Another ECL Elite season has passed which means another worthy champion has been crowned. Once again, a hearty round of applause from the community for ECL 5 Elite champions, Aapon Taikasauva. Now that the season is over, teams have been relegated, promoted, folded and re-made almost from the bottom up. Nevertheless, all the spectacle and activity that surrounds the Elite divison just goes to show one thing: there truly is no better place to be than the top tier of European EASHL hockey.
The regular season
In his preview ahead of the season, @janbonator mentioned SJK eSports, Written In The Stars, Carlsberg HC and MUKIMIEHET as his main "Contenders" to win the title. A suggestion that would prove quite wise as two of his picks ended up among the final four of the playoffs. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We begin by taking a look at the regular season.
Northern Stars started the season like shot out of a cannon and remained at the top of the standings for most of the regular season. Part of this was their already strong roster featuring players like @cHIIMEERa, @Floor17 and @Rullstolskalas being bolstered by star players like @tbnantti and @plee999, but part of it was also the pace in which NOS played their games. Hungry from their dissapointing finish last season, captain cHIIMEERa had his team at the very top of the "games played" column for almost the full season. A wise strategy it would turn out as the team won enough games to make the playoffs.
While janbonator put Aapon Taikasauva at the very top of his "challengers"-list in the Elite preview, he wasn't entirely sure if they would have time to find team chemistry before ECL 5 with all the transfers that had been made since last season. Aapon quickly put those doubts to rest by dominating just about every opponent for the duration of the regular season. They ended up finishing at the very top of the regular season standings ahead of the playoffs.
Locked in a tight battle for 2nd place were Finnish behemoth franchises SJK eSports (winner of ECL 4 Elite), Written In The Stars, Carlsberg HC (winner of ECL 4 Pro) and Dynasty (finalist in ECL 4 Elite). Propelled forward by strong leadership from captains @Dominointi, @FlyerKungen, @Joonas Paatiala and @Snapster - all four teams delivered solid regular seasons marked by high-skill plays and solid team defense. In the case of Carlsberg and Written, geared a bit more towards offensive creativity while Dynasty and SJK have long been known as two of the sturdiest defending teams.
Further down we find Northern Ascendancy who featured two of the top three scorers of the regular season, @MartindalexC and @Foppatofflan. It can be argued that no team is more difficult to defend against than NOR, at least when attacking on the rush. Creative offence was the hallmark of another solid regular season from this storied team.
Rounding out the teams who made the playoffs were the previously mentioned Northern Stars and surprise team Rusty Blades. Led defensively by superb goaltender @Supreex and hard-hitting defender (and captain) @Tanski87, the Blades got some timely scoring from @Lamsa and crew to just nab the 8th and final playoff spot ahead of MUKIMIEHET. Of course, finishing 8th meant getting matched up against #1 seed Aapon Taikasauva.
Of the teams who ended up in "No Mans Land", perhaps none were more suprising than MUKIMIEHET. However, their failure to make the playoffs arrived on the heels of reports saying there was unrest among the roster which in turn led to high-profile players @Erkki and @Aze leaving the team just before the trade deadline. It remains to be seen if captain MuKiMaisteri can keep the team together for ECL 6. Of the rest of the teams who ended up just outside the playoffs but avoided relegation - Sjukstugan, Kattiautomaatti and Silver Sword Griffins - all three were transplants from ECL Pro last season and perhaps needed a season of Elite tempo to get their legs under them before next season.
At the bottom of the standings, Swedish teams Synergy Hockey and Nordic Lightning were both relegated after battling valiantly but failing to live up to their own standards. TIKI TALK and Nordic Nightmare ended up in Elite/Pro relegation where NN decided to fold which meant TIKI took on the lower seed of the Pro playoffs.
As the playoffs began, we were treated to four sets of superb playoff series between Aapon Taikasauva - Rusty Blades, Carlsberg HC - Northern Stars, SJK eSports - Northern Ascendancy and Written In The Stars - Dynasty.
Carlsbergs series with Northern Stars ended up being quite the page-turner as both teams refused to give an inch. The series came down to game 7 where NOS finally emerged victorious. SJK eSports managed to shut down the offense of Northern Ascendancy while Written In The Stars charged at Dynasty like hungry rhinos and ended up sweeping the series.
The final four ended up being Aapon Taikasauva, Northern Stars, SJK eSports and Written In The Stars. Sadly the series between SJK and Written had to be decided by walkovers due to rule violations, which meant SJK advanced to the finals.
As for the playoff run of championship team Aapon Taikasauva, I'll let goaltender @Casper take it away:
We went in to the season with a completely new team. Only Indi969, jtorro1234, swagx88 and Viihret were the remaining players in Aapon from ECL 4. Indi969 made it clear that he wouldn’t accept his team having a poor season without a playoff run again. So he found a way to sign Puantso, Penatski, Nylander, xDoumi, ShaneC27 and me to the roster.
In the regular season our goal was to finish first in the standings to show everyone that we’re a team that no one wants to play. We won the regular season in style with seven points ahead of Carlsberg. We played amazing hockey in both ends of the ice and managed to score second most goals in the elite division and we also let in the fewest goals out of all teams.
Since we managed to finish first in the division our opponents in the first round of the playoffs were Rusty Blades.
In this series we learned two important things….
1. This team know how you play defense.
2. You better keep your head up when you play Tanski.
After two heavy losses we managed to win four straight games and move on to the next round winning 4-2 in the series.
In the second round we played Northern Stars. This was our toughest test of the season without a doubt… They were up by 3-1 in the series and we played really bad. Northern Stars managed to shut down our offense and we struggled with our own game in a way we never had done before. In games 5-7 we said to each other that we would try to change our game with playing with a much faster puck tempo and put some pressure on their defenders! It worked and we won three straight games and said ”Hasta la vista” to Northern Stars.
So here we were, four games away from our main goal with the season. For me personally it felt like nothing could stop us, especially after the amazing comeback in the series against Northern Stars.
We started really good in the first two games in the finals against SJK eSports. It was two dominant 4-0 wins we felt like this was our series.
In game 3 we faced a new SJK, they were much hungrier to win this time. We lost the game in a tough 1-2 OT game but after that we managed to win two straight games and secured Aapon Taikasauvas first ECL championship!
Now we're looking forward to a little bit of rest over the Christmas holidays before we prepare ourselves for ECL 6. We want to be the first team in ECL history to win two straight championships.
Thank you for this season!
Thank you indeed.
For next season, Elite will be joined by Pro promotees Evolution (champions), Unlucky Boys HC, Falun Coal Miners and Pata Hellalla.