We've at this point already turned our looks towards coming things and put the past ECL 9 season in our rearview mirror, but let me just hold you up for a second for this recap at how great the ninth iteration of the most prestigious division in Europe actually was. First and foremost, let me extend a thank you to all of our gamers who once again, as before - have proven their skill and passion to make all of this possible.
We kicked off in mid-November, shortly after an exciting IS Cup 4 had started the competitive season for us NHL gamers. It was an interesting season in the sense that we saw some new blood and old acquaintances at the top level, whereas a number of teams also changed colours even mid-season as the result of contract negotiations with various organisations coming to a close. Some of the new teams we were able to welcome were eSHL participants Linkoping HC, Farjestad BK, Lulea Hockey and Leksands IF but we also saw other organisations such as Roots and HAVU Gaming taking their first strides on the ECL ice.
Indications before the season were that the usual suspects, HAVU Gaming and Linkoping HC (previously FILADELPHIA) would be the duo to keep an eye on for another iteration of virtual hockey. Based on recent showings in the IS Cup 4, also Butterfly Effect was in great form ahead of ECL 9 and were expected to show up to play come puck drop. Well, as the season progressed it quickly became rather clear as these three juggernauts quickly set sail for an excursion of their own and gathered point after point in a pace of their own. Especially Linkoping and HAVU Gaming set themselves apart from the competition with a suffocating offensive pressure that leaves no space for the opposition to generate viable offense of their own. Both teams finished the regular season with impressive goal differentials and extremely low goals against averages. Butterfly Effect carried on their strong performances to the ECL and proved that they were serious contenders this season, as a result they followed close behind the power duo of LHC and HAVU.
Apart from the three top teams, Roots, Lulea Hockey and Unlucky Boys HC managed to crack the playoffs with some margin to the teams behind. These teams performed somewhere along the lines of what was expected from them, putting forth some very balanced efforts throughout the season and in that way justifying a playoff spot for themselves - a feat that must feel especially good for Unlucky Boys, who have been competing at the highest level for quite some time, but missed the playoffs narrowly for the past two seasons.
Moving on to the middle of the pack, we see some of the tightest competition within the division is quite some time. Positions 7-13 are all within a four point range of each other meaning that just a win or loss in any direction could have drastically changed the outlook of the playoff picture. Consistent performer Symphony had a surprisingly hard time and making the playoffs was actually out of their hands - losing five straight wasn't the ideal way to cap off the regular season. Luckily for them, the Notes had some help along the way and their competition didn't manage to overtake them. The final two playoff teams by an extremely narrow margin were Miracle and Symphony.
The bottom three teams held some surprises to be fair and managed to amass the biggest point totals for bottom teams since the introduction of the divisions framework. The final order was Almost Famous at 14th with a point total of 26, the previous seasons surprise playoff team BRAYCE Phantoms at 15th with 23 points and finally Leksands IF, who managed to avoid relegation in ECL 8, at 19 points. Eventually all teams in the relegation zone lost their relegation matchups, which infuses the division with a great amount of fresh skill for ECL 10.
As usual, the playoff contention in the ECL consists out of the eight best teams in the European scene - no exceptions on that part this season either. Going into the quarterfinals, some rather clear favourites existed for most of the series, barring the one between 4th seed Roots and 5th seed Lulea Hockey. This series finally ended up being the only one in which the lower seeded team managed to grab the win, with that also the only series of such variety for the duration of the playoffs. Roots did not play up to their potential and have since addressed their underlying issues with some personnel changes in the offseason.
Moving on to the semifinal stages, we were left with the absolute elite - three teams who have been very familiar with each other, battling at this stage of the tournament against one another in a bunch of various tournaments. Then we had Lulea, who managed to overpower Roots in their quarterfinal matchup and were looking to possibly cause an upset against heavy favourite Linkoping HC. The series finally didn't go Luleas way, as the score was kept close in some games, but there was really no doubt about the better team. Linkoping put forth an impressive effort and punched their ticket to the finals. The other series between dear rivals HAVU Gaming and Butterfly Effect was an exciting one indeed. Some time earlier, these two had went at it in the IS Cup 4 semifinals for the entire seven game series and this was going to be the one in which FLY comes back for redemption. Well, game seven it was once again, but no change in the end result as Butterfly Effect suffered a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals for the third time in the past year - all of these losses against HAVU. The tragedy has put captain @jergelii's faith to a test and the future of the team is currently unknown.
Eventually there can be only one, and that's what we're determining each iteration in the finals. For the second time straight on ECL ice, the matchup was between the two giants Linkoping HC and HAVU Gaming. A great battle was expected and that was surely what these two teams provided. The finals were divided into two gamedays, where the first three games were played on the first day and the rest would be played on the second gameday. HAVU quickly took control by winning the first two games in the series, but luckily for Linkoping, they manage to snag a victory to end the first gameday, putting the series at 2-1 for the pause. One of the turning points of the series was seen with a mere 2 seconds left in game 3, where LHC was ahead by a goal and HAVU managed to generate an almost certain scoring chance, but @ICappeI in net shuts them down with potentially the biggest save of the season.
See the save and games 1-3 of the finals below: (save sequence starts at around 1:45:00)
As the series continue on the second gameday, HAVU is the more eager team to win as they grab the win in game 4, putting the series at a stranglehold. However, Linkoping quickly shows that they simply do not recognise the concept of giving up. The white lions mount a comeback for the ages consisting of three straight one goal games, including an overtime victory in game 6. All in all, it can be stated with certainty that this series solidifies this matchup as a definite classic within NHL gaming. Linkoping secures the championship and regains the title!
Playoff MVP: @Eki, Linkoping HC
Most Points: @Eki, Linkoping HC, 44 Goals, 71 Assists, 115 Points in 47 games
Most Goals: @Vilupoika, Butterfly Effect, 58 Goals, 29 Assists, 87 Points in 42 games
Most Assists: @Eki, Linkoping HC, 44 Goals, 71 Assists, 115 Points in 47 games
Most Hits by a Forward: @hpkfani, Lulea Hockey, 243 Hits in 40 games
Best +/-: @PleeMaker , Linkoping HC, +75 in 47 games
Most Points by a Defenseman: @xDoumi, Butterfly Effect, 2 Goals, 45 Assists, 47 Points in 42 games
Most Goals by a Defenseman: @willekunq, HAVU Gaming, 10 Goals, 32 Assists, 42 Points in 46 games
Most Assists by a Defenseman: @xDoumi, Butterfly Effect, 2 Goals, 45 Assists, 47 Points in 42 games
Most Hits by a Defenseman: @FakiiR1, Miracle, 278 Hits in 34 games
Best goaltender (SV%): @Hansulinho, HAVU Gaming, 247 saves on 288 shots, SV% 85.76% in 34 games
Thank you all for yet another successful ECL season, we'll be back with more in the near future! In the mean time you can keep up with one of the ongoing leagues, such as eSHL, RCL or GCL.
See you on the ice!