With Saturday night and game seven of the finals still in fresh memory, what a way it was to end the season. The past ECL was a wild run with a diverse selection of storylines all around the league, perhaps more so than usually. As customary, we'll be taking you through the events of the past in this snapshot into ECL 10 Elite.
First of all, on behalf of NHLGamer, I'd like to extend a thank you to our sponsors Prisma Gaming and IS Esports, without whom none of this would have been possible. It was a record-setting season and we're proud to have hosted a league with the biggest prize pool yet. We're at a good place as a community - a strong foundation is built and the trend is looking great! Naturally, we also want to thank the players who are at the very core of all that we do, for putting on such a show over the course of the season. Last but not least, thank you also to each and every one of you who have tuned in for a stream, given a like on social media or shared the notion of our league with a friend - your input to growing the community is invaluable.
To differ from the usual, the season had a fair bit of uncertainty at the start. Live-events were put on hold due to the still ongoing COVID-19 situation which naturally didn't effect the online side of things but let's be frank - all of us love that live action. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances out of our control we couldn't deliver on that front this time, but as things slowly get back to normal we're looking forward to providing the next live-event soon enough.
With the eSHL jumpstarting things, we saw a great influx of new organisations into the scene before ECL 10, which naturally is greatly appreciated. Some of these new teams included JYP Jyvaskyla, hREDS, KOVA Esports and SJ Gaming, who joined competition at the Elite level. Out of the new orgs, JYP and hREDS immediately signed up for title contention and put up a warning for HAVU and Linköping - a duo that had been reigning supreme for quite some time already. As seen in the final standings of the regular season, competition was tough. JYP came in hot right out of the gate and didn't let up, managing to close out the competition and secure a regular season win, whereas LHC and HAVU performed along the expected level. On the other hand, hREDS came in fourth but due to a less ideal start to the season, the talented bunch didn't quite keep up in pace with the other three big names. None of the four top teams made large adjustments over the course of the season, as hREDS were the only team to really have rotation in their lineup when founding member Tuukka @Tuukka.R Röpelinen stepped in for a few games here and there.
The top four was a collective according to expectations, whereas the rest of the playoff-bound teams could have been a multitude of teams from the wide selection of remaining competitors. After a tough start, Unlucky Boys HC managed to pull it together by acquiring familiar face Ville @Viltzup Poutiainen and finished the season in 5th place with one of the hottest streaks in the league. Close behind came German powerhouse BRAYCE Phantoms, who have been causing waves in the community for a long time due to their impressive skill level, but also due to being the only Elite team from outside the Nordic countries. This has come with some downside for BRAYCE, since they have had trouble finding adequate practice games - an issue which evidently hasn't had too much of an effect on their play in the end. In seventh place, we find Roots who played a very balanced season. The team consists of some of the more experienced gamers in the scene, which was evident in their play throughout the season. While the team dropped points in some unfortunate matchups, they also managed to steal some important games against the likes of JYP and hREDS. Closing out the segment of playoff-bound teams is Farjestad BK, who were a somewhat unexpected addition to the playoff race with a high player turnover in the offseason. Both wingers were new faces, a new defenseman joined the squad and even the starting goaltender was acquired before the season. Despite being so new to each other, FBK managed to stay around .500 throughout the season and eventually edged out Checkmate for a spot among the top eight teams.
Moving on to the bottom half of the standings, we have four teams within a points margin of each other - possibly a mere point away from making it into the postseason. Checkmate, KOVA Esports, Vesa Pompa HC and GHETTO FIREBIRDS all put forth very solid efforts but ended up coming just short this time around. Out of these teams Vesa Pompa and GHETTO were making their first run in the Elite division and immediately managed to make an impact around the league. Vesa Pompa had a difficult start but started improving after acquiring legendary scoring machine Vili @Vilupoika Häkkinen, who naturally finished with the highest points/game average in the team - by far. GHETTO FIREBIRDS came in with a bang and made questionable ECL Elite history right out of the gate. The team took a whole 12(!) games to overtime throughout the season and managed to win the extra point in only one of these contests. With eight victories, the newcomers pushed to 12th place only a point away from tying 8th place (by points).
The unfortunate part about sports is that someone always has to lose, and that's what the bottom four teams did a lot of this season. SJ Gaming had a solid start but drifted in the wrong direction rather quickly, dropping down to 13th which puts them in a relegation battle against HanaaHC (2-1 for SJ currently). Lulea Hockey has been in a somewhat turbulent state for the past few months with a disappointment in the eSHL and now not being able to produce as expected in the ECL either. The team faced off against Reality Check in a relegation battle and retained their Elite spot with four straight wins. Gotham Knights came in 15th place in their return to the Elite level, not the kind of performance the team would have hoped for, but one of the most long-lived teams in the scene now has a chance to redeem themselves against Pro runner-up Enigma in a relegation battle. The last team and therefore facing direct relegation was Almost Famous, who made a brave attempt at coming back from losing almost their entire roster in the offseason, but the struggle was in vain this time.
