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Women’s Hockey Wednesday: 2019-20 SDHL season opens Friday

If you’re looking for elite level women’s hockey in a league format, head to Sweden.

Switzerland vs. Canada Women’s Ice Hockey
Jennifer Wakefield of Canada and Lara Stalder of Switzerland are two stars of the SDHL 2019-20 season.
Harry E. Walker/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Hockey season is here! Okay not so much here, but it is arriving in Sweden on Friday so close enough. The Svenska damhockeyligan (SDHL) kicks off their 2019-20 season on Friday, September 13 with all 10 teams in action.

With the CWHL gone and the Dream Gap Tour not a formal league, the SDHL stands out as the best women’s hockey league on the planet this season. It features players from around the globe, including more national team players than you can shake a stick at. Bonus, every single game will be broadcast this season, so those of you in Sweden will get to watch, and those of you from outside of Sweden will likely be able to get your hands on more highlights than ever before.

In a newly announced deal, 192 SDHL regular season games will be broadcast via the Swedish services Sportkanalen and C More, with another 25 games and the playoffs broadcast on SVT. This is the first time the league has had such extensive coverage.

With the focus on women's sports brought by the Women's World Cup this summer and attention to the issues in women's hockey in particular brought by the #ForTheGame and #FörFramtiden movements, the league has a unique opportunity to grab the spotlight. Done properly, the SDHL can show both fans and players not only the current state of the women's game but also what it could be.

The SDHL is a 10 team league and each team plays a 36 game regular season. As is fairly normal in Europe, a win is worth three points, an overtime win is two points and an overtime loss is one point. Eight teams make it to the playoffs. New as of last year, there are three playoff rounds, with each round being best of five. The 2019-20 champions were Luleå Hockey / MSSK, who also won the regular season. The final came down to the fifth game when Luleå beat Linköping HC by a score of 5-1.

Like the Swedish men’s league, the champions get gold helmets, which is a fun tradition.

The level of talent in the league ranges from Olympic and world champions, to some of the best players from nations still developing their hockey teams, to teenage rookies. In order of their regular season standings, here are a few of the players to watch on each team.

1. Luleå HF / MSSK

Luleå has now won the league title twice in a row and they’re sort of stacked. They have players from five different national teams this season, including Sweden, Finland, Japan, Denmark, and Hungary.

Their starting goalie is Sara Grahn, who was top of the league in save percentage last season with a .932 over 24 games. She’s been the starter for the Swedish national team since the 2014-15 season. They had four of the league’s top five scorers in points last season (Jenni Hiirikoski, Emma Nordin, Michelle Karvinen and Noora Tulus) and the SDHL’s top and third place goal scorers in Emma Nordin and Michelle Karvinen.

Japanese national team captain Chiho Osawa returns for her second year with the team and if you’re looking to scout Denmark and Hungary before their first appearance at the Top level World Championships this spring, keep an eye on veteran forwards Josefine Høegh Persson, Nicoline Söndergaard Jensen and Zsofia Jókai Szilágyi.

2. MODO Hockey

Although they finished the season in second place, MODO were swept in the semi-finals by Linköping HC. The team’s top scorer Michela Cava, who led the league with 64 points last season, departed for Brynäs IF in the offseason, so they’ll be looking to fill her spot. They did keep Czech starter Klara Peslarova who was second in the league in save percentage last season with a .925, so that’s all to the good.

MODO is one of the SDHL teams to benefit from the #ForTheGame movement, acquiring former Canadienne Katia Clement-Heydra and University of Manitoba captain Erica Rieder this year. Other players of note include Swedish national team players Sofia Engström and Olivia Carlsson, along with Marion Allemoz and Lore Baudrit from Team France (also Canadiennes alumnae), and University of North Dakota alumna Gracen Hirschy.

3. Linköping HC

Linköping came within a game of the championships last season and they’ll look to improve that record. They’re another team who lost their top scorer, as Kennedy Marchment joined HV71 over the summer.

Fans who watched the World Championships should recognize Pernilla Winberg from the Swedish team, Saana Valkama from Finland, and Japan’s Haruka Toko, making her SDHL debut this season. Sisters Zoe and Tori Hickel arrive fresh off a Clarkson Cup winning season with the Calgary Inferno, and NCAA fans will recognize former Boston University defender Savannah Newton.

4. Leksands IF

Leksands doesn’t have a lot of superstars, but you’ll still see some familiar names. Betty Jouanny from Team France, Lena Düsterhöft from Germany and Samantha Hanson, another former UND player. Rookies to watch include Maddie Rolfes, fresh off four seasons with the University of Wisconsin, and Emma Woods, who spent two years playing in China with the CWHL.

