The history of the SHL and its importance for Sweden and Skellefteå in particular.
The two biggest sports in all of Sweden are ice hockey and football, but for many years ice hockey (or just hockey as it's known in Skellefteå) has been the number one sport in northern Sweden and Skellefteå.
In 2006, after 16 seasons in the second tier (Hockeyallsvenskan), AIK returned to the top flight of Swedish hockey, the SHL, and the interest from the locals has been massive ever since. The club won its first gold medal (league title) in 1978, and then became back-to-back SHL champions in 2013 and 2014.
Over the last 10-15 years, AIK has been one of the best teams in the country, and although attendances have not been as high as in the early years of the SHL, and especially during the golden era of 2013-2014, the local interest has still been impressive.
The level of play in the SHL has also improved significantly recently, as Swedish players have generally opted not left the league to play in the KHL (the Russian league) since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Keeping the better players and making more teams competitive has increased the interest in the SHL.
The SHL format - number of teams, divisions, playoffs, etc.
There are 14 teams in the SHL and each team plays 52 games before the playoffs in the spring. Teams ranked 1-6 qualify directly for the quarterfinals, while teams ranked 7-10 compete for the last two spots in the quarterfinals.
During the regular season, each team plays the other teams four times, twice at home and twice on the road.
Teams in the league
The teams in the SHL come from cities all over Sweden, from Malmö in the south to Luleå in the north. This season Modo, from Örnsköldsvik, about 200 kilometers south of Skellefteå, are back in the SHL, which means there is another team from Norrland in the league. In the SHL, Skellefteå AIK's biggest rivals are Luleå, although Skellefteå's real archrivals are still Umeå's Björklöven, who play in the second tier, Hockeyallsvenskan.
Both AIK and Luleå made major signings this summer.
Veteran forward Linus Omark, who impressed during his last stint in Luleå, is back at Luleå and is considered to be one of the best players in the league, while Skellefteå have added Oscar Lindberg, who is also regarded as one of the best players in the SHL - and outside the American NHL - along with Omark and a few other players.
New players to watch
Even though Skellefteå AIK have signed some interesting players during the off-season, the biggest talking point will be the absence of AIK legends Joakim Lindström and Oscar Möller. Lindström retired this summer and Möller will miss at least the beginning of the season as he has not trained since May due to exhaustion syndrome.
With a handful of stars or experienced players leaving AIK over the summer, the new acquisitions will be under lot of pressure.
Dylan Sikura is the latest player to sign for the club and will be expected to create a lot of chances and score a lot of goals. Anton Heikkinen has been recruited from the Hockeyallsvenskan, and he will need time, but he is also an offensive addition who will be expected to score both goals and assists.
Martins Dzierkals, who played for Latvia in the World Championships in June, is an addition who came out of nowhere. He is not the best-known player, but he has impressed many observers during pre-season and he could be one of the players who burst onto the scene this winter.
AIK have always been successful in bringing in young players from the under-20 team and this year Axel Sandin Pellikka could be a sensation with his calm and skilful puck handling. One of the most promising players in the world born in 2005 is surely destined to play in the NHL - but for this season at least he will be part of a very strong AIK team.
Just about all the other teams in the league have made some interesting signings ahead of the new season, but it is Göteborg's Frölunda who have made the biggest changes to their squad, adding a lot of experience and skill to their squad and making them look like a serious contender.
Favorites to win the Le Mat trophy (the name of the trophy awarded to the winners of the end-of-season play offs)
Växjö Lakers won gold in May and are looking good for the 2023/2024 season, but everyone is talking about how competitive and tough the SHL is looking this time around. Färjestad, Frölunda, Rögle and Skellefteå AIK all look like winning teams, but there are another four or five teams that could end up lifting the Le Mat trophy in May.
AIK play SHL newcomers Modo tomorrow, Thursday, at the Skellefteå Kraft Arena at 19.00