Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New blog

Try here instead. We're experimenting.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ilves Alumni Premiere Between the Pipes

Yesterday was a first for the Ilves franchise. For the first time of its history, two home-grown goaltending talents were going head-to-head in an NHL game.

Since Manny Fernandez went down with knee problems not too far in the season, Tuukka Rask was recalled three times from the Dunkin Donuts Center (my logical conceptions need to be challenged every day, it seems, A Donut... with a Center!) of Providence via the Boston Garden to the Air Canada Center, in downtown Toronno (find me one Canadian that will say the last T and I'll disqualify him as a Québecois or something) yesterday. No on-ice appearance resulted of the first two call-ups. But after Tim Thomas' first real screw-up performance of Saturday, where he got showered with 52 pucks, coach Julien decided to give the Savonlinnalainen his first NHL start and spare him the bystander charade from going on too long.

To my knowledge, this would have been the first representative from the town to tend an NHL goal since the great Jarmo Myllys' last stint with the new San José franchise back in '92. Great hopes rest on his shoulders because if you believe - and we are indeed starting to believe - all the fuss surrounding Carey Price, then if they are as comparable as Hockey's Future seems to say, Tuukka will be his arch-nemesis for years to come.

Faith and Destiny and Providence willing, and perhaps the Tooth Fairy and a couple screenwriters from All my Children pitching in, Tuukka's first opponent turned out to be the very same team that bothered this proud young Finn on Juhannus night 2006, 2am (must've been in bed, right?), to let him know they were shipping his rights to Massachussetts against the laughing stock of Tampere during the lockout season, Andrew Raycroft (let me direct your attention to his playoff stats for the 2004-05 season here).

It took one more season out of the playoffs, one lost 1st round pick, a second round one and a fourth in '09 too for the Maple Leafs to address the hole they had themselves created at the keeper's position. And in the off-season they made the move to acquire Tampere's own Vesa Toskala. A good bloke from what I gather. I have met the gent once at a pancake gathering at a friend's place and he seemed like a stand up guy. But that was before his allegiance was forcefully switched from the quiet Bay Area to where he became a creature to be loathed. Ok, I have to admit I have had admiration for one Leaf in the past, Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour, and I cannot say I despise Toskala but let's say it's beyond me to vote him an All-Star or to applaud anything he will do while wearing that fallen Leaf on his chest. I will cheer for him though when he backstops Finland in Halifax at the World Championships this year, since I predict his club will be sending quite a few freshly sent on holidays able bodies early in the competition.

(On the subject, Mats Sundin has caused a stir by shunning the city that drafted him first overall and made him a star (before trading him for used up Wendell Clark) and choosing to pass on the opportunity to advertise this year's competition in La Vielle Capitale as well as in Halifax. You can find the article in French here, and keep adding up the number of Ontarians, and neo-Ontarians giving the proverbial middle digit to all things La Belle Province.)

Long story short once again, all to say that Tuukka Rask's Bruins came back from a 2-0 deficit to seal the deal at 4 to 2, with Kobasew scoring in a net deserted by Toskala, being the Ilves alumni that had to swallow his slice of Humble Pie last night. Rask was named the first star of the match and you can read more about it here and see highlights and all. You can also get a snippet of an interview with the youngster here. Congrats for not showing up with a Mika Hakkinen accent, by the way, son!

So like Price impressed against the Penguins in his first NHL outing, Rask lives up early to his status as one of the best and brightest prospects in the League today. And next time Montreal meets up with the oft-bruised Bruins in the Playoffs, it will be a Voodoo effigy of a facial-hair challenged young man from Savonlinna that people will torture and burn all across the Island while signing along the nursery ryhme of my youth that used to, and still says:

"Tu n'es pas Maître à Boston quand Nous y Sommes!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

HIFK Bandy

Okay, so it's not hockey, but I need to put these somewhere and I think Mika could do with some reassurance that at least one HIFK team doesn't stink like a sewage works. They won 16 (SIXTEEN)-1 on Friday night, a great prelude to an evening's drinking in Kallio.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Regression and digression

