe... It has had fantastic online and TV coverage all for free with an easy to follow website, here is the link if anyone is interested.  

Bit of history as recorded on the CHL website:

1965-1997: 

Almost ironically, the original idea of a European cup was inspired by football's FIFA European Cup. It came from IIHF president Günther Sabetzki and the first pan-European club team tournament was announced at the 1965 IIHF congress in Finland.

The 31-year history of the European Cup proved two things beyond a show of a doubt.

First, the tournament provided ample evidence of why the CSKA Moscow (Red Army) team was universally considered the world’s premier club outside the NHL. But the downside of that dominance is that it also showed that it’s hard to sustain interest in a competition in which the outcome is almost a foregone conclusion.  

Beginning in 1968-69, the Soviet champions got involved, and the competition might as well have been renamed the CSKA Cup, because CSKA Moscow won the championship 19 times in 21 years, often pummeling their overmatched opponents by double-digit margins. While this certainly affirmed the breathtaking skills of CSKA, it didn’t exactly make for competitive hockey when the outcome was a foregone conclusion. 

The purpose of the European Cup, after all, was not to stage a hockey version of the Harlem Globetrotters versus the hapless Washington Generals. But CSKA was often so much better than their opponents that the only thing missing was the “Sweet Georgia Brown” theme music as CSKA played keep-away with the puck and scored at will. 

CSKA’s toughest competition often came from other Soviet clubs. When the Red Army won its second European Cup (1969-70), the finals were essentially an IIHF-sanctioned derby between CSKA and Spartak Moscow at the legendary Luzhniki Arena. Some 28,000 spectators witnessed the two final games, and were treated to some outstanding hockey.

Unfortunately, few teams outside of CSKA were even interested in trying to compete in the tournament. The prize money was minimal and the cost of travel was high. It was a constant struggle to find willing teams and to ensure that games took place as scheduled..

On a yearly basis, games were either postponed or simply canceled for logistical reasons. Teams often forfeited games willingly rather than travel to away games. They also double-booked dates at their home arenas– the European Cup games rarely took priority.  Unfortunately, many potential participants actually considered their eligibility for the European Cup to be a drawback – not a perk – of winning their national championship.

It wasn’t until 1973-74 that all scheduled pairings and games were actually played, after interminable postponements. How interminable? The competition didn’t get finished until September 1975, two full years after the first game was played! The competition ended, as per usual, with a CSKA Moscow championship. 

Likewise, the 1977-78 schedule still had not been completed by the time the 1978-79 competition was slated to get underway. In order to catch up, the IIHF declared that the winner of the 1978-79 finals – CSKA Moscow, naturally – would be credited as the winner of the previous year’s tournament as well. CSKA’s 3-1 won over HC Poldi Kladno is believed to be the only time a team has ever won two championships with a single victory.


1997-2000:

In the inaugural 1996-1997 season, the EHL had 20 clubs organized into five divisions. That grew to 24 teams and six divisions the following year but contracted to 16 teams in four divisions by 1999-2000.

The inaugural winners, TPS Turku, were not a big surprise to anyone. But the second winner, VEU Feldkirch – which beat Russia’s Dynamo Moscow in a 3-2 final – were an unexpected champion.

The IIHF decided to suspend the EHL after 2000 and study ways to boost visibility and interest around Europe. For instance, the IIHF consult with European broadcasters starting from the 2001-2002 season. An international club competition, in the tradition of the previous European Cup, was staged by the IIHF for the 2000-2001 season, but there was no official EHL season.


2000-2008:

The IIHF European Champions Cup was created into become a stepping stone to an extended European club competition. This time around, the tournament was limited to the champions from the different leagues and the tournament was conducted in whirlwind fashion with a bigger prize budget to reward the championship team.

Participation in this tournament was determined by the current IIHF national team rankings. The top six European countries were eligible to send their reigning champions to compete in the ECC. The six teams were divided into two divisions of three teams each. After a two-game round robin, the winners of each division face off for the championship. The winners divided 45 percent of the prize money.

The prize money itself grew substantially. By 2007, the total purse was 800,000 Swiss francs (about $640,750 U.S.), with the second-place team splitting 25 percent, the third- and fourth-place finishers getting 10 percent and the fifth- and sixth-place teams dividing 5 percent. The victor also received the Silver Stone Trophy, the prize formerly awarded to the EHL champion.

The final final tournament was played at the New Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, from Jan. 10-13, 2008. The competing teams were then-reigning Russian Super League champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk, 2006-07 Czech Extraliga titleholder Sparta Prague, Elitserien’s Modo Hockey Örnsköldsvik, SM-Liiga victor Kärpät Oulu and Slovak Extraliga winner Slovan Bratislava.

Throughout the tournament’s brief existence, Russian teams dominated from the outset, with a Russian Super League team winning every tournament. and this year was no exception. Metallurg won the 2008 Silver Stone Trophy, defeating Sparta 5-2 in the championship game. The previous tournament victors were Russian Super League teams Avangard Omsk (2005), Dynamo Moscow (2006) and Ak Bars Kazan (2007).

The stage is now set for the Champions Hockey League. 



* Side note the two russian teams are still in and both facing each other in semi's and both plus one Swedish team are  undefeated. If you like hockey this is a treat.

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