We'll make short work of the intro on this one and let you get down to the nitty gritty - ECL 10 Elite is rolling on and we've never been this excited about a season! Last time we checked out "The Big Two", which have been ruling the scene for quite some time already. Now it's time to move on to new subjects, which are the following:
You’ve heard their names before. Odds are you’ve faced them. In fact, they were both mentioned in part I of this preview. If any teams are to challenge favorites HAVU Gaming or Linköping HC for the title in ECL 10 Elite, odds are it’ll be either ECL 9 Pro Champions and IS Cup 4 silver medalists hReds (formerly “Delusion”) or JYP Jyvaskyla (formerly “Symphony”).
hReds has had quite the journey on their way to being considered an Elite title contender. Originally established ahead of early NHL 20-tournament IS Cup 4 under the team name “Delusion”, skilled forward trio Joakim @Joukki Nyholm, Perttu @Beniittto Kemppainen and Tuukka @Tuukka.R Röpelinen took the tournament by storm and led the team all the way to the finals where they were eventually defeated by HAVU. As there are no shortcuts to ECL Elite, next up for this team was ECL 9 Pro – a tournament they made short work of by finishing as the #1 overall seed during the regular season. It wasn’t until they came across Vesa Pompa HC – another new Elite team – in the playoff finals that they were finally challenged.
Even so, Delusion took the series and were crowned ECL 9 Pro Champions – ensuring a spot in Elite for ECL 10. With Casper @ICappeI Lundgren having been the team’s “loan” goaltender in IS Cup, gifted up-and-comer Niklas @uhNikke Nieminen manned the pipes for ECL 9 and performed outstandingly in his first Pro season. Chances are he’ll turn quite a few heads come the start of the Elite season so if you’re looking for a #HiddenGem, this guy is one to consider. On defense, veteran LD Janne @Janzuh Nyquist has been with the team since its inception and acts as the defensive fail-safe for the teams’ offense-first play style. ECL 10 will be Janzuhs fifth Elite season. On RD, the transfer of gifted offensive defender Ilmari @iilmarii Töyrylä from hReds to JYP after ECL 9 opened a hole that was filled by Teemu @Xteemuz Polttila. While a talented defender in his own right, xteemuzz would objectively be considered the wildcard on this roster. Finally, the team made another change as it was time for KingOfApes_ to fulfill his duty to the motherland and enlist in the Finnish military services for a time. To compensate for Apes assuming “inactive” status, the team brought in dangling wunderkid Niklas @NikkeDangles Tukiainen from the since-then folded team Butterfly Effect.
The Butterfly boys were on the verge of greatness in both IS Cup 4 and ECL 9 Elite but fell short on both occasions, leading its players to migrate to other teams.
JYP Jyvaskyla has had an equally interesting path to becoming ECL 10 pre-season favorites. Bursting onto the scene as Symphony in IS Cup 3 (eSM 2018), former Aapon Taikasauva captain Santeri @indi969 Pendolin led a star-studded roster to a bronze medal in their first tournament together. For ECL 7 Elite, Aapon became Symphony and indi969 recruited what would become a cornerstone of the team: center and puck-possession wizard Antti @tbnantti Kuittinen. Right away in their first Elite season as Symphony, the team made it all the way to the finals. After losing a tough battle against FILADELPHIA, the team lost a key piece as Ilmari @Buantso Lehkonen left to join Written In The Stars for ECL 8. The team failed to replicate their success in ECL 8, falling to Rusty Blades in the Quarterfinals and once ECL 9 rolled around, the only player left from the ECL 7 finals run was indi969 himself and backup goaltender, since promoted to starter, Lauri @Lauri Piipponen. Another first-round exit in ECL 9 lit a fire within indi969 and together with tbnantti, the center having now played five tournaments with the team, they set out to re-build the team and return it to its former glory.
Bringing RD iilmarii back after two seasons with Delusion, adding 1v1 virtuoso (and Finnish Champion) Kristian @kriketski17 Veijola to be their LW, Oskari @SIbeIius Grönroos as their starting goaltender and the highest scoring defender in ECL 9 Elite, Aaro @xDoumi Ruuhinen, to act as their LD certainly has given them the tools to once again compete for a title. To add to what has been a very successful off-season for the team between ECL:s 9 and 10; just days before ECL 10 Elite opened its doors the team signed a deal with professional hockey team JYP Jyväskälä of Finnish Liiga to act as their esports representatives. How about that?
You won’t ever see HAVU or Linköping shaking in their boots. It’s just not what they do. But if they ever did, it’d be because of either hReds or JYP Jyvaskyla.
Outside of Linköping, ECL 10 Elite features an additional two SHL teams: Färjestad BK and Luleå Hockey. Or, as the ECL historians would call them; Bucketeers and Northern Ascendancy.
Färjestad finished outside the playoffs in ECL 9 Elite but bounced back with a respectable top-4 finish in recent tournament eSHL – helped in part by the recruitment of HAVU defensive pairing Kristian-Mikael @Nassustelija Katajisto and Wille @willekunq Juntunen. The adjusted roster displayed a renewed sense of focus and energy, with cerebral center Christoffer @I-Maise-I Berntsson continually creating space for his teammates while allowing the HAVU defenders to attack at will. On the wings, Mattias @Tacterz Hjelm and Robin @Rubituss Söderqvist dodged, dipped, ducked, and slipped their way through opposing defenders and racked up respectable point totals between the two of them.