5. HV71

Fifth place HV71 has quite the collection of North Americans this season, including the only member of the 2018 US Olympic team in the league. Sidney Morin was not perhaps a standout player on that squad, but she certainly has some shiny hardware to show off. Captain Rosa Lindstedt is a stalwart of the Finnish blueline. Finland’s Sanni Hakala and Sweden’s Hanna Olsson are considered rising stars for their respective national teams. Olsson had a somewhat contentious season with Djurgardens last year that ended with her training with a men’s team for the last part of the season. She should be a positive acquisition for HV71. Another good pickup this summer is Kennedy Marchment, one of the league’s top goal scorers last season.

Starting goalie Alba Gonzalo is the only Spanish player in the league. Only 22, she played 30 games for the team last season and put up a .918 save percentage. Definitely someone to watch.

6. Djurgårdens IF

Canadian women’s national team forward Jennifer Wakefield has spent most of her career playing in the SDHL. She has had some issues with concussions recently, only playing 9 games for Brynäs IF last season, but she’s still considered one of the best players in the league and Djurgårdens will be expecting a lot out of her this year. The oldest skater on a team that includes far too many teenagers, if she can stay healthy, she’ll add a lot to this team.

Wakefield’s not the only Canadian on the team, either. She’s joined by a couple of rookies, Allie Munroe out of Syracuse University, and U Sports star Sarah Bujold, from St Francis Xavier University. The Djurgårdens roster also includes their captain, Norway’s Andrea Dalen, fellow UND alumna and captain of Denmark’s national team, Josefine Jakobsen, centre Josephine Asperpup, also from the Danish team, Josefine Holmgen from the Swedish national team, and starting goalie Lovisa Berndtsson.

7. Brynäs IF

This year’s Brynäs roster looks considerably different from what they had a year ago. As previously mentioned, last year’s top scorer (and former Toronto Fury) Michela Cava has transferred to Brynäs from MODO. So has Swiss Olympian Lara Stalder, who scored 38 points in 18 games last year with Linköping before she was sidelined with an injury. Brynäs has also picked up Denisa Křížová and Kateřina Mrázová, both Czech national team forwards who played in the NWHL last year (with Boston and Connecticut, respectively).

On defense, they also brought on eighteen-year-old Swedish wunderkind Maja Nylén Persson, who has spent the past five years with Leksands—yes, you are doing the math correctly there, Nylén Persson began her SDHL career at 13—and her fellow Swedish national team defender Johanna Olofsson. That’s a lot of added talent! Stalder alone is a coup; she’s one of the biggest stars in the league and will almost certainly be challenging for the scoring title if she stays healthy.

8. AIK

Another team that’s benefited from the chaotic state of women’s hockey in North America, AIK’s most important addition is in goal—they landed Finnish netminder Meeri Räisänen, who played for the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale last year. Furies fans will also recognize a new name on defense, as Sena Suzuki has come over to play in Sweden after the folding of the CWHL. Suzuki is a smart, steady presence on defense and we at PPP are very happy that we’ll get to watch her again this season, even if it’s not in Toronto.

At forward, Swedish national team star Fanny Rask has moved to AIK from HV71; Rask is a crafty, fun player to watch and a great acquisition. She’s joined by her Damkronorna teammates Lisa Johansson, Sabina Küller, and Erika Uden Johansson.

9. SDE HF

One of the two teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year, SDE HF is responding by hosting a bit of a Calgary Inferno reunion on their roster. This offseason, they’ve acquired goalie Lindsey Post, defenders Kelly Murray and Jacquie Pierri, and forward Kelty Apperson, all of whom were recent teammates on the Inferno. Pierri even came out of retirement to play in the SDHL this year.

To round out the North American additions, they also brought on Yale defender Julia Yetman and University of Manitoba defender Alexandra Anderson, as well as Amy Budde out of Lake Forest College. Leanne Ganney, who had a long career with the Great Britain national team, is returning at forward, and they’ve also added Pia Pren, a Slovenian forward who made an impression at last year’s Division IIA Worlds (she scored 20 points over the five-game tournament). This will be Pren’s first year in the SDHL, and it’ll be interesting seeing how she fares. Lili Pintér, a member of the Hungarian national team that was recently promoted to top level, will also be returning this year.

10. Göteborg HC

The other team that did not make the playoffs last year, Göteborg also went recruiting in North America, bringing over a handful of recent grads. On defense, they acquired Clarkson alum Emma Keenan, who scored a respectable 21 points in 40 games last year, as well as Mercyhurst alum Samantha Fieseler and Celine Tardif from the University of British Columbia.

Their starting goaltender last year was Nicole Jackson from Team Great Britain, and she will be joined in the crease this year by Team Japan backup Akane Konishi. With a few outliers, this is a very young team—the average age is 21 years old, and the youngest player (forward Frida Simonsen) is 14. It’s hard to see Göteborg as a real contender, but a roster this young could have some fun surprises.

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International hockey

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