As previously covered, SM-liiga's on the first of its weekish long breaks, about a third of the season has gone and the original intention was to give a quick overview of proceedings so far. So let's have a go and see if we can stumble on anything exceptional. KalPa, Ässät and SaiPa are all in all too familiar territory in the nether regions of the table, HIFK are dodging around the lower cut-off line, while TPS have struggled northwards in the last few weeks. Plus ça change, as Saku Koivu (see, educational as well) might not say. In less familiar surroundings are HPK, Jukka Jalonen unsurprisingly proving a hard act to follow even for someone as clued up as Matti Alatalo. Starting the season with half the squad as newcomers can't have been easy for the ex-JYP man, and maybe their last game, a 3-4 victory in Raksila, the sort of home defeat I can just about tolerate, is a sign of better results to come. JYP themselves are squabbling over the mid-table positions with most of the usual suspects plus the nuclear powered foxes from Rauma. Jokerit are currently taking Buggins' turn to be third, which brings us next to Kärpät.

On the results front we've beaten KalPa unconvincingly three times, and suffered rare home defeats to SaiPa and Hannu Aravirta's gang from Lahti, the last one a genuinely good stuffing of the weasel. Pity poor Tappara though, who must be wishing games against us were three seconds shorter. Twice we've played them and twice we've beaten them, each time a decisive goal coming in the last two seconds of the game. On the player front we've suffered the seemingly usual gaggle of defensive injuries, the other side of the coin being that the younger defenders get more ice time and are playing well to boot. Extra cover was provided again by the ever reliable Ivan Majesky. Oskari Korpikari celebrated his 200th league game with a victory over Ässät, and in his 201st got hit in the face by the puck, breaking his jaw in several places. Mikko Lehtonen and Ilkka Mikkola are also sidelined, the former losing his place for the Karjala tournament no thanks to a dodgy back. Jere Karalahti's been out for 2-3 weeks now with a dead leg. Karalahti, ah yes, I knew he'd be at the centre of something that doesn't happen every day.

I wasn't present, but presumably last Tuesday's training session in Raksila was running quite normally. Until two police officers turned up, arrested Karalahti in connection with a drugs investigation and carted him off to Espoo for questioning, that is. Kärpät management are reportedly "gobsmacked" (my translation) that such a thing could have happened, seemingly unfamiliar with the idea that people with a colourful past such as Karalahti might just be carrying some baggage around. Looking on the bright side, it speaks volumes for the wayward one's reputation here that the old bill turned up at a scheduled training session with the expectation of finding him there, and actually succeeding. Coming to think of it, it also speaks volumes of the local plods that they had the wit to look for him at a scheduled training session. Let's face it, their powers of deduction aren't always unquestioned in these parts. The low point must be the car harpoon from the mid-'90s, with no one apparently able to work out beforehand the likely dangers associated with having a sharpened piece of solid metal attached to the front of a speeding car. To be fair though some do use their brains more profitably, like the time I was present during a daring daylight raid on a supermarket in Kaijonharju. The already unsteady robber, laden with a crate (24 bottles) of beer, shuffled his way craftily between the two checkouts, taking care not to interrupt the ongoing deep discussion. He would have made a clean, albeit dishevelled, getaway had he not farted all too loudly as the automatic doors opened for his exit, thereby causing the alarm to be raised. Half an hour later two of Oulu's finest sauntered onto the scene and casually took said felon from slumped against the supermarket wall, together with remains of crate, into custody.

Getting back somehow to Karalahti, today he gets to know his fate. Police must either release him or charge him. Missing three weeks through injury is one thing, but he'll miss a lot more than that if he ends up doing bird. By which utterly contrived means I turn to the one team so far not covered by the round up, Pelicans. C'mon, let's be honest, we may not have been too surprised to see them head the league after half a dozen or so games, but who amongst us would have reckoned on their staying there to this point? Not me, for sure. Will they last or will they fade? The latter, for my money, after the long season takes its usual injury toll. Now, about those bloody shirts of theirs...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Against the world

Today I read Mika Nieminen's column in Helsingin Sanomat. There was some general stuff about the league, but one interesting point was about Matt Nickerson's five game ban because of his current contribution to the Ässät. In there Nieminen said that it was somewhat over exaggerated but it would would have been standard if Nickerson had played in HIFK-team.

