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Champions League returns to European hockey for 2014-15, but KHL teams absent

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The Champions League returns to crown a European ice hockey champion in 2014-15, but the absence of Russia's KHL leaves us wanting more.

Stuart Franklin

There have been a lot of attempts to crown a European ice hockey champion, but the newest version of the Champions Hockey League, sponsored by the IIHF, seems to be the most promising.

The league held their first ever draw on Wednesday, and 44 clubs from around Europe will take part in the inaugural tournament beginning August 21. Via the Champions Hockey League website, here are the 11 groups:

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In 2014-15, teams come from 11 different leagues and 12 countries around Europe:

  • the Swedish Hockey League
  • Switzerland's National League A
  • Metal Ligaen, the top league in Denmark
  • Liiga, or SM-liiga, the top league in Finland
  • Norway's GET-ligaen
  • Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga, or DEL
  • Ligue Magnus, the top league in the France
  • Slovak Extraliga
  • Czech Extraliga
  • Austrian Hockey League 
  • Elite Ice Hockey League, the top league in Great Britain

Six of these leagues -- those in Sweden, Austria, Czech, Finland, Germany and Switzerland -- are founding members of the league. 26 clubs from these leagues are considered "founding clubs" as well, and they get in first through an "A license."

The rest of the Champions League is filled out through "B" and "C" licenses, with top non-founding clubs from the founding leagues qualifying. Champions of the lower tier leagues in Europe -- the non-founding leagues, such as Britain's EIHL -- can qualify for any remaining spots. 

The notable exception from this Champions League is Russia's KHL, but the IIHF reports that while they won't be included this season, there's a chance that they will be in the mix for 2015-16.

Between the end of August and beginning of October, teams will play each opponent in their group twice -- once at home and once on the road -- in a round-robin format. 11 group winners and five wild card teams will advance to the playoff round, which will be played in four rounds beginning in November and ending with the Final in February.

It's hard to call this a true European championship without the KHL's participation, but it's a good start.