For the tenth season of our beloved ECL we truly want to bring you something special. We're stepping up our game and aim to deliver on that promise. It's customary for us to release a preview before the season and this one is no exception, but for a special season we feel that it's only right to bring in some special talent - that's why your very own Hampus @l-Furyan-l Duvefelt will be delivering this seasons ECL Elite Preview. l-Furyan-l is a name you know very well from the virtual ice as the man possesses the merit of being one of the most prolific offensive defensemen of the scene for quite some time already. Off the ice, Hampus has made a name for himself as a talented writer both on the traditional- and virtual hockey side of things. We've got a lot of action to look ahead to - let this be the start of yet another great season!
The arrival of the global pandemic known as COVID-19 has brought about quite a few changes to life as we know it. While these changes – the arrival of the phenomenon “social distancing”, for example – won’t be permanent, they have certainly had an impact on most of us, if not all of us.
Perhaps you have a friend or relative that has fallen ill. Perhaps you yourself have been battling the virus. Perhaps you’ve lost your job as a consequence of the radical changes in consumer behavior around the globe. Perhaps you’ve even lost someone close to you.
In short, things aren’t great. And what’s worse is that no one can accurately predict how long we’ll be in this predicament.
Still. As Harvey Dent of The Dark Knight (2008) would say – you know, before he turned all evil and homicidal – “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you: the dawn is coming”.
As we wait for the sun to come up and illuminate our path forward, we could all use a distraction. Something to take our minds off headlines of pain and suffering. So, with every sport from Formula 1 to curling canceled or put on indefinite hold – not to mention our favorite sport of ice hockey – and guidelines in most countries suggesting that we stay at home as much as possible, what could be better than some competitive esports?
I mean, not to make light of the current situation but… as gamers, we’re kind of used to staying inside and maintaining distance to people.
All kidding aside, with the whole world essentially put on pause we can and should consider ourselves lucky that we are still able to do what we love on a daily basis: play and compete in NHL 20. And who knows – while we are busy battling our rivals for supremacy in the four separate divisions of the European Championship League, we might even be able to offer a sliver of happiness to someone who is going through a tough time; be it a spectator or a player.
If you ask me, that’s not "nothing".
The competitive aspect should of course not be forgotten. After all, this is NHLGamer and 6v6 EASHL hockey is what we do. So, let’s talk competition. For the purposes of this article, that means taking a long, hard look at the 16 teams set to participate in the premier division of European 6v6 gaming, ECL Elite. For the seventh edition of this ultra-tough division – the first three seasons of ECL did not feature divisional separation – we begin by taking a look at two teams that are no strangers to winning. Teams many would say stand the best chance of claiming the coveted title of ECL Grand Champion.
And so, without further ado, what better way to start than by focusing on…
THE BIG TWO
Their dominant run as we know it began in November of 2018, in IS Cup 3 (eSM 2018). That’s when the team known as FILADELPHIA secured their first championship title. They did so by defeating a team known at the time as Written In The Stars.
Make a mental note of that because the rivalry of these two teams had only just gotten started.
Mere weeks after winning the IS Cup 3 title, “FILA” added another trophy to their collection – none other than the ECL 7 Elite title: their first championship win in Elite. Only this time their opponent wasn’t Written In The Stars, it was newly established team Symphony.
However, as the calendar year of 2018 ended and 2019 began, the balance of power shifted.
ECL 8 Elite saw FILA face off in the finals against Written In The Stars; a re-match of the IS Cup 3 finals. Only this time it was “SKY” who brought home the championship. SKY proceeded to win the “just for fun”-tournament Spring League and followed that up by signing a contract with professional esports organization HAVU Gaming.
Next up was the last event of EA SPORTS NHL 19; the summer tournament of FCL (eSM 2019). Once again, we were treated to a matchup in the finals between FILA and HAVU. The now green-and-black HAVU continued their dominant end to NHL 19 by defeating FILA and bringing home their third straight tournament win.
