Most people seem to forget that there’s life (or ice) beyond the NHL, CHL, and North American college sports. This, of course, is not true. Unlike most other popular North American sports, like baseball and football, other nations have pretty powerful ice hockey leagues that not only live a life of their own but compete with the North American ones when it comes to the players’ skill and the national coverage of their events. So, let’s take a look at some of the strongest ice hockey leagues in the world that only a few sports publications and no Canadian gambling website mentions.
Strongest National Hockey Leagues
Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL)
Germany’s ice hockey league, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) took the place of the German ice hockey Bundesliga (National League) in 1994. The league is not under the administration of the Deutscher Eishockey-Bund (German Ice Hockey Federation, DEB).
In the 2016–17 season, DEL was the ice hockey league with the second-highest attendance in Europe, with an average attendance of almost 6,200 fans per game. The DEL has given the NHL many notable players – one example would be Dennis Seidenberg who started his career at DEL team Adler Mannheim.
National League A (NLA)
Switzerland’s National League A is the ice hockey league in Europe with the highest attendance, averaging almost 6,900 spectators per game. The league has 12 teams that play a total of 50 games during a regular season, with the top eight teams qualifying for its playoffs.
The NLA has also fed the NHL talented players – one of them would be Roman Josi who started his career at the current NLA champion SC Bern before joining the Nashville Predators in 2010, subsequently becoming the captain of the team.
SM-Liiga is the top-tier ice hockey league in Finland, sometimes called the “Finnish Elite League”. It is one of the six founding leagues of the Champions Hockey League, it is one of the strongest national ice hockey leagues and currently consists of 15 teams playing 60 matches during a regular season.
Finland has given the NHL quite a few high-profile players, like Mikko Koivu, captain of the Minnesota Wild, who made his debut at 10-time SM-liiga champion HC TPS.
Swedish Hockey League (SHL)
The SHL (Svenska hockeyligan or the Swedish Hockey League) is considered the strongest national league in Europe. Its attendance was fluctuating over the last few years but it was always among the best. Ice hockey is the second most popular sport in Sweden after association football (soccer). The league currently has 14 teams playing a total of 52 games each in a round-robin system.
The NHL had (and still has) many valuable Swedish players, including Peter Forsberg who started his professional career with Modo Hockey, the ice hockey team of his hometown Örnsköldsvik in Sweden before being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1991.
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)
The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is an international professional ice hockey league founded in 2008, currently including teams from Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Slovakia. The league’s matches have the highest total attendance in Europe. Many great players have decided to leave their KHL teams to play in the NHL over the years, including Alexander Ovechkin who started his career at Dynamo Moscow before signing with the Washington Capitals in 2005.