As expected, the HAVU defenders returned to their former team upon the completion of eSHL – leaving FBK with a problem on their hands. Who would replace such a skilled defensive duo? The answer was a creative one. The team moved gifted RW Rubituss to slot in at LD and recruited Harri @Totalii Joona from Checkmate to act as the teams RD – the Finnish defenders’ 7th straight season in ECL Elite. On forward, Rubituss’ RW spot was filled by none other than Sebastian @eBasstian Nagel, recruited from ECL Pro team (and fellow eSHL participant) Växjö Lakers. At LW, Tacterz decided to take a step back and act as more of a reserve. This problem was quickly solved by adding another Växjö player, goalscoring machine and reigning SCL champion Andreas @affelj96 Ljungberg.
With all the changes made to the FBK roster, predicting how they will finish in ECL 10 is no easy task. But judging by the gameplay they have shown when this writer has faced them in regular EASHL, they could very well surprise quite a few people and end up a playoff team.
For Luleå, not much has changed in the roster since their disappointing quarterfinal exit in eSHL against Leksand. The team looked poised to build on their impressive, yet somewhat surprising, top-4 finish in ECL 9 but instead took a step backwards during eSHL while never finding the team chemistry necessary to move forward. Since eSHL, Luleå has focused on re-establishing their basics in practice – “walk before you can run again”, as one player put it – and are entering the tournament with the hopes of re-discovering their ECL 9 magic. Left wing Ville @hpkfani Luukkonen is still to be considered the teams primary scoring threat, yet persistent rumors suggest the team still has one big, final piece of the puzzle to add.
Stay tuned for more.
Vesa Pompa HC, Gotham Knights and Ghetto Firebirds joined Delusion in advancing from Pro – all of them defeating “their” Elite opponent in the relegation/promotion battle.
Gotham Knights make their long-awaited return to Elite after spending ECL:s 8 and 9 in Pro as a top team and title contender. The team, led by captain and center Joni @ReDMisTi Kaikkonen, has been together for a long time and is one of the precious few teams in the community that have been around ever since ECL 1. The re-branding to “Gotham Knights” took place in ECL 5, whereas before that the team was known as “Refuse To Lose”. Other key players for the team include dangerous wingers Emil @Hanssonni Hansson and Joni @selänne8 Kurtti. Expect Gotham Knights to be hungry for success and with enough steps forward from the teams’ defense and goaltending, they very well might achieve it.
Ghetto Firebirds is another one of those teams that have been around for a long, long time – battling their way all the way from Lite in ECL 4 to finally reach the coveted Elite division in ECL 10. What a journey it has been for the team and what an experience for captain Keka @KepakkoFIN Muyima and players Joonas @Taettonov Siira and Ville @Vilze Systä, who have been around ever since the team first saw the light of day, to finally see the proud Firebird with an ECL Elite logo next to it. Stories like Ghetto Firebirds’ is really what the ECL divisional system is all about. With a healthy portion of skill, a powerful dedication to teamwork and an uncompromising attitude towards putting in the necessary work, advancement through the system is within your grasp. Look for the Firebirds to come out swinging with their stingy defense and hard-working offense – eager to prove they belong at the pinnacle of European 6v6 hockey.
Vesa Pompa HC was an expected addition to Elite, if you can ever really say something like that. If Delusion was the clear favorite in ECL 9 Pro, Vesa was definitely the second team on that ranking. And wouldn’t you know it – those are the exact teams that ended up in the finals. After giving Delusion a solid fight but failing to retrieve the Pro title, captain Johan @Lehmannens Lehmann and his team faced off with Brayce Phantoms in the relegation/promotion battle. The reigning SCL champions Vesa managed to defeat the four-time German champions Brayce in OT of Game 7 after coming back to tie the deciding game up in the final minute. With a core built around Lehmannens, fellow defender Anton @antoniomannen004 Svensander, star winger Henrik @Eken45jr Eklund and lightning-quick goaltender Edvin @Thunborg5 Thunborg, the team guest starred as Malmö Redhawks in the eSHL. A tournament in which they, with the help of HAVU forwards Tuukka @FlyerKungen Kuha and Risto @Dominointi Järvi, made it all the way to the finals against Linköping where they gave the eventual champions a good battle before securing a silver medal. Replacing two such prestigious forwards was no easy task but Vesa quickly found a solution by retaining their Finnish forwards Mikke @Nampa77 Nampajärvi and Olof @Spearzz_ Forsbacka, while adding Butterfly Effects former captain Jere @jergelii Jortama as the teams’ centerpiece. With a winning attitude and success in many of their previous tournaments, Vesa is a prime candidate to challenge the top teams for a solid playoff spot.
That'll be it for this time, we still have a handful of teams to go, which we'll take a closer look at tomorrow!
Next up; the final part of the ECL 10 Elite preview where we break down the remaining handful of teams. Some who took the hard way, some new organisations and finally, some familiar faces making a return. Stay tuned!