That actually is very true. Some pretty strange stuff has happened when HIFK has been part of it. When Shedden coached the HIFK and they had quite a lot of fights S/M-Liiga (yeah /-character is used in purpose) ruled that HIFK has to pay 10000 € because it causes bad influence to league. In the same year
Ässät paid about 1000 € for similar reasons. Anyway I have no idea were those ever paid to anyone. Hopefully not.

At one time there was also a rule that no rulings could be made after the game IF match official hadn't made note about something that had happened. Anyway they changed that and after that they gave Raimo Summanen a fine about his comments about the league. What they didn't do was to penalize Otakar Janecky (he was playing Jokerit) while he tried to kick Lukko's Jarmo Kuusisto. I couldn't find a video but at times I saw it in the news. Janecky was in ground and he tried to kick Kuusisto with the both of his skates. This episode had happened before Summanen's comments and it might have been a good example too.

On the other news HIFK won two games before the break. First there was 2-6 win against the Blues and after that they won Ässät in penalties. I can't really tell is it a good thing or just pure luck. I heard that Blues goalie Bernd Bruckler didn't have his best day so who knows. After the break there's away game against KalPa and if things go as they usually to go you might want to bet your money against HIFK. KalPa has won three games this season and you probably can guess which team was associated with one of them.

Karjala Tournament Preview

From the 8th of November until Sunday, Hartwall Areena will host its flag beer's tournament between the 4 ice hockey powerhouses of Europe.

For those not familiar with the exercise, the Karjala tournament is the second of 4 of the kind called the Euro Hockey Tour, played in the Czech Republic first in August-Spetember under the name Česká Pojišťovna Cup (if it's misspelled, blame the copy/pasting, not me), then in Finland, followed by the Channel One Cup in Russia in December and the Swedish LG Hockey Games around February. The whole ordeal is ended by a quick medal round in May to crown the winner.

The squads gather the elite of each countries playing in Europe. So the level is interesting, although the stint is brief and the rosters might change from a tournament to another, which results in uneven play quite often. For these reasons, it is very hard also to pick a favourite. Some team might bolster some famous names, Malkin was playing a couple years ago, Niinimaa this year! but the chemistry is not guaranteed to be clicking with the linemates at all.

Like expected in a previous post, Peter Forsberg will be a no show. He had to end his first skating session with the team because of his ever-lasting foot injury, explained here in details by Bob McKenzie. In short, if don't want to read the article, Foppa got a club foot and his career is over. Spread the word! If you want to read, there might be a little more layers to it.

TV2 will be broadcasting all the Leijonat games so you can watch in the comfort of your home if you have paid your TV tax, of course!

Not a lot of known names playing for the Czech Republic. Zbynek Irgl though, during the last World Championship, struck me as a man who is one pronounceable name away from the NHL. He showed some great flashes and was a threat most times I have seen him on the ice. Worth a closer look if he shows skills like here, Ojojoj, indeed!

Under the supervision of diminutive Montreal alumni and hero of my youth, Mats Näslund, the Forsberg-less Swedes don't look so stellar either. Former Espoo winger Ekman, who had nice production when he was carried by Thornton and Cheechoo in San José, surfaces here out of Khimik. Daniel Tjärnqvist who does not seem to find a home this season is showing up too. HV71's starter Stefan Patrick Liv, a Polish orphan (insane what you find on Wikipedia), will mind the net. Along with Captain Kenny Jönsson, the last two will be the only representatives from the Gold Medal Winning team in Torino.