Picture: HAVU Gaming celebrating FCL Championship 2019. Photo credit: SEUL / Arttu Kokkonen
Along came the fall and EA SPORTS NHL 20 – but HAVU weren’t done winning.
The first tournament of NHL 20, IS Cup 4, saw HAVU bring home their fourth (!) straight title – defeating newly created team Delusion in the finals. FILA finished a (for them) disappointing third and with that decided changes needed to be made. Delusion goaltender Casper @ICappeI Lundgren was brought in to replace previous net-minding stalwarts Oskari @sibeelius Grönroos and Mika @FinKonna Paasikontu.
With that, it was time for the balance of power to shift once more.
With the arrival of ICappeI, FILA proceeded to sign an esports deal with Swedish hockey organization Linköping HC of the SHL – the highest tier of professional hockey in Sweden. Switching from the orange stag of FILA to the White Lion of Linköping, LHC dove head-first into ECL 9 and decisively mopped the floor with most opponents. Sporting an ECL Elite-record 27-2-1 (tied with SKY from ECL 6), LHC claimed the #1 overall seed in the regular season and worked their way through Symphony and Luleå Hockey in the playoffs to reach the finals… where none other than, you guessed it, HAVU awaited them. With HAVU up 3-1 in the best of-7 series, LHC dug deep and found another gear – turning the series around and winning their first title since ECL 7.
Linköping surfed their new-found wave of success all the way to winning the inaugural eSHL championship – including a win in the finals against a Malmö Redhawks team that featured HAVU players Tuukka @FlyerKungen Kuha (RW), Risto @Dominointi Järvi (C), Hannes @Hansulinho Kettunen (G, reserve) and Ilmari @Buantso Lehkonen (LW, reserve) on loan.
Picture: Linköping HC celebrating eSHL Championship 2020. Photo credit: Elias Gammelgård
To summarize: in the last eight tournaments organized by NHLGamer (not including the differently formatted Summer Cup or the inaugural edition of the SCL where neither team had a chance to participate), FILADELPHIA/Linköping HC have won four and Written In The Stars/HAVU Gaming four – including four finals where they’ve been pitted directly against each other. That’s a near unprecedented dominance not seen on the NHL esports scene since Swedish teams Northern Stars and Unknown were lining up tournament wins in the previous gen (pre-NHL 16) of the game.
The way Linköping and HAVU have made competitive NHL 6v6 gaming a two-horse race in the past 18 months (or NHLs 19 and 20, for those keeping track) almost defies explanation – bringing about comparisons to the famous rivalry in Spanish football league La Liga between standout clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
And wouldn’t you know it?
Whenever these two behemoths of NHL gaming get matched up against each other, especially in the playoffs, you will usually find at least 5-10 comments in the NHLGamer Twitch stream – because let’s face it, their matchups should never not be broadcasted – calling the matchup the “El Clasico of NHL gaming”.
It does have a nice ring to it. And the rivalry is just as fierce.
I’m talking about the battle between bearded beasts ICappeI and Hansulinho in net, the two-way talent in two of the strongest defender pairings of all time (Kristian-Mikael @Nassustelija Katajisto & Wille @willekunq Juntunen for HAVU; Aleksi @loimmu Loimuvirta & Joel @jtorro1233 Tourunen for LHC) and the matchup of six of the best forwards NHL esports have to offer: the above mentioned trio of FlyerKungen, Dominointi and Puantso facing off against Erik @Eki Tammenpää, Paul @PleeMaker Arontie and Joonas @Juunas Paatiala.
With ECL 10 fast approaching and both teams looking as strong as ever, can anyone really be blamed for predicting another matchup in the ECL Elite finals between HAVU and LHC?
I certainly wouldn’t put it past them.
Next up; the second half of the ECL 10 Elite preview where we break down the remaining 14 teams. The challengers, the new arrivals and which teams and players to keep an extra eye out for.