Scouting Report: Nottingham Panthers’ CHL Opponents.

The Champions Hockey League draw has been made this morning, and it will see Nottingham Panthers left to travel on a whistle-stop tour of Northern Europe, playing Germany’s Hamburg Freezers, Sweden’s Lulea HK, and Finland’s Lukko Rauma.

While the Panthers aren’t getting the true “top tier” of European hockey at the moment, (none of the teams they will face are national champions) are getting several of the better teams in their leagues…Lulea have played in the Swedish Elite League since 1984, while Lukko Rauma (Rauma Locks-well, nobody said Finnish names were that good) are a team even older than the Panthers, having been around since 1936. Hamburg, too, are one of the richer teams in the DEL and have counted several NHLers amongst their roster in the past.

So, for those curious, here’s a lowdown on the three teams.

LULEA HF (SWEDEN)

Colours: Red, white, yellow, black

Home Arena: Coop Arena (The Dolphin), Lulea, 6,300

Formed: 1979

Domestic titles: 0

2013/14 finish: 5th.

Lulea are probably not the “glamour” team in Panthers’ group (none are true European “glamour teams” in fact-the closest to one are probably the Hamburg Freezers) but they are a very useful one.

The northernmost team in Sweden, they finished 5th last year and already have most of their roster built for next season with a mix of experienced native players, a few Canadians and youngsters coming through. Few of the names will be massively familiar to those outside Sweden, but they have picked up former Edmonton Oiler Lennart Petrell (95 NHL games and 376 in Finland’s top league among others) this off season. Other names to look out for include Mark Owuya in net (possibly the world’s only “rapping goalie” with his “Mark In Da Park” alter ego that was a source of much amusement in his time in North America) and veteran Per Ledin, as well as the Abbott brothers, Chris and Cam. Like all the teams in the CHL, they’ll probably provide one hell of a test for the Panthers, and certainly the trickiest travel…Lulea is a ten-hour drive, eleven hour train ride or ninety-minute flight from Stockholm. It’s also the centre of Sweden’s lace industry historically, so it has that in common with Nottingham.

LUKKO RAUMA (FINLAND)

Colours: white, blue, yellow

Home Arena: Kivikylan Areena, Rauma (5,400)

Formed: 1936

Titles: 1

2013/14 finish: 3rd

You know the Panthers go on about their “history” and being formed in 1945? Lukko have nine more years, having been in existence since 1936. Lukko is Finnish for “locks” (well, no-one said the names had to make sense) and they boast a proud list of NHL alumni, including former Manchester Storm star Janne Niskala and current Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta.

Their current roster is almost exclusively Finnish, aside for one American in career ECHLer Ryan Zapolski in net. Players to look out for include the explosive Toni Koivisto and experienced goalscorer Ville Vahalahti.

Rauma is another tricky travel trip-four hours from Helsinki by road, or an hour’s flight to Pori airport from Helsinki, followed by another 45 minute drive. They don’t make the trip easy, these Scandinavian teams. As for trains…forget it. Rauma has no passenger service, and again Pori is the nearest option…4 hours from Helsinki via Tampere. But the old town is beautiful, and well worth a trip.

HAMBURG FREEZERS (GERMANY)

Formed: 1999 (as Munich Barons, moved to Hamburg in 2002)

Colours: Light Blue, Navy, Gray and White

Home Arena: O2 World, Hamburg (12,947)

Titles: 0

2013/14 finish: 1st in league, lost in semis of POs

Hamburg are without doubt the “glamour team” of this group-the biggest arena, the most expensive players (there’s 1215 games of NHL experience on the roster the Panthers will be facing) and probably the team who’ll be most hopeful of progressing. The Freezers dominated the league season of the DEL last year, amassing 102 points on their way to a regular-season 1st place finish before being beaten by eventual PO winners and fellow Champions Hockey League competitors EHC Ingolstadt in the semis.

Their roster is full of names that will be familiar to avid NHL and Euro hockey watchers-from former Pittsburgh Penguin Sebastian Caron and German international Dimitrij Kostchnew in net, former NHLers Duvie Westcott (Columbus), Mathieu Roy (Edmonton) and German international Christoph Schubert (Ottawa) on defence and a forward corps containing former Washington Capital Matt Pettinger amongst a host of very skilled European and Canadian players, including top scorer and German international Jerome Flaake. Hamburg are a very, very good team indeed, and will likely provide the toughest test for the Panthers in a group that will see them as very, very much the underdogs.

From personal experience, Hamburg itself is a wonderful place to visit-one of the largest ports in Europe and with nightlife that’s world-famous, particularly the slightly sleazy delights of the Reeperbahn and its assorted areas. It’ll probably be the highlight of the campaign for Panthers fans both on the ice and off it. Just watch your wallets (and the bodily organs close to them) if you go down the wrong street in St.Pauli, lads and lasses…

So, there you are. A brief guide to the three teams Nottingham will be facing in the CHL. Now, we’ll see how the adventure plays out.

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