Slava Bykov, a former Nordiques pick, is the coach for Russia. Between the pipes, they will have the Washington Capitals' second first round pick of 2006, announced back then by future teammate Alex Ovechkin (fun video of the Backstrom pick there). Since being chosen to succeed the long reigning German Torhüter, Olaf Kolzig in Capital City, Varlamov has gone through a little makeover. From the name he was bearing on draft day, he has, coming into training camp this year been rebaptized Simeon, a good Jewish name. The former Anglicized version of his name, Semen, had connotations one does not always want to associate with, apart when it brings you headlines like this one: Semen makes women happy. He plays with Irgl in Yaroslav at the moment, perhaps the Czech could learn a thing or two from Simeon's publicity stunt and go under the moniker of Zach Eagle or something flashy of the sort, that could land him a spot in Nashville!

Suomi has got a good deal of familiar names on the cast and might be icing the most potent team on paper. Markkanen and Niemi or as solid as they come in net. Väänänen, Niinimaa, Immonen, AJ Niemi, Pirnes, Santala, Koivisto, Hahl, Laaksonen, Rita, Pesonen, you got to admire that Finnish trait of not backing up when the Nation is calling.

Some high flying to be expected from Shedden's troop and we are looking forward to it! Especially my colleague Egan who will be out of the town along with 12 Russian exchange students, looking for a pub broadcasting Suomi - Venäjä...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On Koivu's Francais

A stir has been caused once more in La Belle Province of Québec about the fact that Montreal Captain Saku Koivu, an immigrant since 1995, has not yet mastered La Langue de Molière. It has reached the shores of this nation's fine newspapers, so I guess we have to address the subject.

The issue was raised in a governmental public consultation, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, about what is called Reasonable accommodations. It deals with the integration of immigrants to the Quebec Society. Immigration being under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, it is no surprise it will cause a commotion in the only official French-speaking province. If you need more explanation, think about it, We are French, we can't live without commotion. (Funny enough commotion is also the French word for concussion, not that we are so fond of those mind you, just ask Patrice Bergeron, but we are visor wearing pussies after all.)

Bringing forth his outrage to the commission was lawyer Guy Bertrand. A professional shit-stirrer, at the forefront of many far-fetched controversies, once a separatist, once a federalist, always a disgrace to his Province and his name (his brother Rosaire has been for many years my native region's deputy, representing it with great efficiency). This is only the latest desperate attention for headlines that he woke up with some morning when not waking up at all might have been a better option. Just to show, last time I remember him being in the news, it was to represent Leon Mugesera, a Rwandan war criminal known for speeches about "dump[ing Tutsi's] bodies into the rivers of Rwanda."

The argument brought to the table was "the right of Quebecers to be served in French". Good God almighty (or Allah or Buddah or Travolta or The Fonz, don't want to offend any religious groups here) that stuff ain't real, like Bob said (the other Bob, not Gainey and certainly not Marley). The guy is paid, not to offer a service, he is paid to do a job, a manual job, which requires little oral skills other than "Heads up, guys!", "Would you fuckin' pass it for once, Kovy!" or "You want to? Ok! Square off? Ok, Good Luck Man!", ok that last one is for larger men than Koivu, but you get the point. He does his manual job very well and, equal opportunity, equal salary, should a French speaking person be better at the position, it is hard to figure out.

Perhaps in 1993, Montreal should have opted for the next French Canadian available in the draft, namely Eric Lecompte picked by Chicago 3 ranks later with his grand total of 0 games played in the NHL until now. (Let's give him time still he's more than a point per game in Innsbruck this year and he used to kick serious ass in Switzerland's Nationalliga B, a legend in Langenthal, wherever the fuck that may be!) At the same salary, we can arguably find more impressive talent who speaks francais, but do they want to play in Montreal? The debate rages on and I am not getting into that now.

Let's raise a parallel, though.

Here we have a man who has immigrated to a French-speaking country, but has opted to live in its English speaking part. L'Île-des-Soeurs (when David Cronenberg does not infest it with horny zombies from outer space) is as close to a gated community as you will find in Québec, fitting for publicity-shy millionaires but not necessarily the best to mingle in the backstreet with the Boréale drinking frogs (Yes, I am allowed to use that word, having juicy tights yearning for garlic butter myself).

