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How unpredictable were back-to-back champions before Toronto? [1/2]

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In Season 65, the Toronto Legion won a second consecutive Continental Cup, confounding pre-season (and indeed pre-postseason) expectations for the second season running. Somehow, the Legion followed a historic threepeat with what was briefly the VHL's longest cup drought and then two of the most unexpected championships in history. That prompted a question – how predictable were back-to-back winners in the past? It's a formidable achievement but one that relies quite a bit on timing and good fortune – great teams often falter and miss out on historic achievements and underdog stories triumph. Using a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being predictable and 10 being completely out of the blue), let's look at all back-to-back Continental Cup champions the VHL has seen.

 

S2 and S3 Calgary Wranglers :oldcgy:

Rating: 2

 

The only real surprise about the early days Wranglers is that we're talking about a repeat rather than a threepeat. How Calgary managed to lose more games in a short series against Vasteras than they had in the entirety of the S1 regular season remains a mystery, but they more than made up for it by confirming their dominance in the next two seasons. The likes of Brett Slobodzian and Scott Boulet up front, Sterling Labatte and Joey Kendrick in defence, and even Robert Sharpe shoring up an otherwise shaky goaltending position by S3 – it wasn't so much that they were the best team in the league, more that no one else had figured out how to build a VHL powerhouse yet.

 

S4 and S5 Seattle Bears :oldsea:

Rating: 1

 

Seattle would be the team to figure things out next by compiling a team led by S1 draftees in the two seasons that S1 draftees peaked before depreciation. It's impossible to recreate such dominance because such circumstances aren't possible at any point other than the first five seasons of the league, but go some way to explaining 160+ point seasons by the likes of Alex McNeil and of course Scotty Campbell. Boasting six future Hall of Famers, including some bonafide legends, it's harder to name a more predictable back-to-back champion.

 

S18 and S19 Calgary Wranglers :oldcgy:

Rating: 5

 

Winning consecutive championships became something of a holy grail in the VHL for a bit and was finally repeated by a team that didn't expect to win more than one cup. The Wranglers went into S18 planning to win in S19, as while they had a high-octane offensive core, featuring Mikka Virkkunen, J.D. Stormwall, Lars Berger, and a rookie Jardy Bunclewirth, they were too young and had gaping holes in defence and an inactive retiring goaltender. This was still enough to be third favourites going into the season and slowly making their way up to second as the season progressed and New York proved to not be clicking despite big moves in the off-season. Ultimately, Calgary won it all in spite of a defence featuring Hiro Renomitsu, Greg Eagleowski, and Bryton Guerequeta. The second cup was much more predictable, as their main rivals Madrid and New York went into rebuilds, with the Wranglers signing each of their best defencemen in free agency and trading for the best goalie in the league. The subsequent 8-1 run in the playoffs still stands as a VHL record.

 

S24 and S25 HC Davos Dynamo :hcd:

Rating: 4

 

The team that got swept by Calgary in S19 was Davos, who then won the cup in S20 but then existed in a strange pseudo-contending state, powered into the playoffs by Daisuke Kanou more than a particularly talented roster. By S24, the Dynamo ended up flying under the radar as they were an older team most had gotten used to seeing eliminated in the first round. In fact, they had accumulated six future Hall of Famers and had serious firepower in the shape of Anton Brekker and Mathias Chouinard to go with the continued heroics of Kanou. It's hard to say if they were the indisputed best team in the league in S24 but they proved their worth in the playoffs and by S25 no one had stepped up to the plate, making a repeat to seal the dynasty a bit of a formality.

 

S45 and S46 Helsinki Titans :hel:

Rating: 3

 

Nearly every generation a team generates hype by accumulating a lot of high draft picks in a particularly strong draft class. Most often this does not result in anything special because they don't win enough before the cap hits but this Titans team met expectations better than anyone. Drafting Greg Clegane and Phil Hamilton to go with GM player Aleksi Koponen wouldn't have been enough on its own, but a perfectly timed move for Thomas O'Malley in the same off-season combined youth and experience in the best possible way and the Titans ended up storming to two straight Continental Cups. There were obstacles on the way, primarily in the form of Davos and Calgary in both finals, which meant Helsinki's wins weren't foregone conclusions, but they were nonetheless not major surprises.

