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Luck of the Draw: groups known

The scene in Cologne just before the start of the CHL Group Stage Draw.
© Champions Hockey League

Read below to see which teams will play in each of the eight groups for the 2017-18 Champions Hockey League season.

by Derek O'Brien and Luke Fisher

COLOGNE – The Champions Hockey League Group Stage Draw is complete, and everybody now knows who they will be facing during the CHL Group Stage, which starts on Thursday, 24 August and finishes on Wednesday, 11 October. 

The teams in Pot 4 were drawn first, followed by Pots 3, 2 and 1. The resulting groups are as follows:

Group A: Banska Bystrica, Grizzlys Wolfsburg, Red Bull Salzburg, Tappara Tampere.

Group B: Stavanger Oilers, Malmo Redhawks, KalPa Kuopio, Kometa Brno.

Group C: Neman Grodno, JYP Jyvaskyla, EV Zug, Vienna Capitals.

Group D: Esbjerg Energy, Ocelari Trinec, Adler Mannheim, HV71 Jonkoping.

Group E: Cardiff Devils, HC Davos, Bili Tygri Liberec, Vaxjo Lakers.

Group F: Nottingham Panthers, Mountfield Hradec Kralove, TPS Turku, SC Bern.

Group G: Comarch Cracovia, IFK Helsinki, Brynas Gavle, Red Bull Munich.

Group H: Gap Rapaces, KAC Klagenfurt, ZSC Lions Zurich, Frolunda Gothenburg.

One of the interesting results of the Draw is SC Bern together with TPS Turku. Bern head coach Kari Jalonen spent four seasons in Turku as a player and five more seasons as a coach. 

"I lived there, I coached there and won the championship there, so it's very special for me," Jalonen admitted. On the continued success of Swiss teams in the CHL, he said: "All of the teams have two really good lines and our top teams have four good lines, so hopefully most of our teams go to the playoff round."

While Swiss clubs were successful last season, the CHL has been tough on German clubs. One of the DEL's top teams, Adler Mannheim, has its work cut out if it wants to advance past the Group Stage.

"It's a pretty tough group," Mannheim head coach Sean Simpson figures about Group D. "I think all the groups are very competitive. I think having to qualify for the competition now makes it a lot more interesting and exciting for the fans. We know we've got a difficult group but our goal is to get into the playoff stage." 

Simpson, who coached ZSC Lions Zurich to a surprising CHL win back in 2008-09, said of the prospect of a German team finally advancing to the Quarter-Finals or beyond: "We all know the Swedes, Finns and Czechs have great teams, but I'm a big believer in Swiss and now German hockey. We have good leagues in both countries and a lot of teams here that can surprise." 

Mannheim will be entering their fourth straight CHL, but several new teams are taking part, including Czech champions Kometa Brno. With the Stavanger Oilers, Malmo Redhawks and KalPa Kuopio, Kometa will have to do some travelling, but it should be interesting from the perspective of their rabid fans.

"We have a very interesting group with Scandinavian teams, so it will be very interesting from a hockey standpoint," said CEO David Trunda. "We have amazing fans and we sell out nearly every game, so I hope these teams are interesting to them and we can bring some good hockey to our fans as well."

Another newcomer is the British champion Cardiff Devils. Playing against elite international competition is never an easy task for a British club, and things couldn't have been made much more difficult for them by drawing HC Davos, Bili Tygri Liberec and the Vaxjo Lakers.

"Probably not, no," Devils head coach Andrew Lord responded, "but our organization is really proud to have made the CHL, finally. We won our league title for the first time in 20 years this past season and it's been quite a ride to get our team back on the map in our own country. Now we're going to try to do it internationally. I know our fans are going to be supporting this like no other, especially with the teams we'll be facing."  

On drawing the Czech and Norwegian champions, as well as a top Finnish team, Malmo general manager Patrik Sylvegard said: "Yeah, it's going to be tough, but I think we can move forward from this group.

"We're really excited," Sylvegard continued, looking ahead. "We took a big step last season in Sweden, and we're looking forward to taking another step next year, and (the CHL) will bring us a lot of good games. In the next couple of years we plan on becoming one of the top teams in Sweden and in Europe too."

Each team plays six games during the Group Stage – one home and one away against the other three teams in its group. The first- and second-placed teams in each group then advance to the Playoff Stage.
With 16 teams in the playoffs, four rounds are required to determine the European club champions. The first three rounds are all two-game, home-and-away, aggregate-scoring series, similar to the previous seasons. The playoffs start on Tuesday, 31 October and finish with a one-game Final on Tuesday, 6 February 2018. 

Missed the Draw? Watch the whole thing from start to finish here.