I'm going to start off by using one of the most overused hockey clichés known to man - the playoffs are a different beast. That's the reality that Farjestad BK force fed JYP with in the quarterfinals, running over the #1 seed in five games with their unorthodox stretch passing and excellent play by goaltender Johan @Rundqviiist Rundqvist. Linkoping HC made quick work of Roots whereas HAVU Gaming provided the same treatment for BRAYCE Phantoms, who weren't a match for the #3 seed this time. One of the most exciting quarterfinal series in a while was seen between hREDS and Unlucky Boys HC. The series was taken all the way to a game 7, where Unlucky Boys looked like a certain winner with around 30 seconds to spare in the third period of game seven. UB were awarded a powerplay when Teemu @Xteemuz Polttila headed to the box for hooking at 59:34. After that - mayhem ensues. Joakim @Joukki Nyholm takes of directly from the faceoff, splits the defense and ties the game up shorthanded with 20 seconds to spare in the game. The teams headed into overtime and it was evident that UB had the wind knocked right out of them, as hREDS had the control for most of the 15 minutes until Niklas @NikkeDangles Tukiainen put the nail in the coffin and sent hREDS to the semifinals.
Farjestad BK providing one of the greatest upsets in ECL playoff history certainly shuffled the playoff picture around a bit, but that did not stop the inevitable from happening. Both Linkoping HC and HAVU Gaming were set on making it back to the finals and getting their shot at the title. With 4-1 victories in both series, there was really no question about who we were going to se fight it our for the ultimate prize.
The ECL 10 Elite Finals were a two-day event, this time online due to the COVID-19 pandemic putting plans on hold when it comes to live-events. Both Linkoping HC and HAVU Gaming had been at this stage multiple times before, in fact three straight times in the ECL between the two of them. Going into the first three games on Friday, tensions were high as the stakes were higher than ever before. Eventually we saw some exciting and low-scoring hockey for three games straight, all ending in a 2-1 result in favor of HAVU Gaming who were set on reclaiming the throne. Going into Saturdays games with a 3-0 chokehold on the series almost set the stage for an early finish but that was not what LHC had on their mind. The reigning champions completed an impressive comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in ECL 9 and looked to do even better this time when they came back step by step eventually tying the series at 3-3 and pushing the finals into a game seven that was one for the ages - a phrase that seems to be repeated opver and over again when it comes to battles between Linkoping and HAVU. Once again, the seventh game of the series was an intense back and forth battle that wasn't finished until overtime with who better to close out the season than HAVU Gaming captain Tuukka @FlyerKungen Kuha, who managed to find an open opportunity head-to-head with LHC goaltender Casper @ICappeI Lundgren.
Here's the madness that ensued:
Playoff MVP: Hannes @Hansulinho Kettunen, HAVU Gaming
Most Points: Paul @PleeMaker Arontie, Linkoping HC, 78 Goals, 44 Assists, 122 Points in 46 games
Most Goals: Paul @PleeMaker Arontie, Linkoping HC, 78 Goals, 44 Assists, 122 Points in 46 games
Most Assists: Erik @Eki Tammenpää, Linkoping HC, 42 Goals, 75 Assists, 117 Points in 46 games
Most Hits by a Forward: Kristian @kriketski17 Veijola, JYP Jyvaskyla, 409 Hits in 35 games
Best +/-: Joel @jtorro1233 Tourunen, Linkoping HC, +91 in 46 games
Most Points by a Defenseman: Aleksi @loimmu Loimuvirta, Linkoping HC, 13 Goals, 43 Assists, 60 Points in 46 games
Most Goals by a Defenseman: Wille @willekunq Juntunen, HAVU Gaming, 14 Goals, 27 Assists, 41 Points in 46 games
Most Assists by a Defenseman: Aleksi @loimmu Loimuvirta, Linkoping HC, 13 Goals, 43 Assists, 60 Points in 46 games
Most Hits by a Defenseman: Saku @Sakkem Saaranluoma, GHETTO FIREBIRDS, 245 Hits in 30 games
Best goaltender (SV%):Hannes @Hansulinho Kettunen, HAVU Gaming, 340 saves on 403 shots, SV% 84,37 in 46 games