 

S48, S49, and S50 Toronto Legion :tor:

Rating: 6

 

No one can predict a threepeat and they never come to fruition when someone does. That's probably what worked in Toronto's favour because no one expected more than a couple runs for the cup from this team in S48, perhaps one of which would be successful. In hindsight, however, it's clear that the Legion were one of the favourites in each of the three seasons and in both S49 and S50 only had to get past their own stacked conference due to the lack of great teams in Europe. Names like Hans Wingate, Max Molholt, Zach Parechkin, and Black Velvet roll off the tongue now and it seems like less of a surprise after the event but was nonetheless a massive achievement.

 

S52 and S53 New York Americans:nya:

Rating: 5

 

Those partial to the Seattle Bears will argue that both of New York's last two Continental Cups were massive upsets, but there wasn't much between the two and a scan down the rosters now would give the edge to New York based on name recognition. Certainly the Americans had they key to VHL success – offensive firepower – managing to combine the talents of Diana Maxwell, Tom Lincoln, and Unassisted, perhaps the three best forwards in the VHL at the time. They did lack in defence, and were backstopped by the otherwise unnoteworthy Ilya Kopralkov in S52 and M.T. Power in S53. Going into S52 in a four-team playoff race in North America, many would have predicted they would miss the playoffs rather than win it all, but overall the Americans benefited from a lack of serious competition and are middle of the park on the surprise scale.

 

S54 and S55 Helsinki Titans :hel:

Rating: 4

 

Another Helsinki dynasty built primarily through the draft, this was another team which shone in part because few others were in the dying days of the original expansion era. The Titans' main competition was Stockholm in Europe and Quebec in North America and their series against both teams could have realistically gone either way in both seasons. As it turns out, Helsinki took all the glory and given how frequent repeat winners became at this point, this was nothing out of the ordinary. In terms of individual talent, the main inspirations were Black Velvet and Franchise Cornerstone, two Hall of Famers at opposite ends of their careers, and it was enough.

 

S57 and S58 Riga Reign :rig:

Rating: 2

 

Unlucky to miss out on the finals after a Victory Cup in S56, the Reign were the best regular season team for another two seasons and this time matched this performance in the playoffs. The chemistry of Fredinamijs Krigars and John Locke up front was enough to roll over most opposition and in a recurring theme of this era, there wasn't much of it to begin with. The Reign beat a Quebec team raging against the dying of the light in S57 and then an underdog Seattle in S58, meaning they were considerable favourites throughout.

 

S64 and S65 Toronto Legion :tor:

Rating: 10

 

And here we are. There are no two ways about this, no one could have predicted either of Toronto's victories, let alone two of them in a row. First, we chalked it up to the monster performance of Norris Stopko in his last ever season, but then that was pretty much matched by the more surprising Johnny Havenk Carison, who has managed to carry that magic through to the start of his career in Malmo. The highly effective offensive partnership of Sebastian Ironside and Oyorra Arroyo could be seen as enough of an advantage in S64, but then Ironside left and it turned out that just Arroyo was enough in S65. Overall, it's not so much assessing the rosters that makes the last two seasons so unpredictable, it's that there was nothing even during the regular season to indicate what was to come in the playoffs. All of Riga, Seattle, and Helsinki can feel reasonably aggrived by the events of S64 and S65 because it really feels like lightning struck twice for Toronto, in a way never seen before.

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Review - As someone who didn't really follow the VHL, all I knew about last season was that Seattle and Riga were supposed to be awesome, and STHS worked its magic into a Toronto/Helsinki finals. This was definitely a nice little trip down nostalgia lane - even seeing my old player's name thrown in there - and was well-researched and written. 

In most cases, it's a great representation of how luck & being 'hot' at the right time can get you much further than being the on-paper best roster.

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Toronto 3peat was fun as hell. That'll basically be the high point of my whole VHL existence, I'd imagine. I don't think any of my players will ever top Parechkin either. Molholt and Parechkin clicked all the time and rarely went on any droughts, and if they did they were back to performing in the next game.

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