For my part, I couldn't find the French speaking part of Tampere when I moved here, but perhaps I could have found more talkative neighbors there. I have been in Finland for more than 3 years, but never had to take road trips to the rest of the non-Finnish speaking Europe every other week and don't get to flee when I miss the playoffs to come back for training camp, so all in all, I might have spent more time in Finland than Koivu really has spent in Québec. I probably speak worse Finnish than Saku speaks French, but he has the terrific advantage of being debated about on TV everyday and radio 24/7, whereas I am not name checked on Salatut Elämät yet.

In my job description, it is said that I am expected to speak French-Canadian as my mother tongue (don't ask what I'm doing but just know that I am not stealing anyone's job at least!). My company's official language is English, for internationalization purposes, our competitors, clients and employees are from different origins and we have a point in common, we speak the language that is commonly used in the trade so that everyone understand each other. Parallel stands. In Koivu's job description though (as well as in Mihail Grabovski's who does not even speak English), language is not mentioned, . Winning face offs, killing penalties, blocking shots and deflecting shots from the point, appearing on posters and tv spots, wearing a suit and tie on game day, yes, and a couple more things you can require to warrant a 4.75 mil a year (be it only American dough), but linguistic specifications aren't part of the deal.

At work, when I turn left, I see a Russian colleague and a French Canadian one, when I turn right I see a wall. If I turn around, behind, I see an American, a Briton and an Italian. Their names are not Kovalev, Bégin, Komisarek, Dafoe and ... Italian, hard to come up with one, Muzzati, ex-Hartford Whaler, is that too far fatched? but we are all part of the same team and communicate in English. No, I do not play right wing, but the situation is similar. My immediate boss, my Carbonneau if you allow the comparison, is a Finn, but he speaks to me in Shakespeare's lingo. And my higher hierarchical overlord is some Swedish holding company if I understood that correctly (Gilletsson from Kålårädostad as far as I care) and he does not give two shits about me speaking the local dialect or not, or he hasn't shared his feelings on the issue with me just yet.

Of course Jean Béliveau wasn't sitting in my chair before me but you get the point. I live well, albeit on a slightly reduced salary compared to Monsieur Bouleau's, in a country where I do not speak the language and, at 32 years old, find very difficult to assimilate. I want more, at my age, out of conversations than the basic
-Terve, minä olen Yves, minä olen Quebecilainen.
-Ooooh Kanadalainen!
-Ei, Quebecilai... ah pis laisse faire.

I have, in the past few years, mainly concentrated my cognitive efforts into learning how to do my job properly (which does not involve Justin Williams' stick blade getting under my retina in any way, but has a couple twists to make it interesting or at least challenging) and doing my best in the remaining time to raise my two children in French, a 3 years and a 1 year old, a girl and a boy (the parallel becomes eerie).

The Finnish (Suomi) language is of a level of difficulty renowned to be of the hardest but, if learned in a vacuum, is much easier than French. Problem is that finding a Finn to talk to is about as hard as getting a French to shut up. But silent letters do not exist in Finnish and exceptions have mostly been purged. The grammatical system however has not much to do with any other languages except Hungarian (Magyar) and Estonian (Eesti, hahah, Québecois inside joke here), which is why I say in a vacuum, because most Occidental speakers will look for reference in their own language and/or in English and they will find not much, mis à part a couple borrowed words here and there that have been cruelly butchered to fit strict Finn spelling (kahvi = coffee!). On the other hand, evidence of Napoleonian era colonialism and other historical phenomenons that have spread the seed of la langue francaise can be found in most languages. The only word that has evaded Finnish and spread to the far reaches of Turkey and Korea is Sauna, and let's not forget it. But I digress.

All I want to say is that, for my part, I might be able to speak Finnish one day and I do half count on my kids to teach me, like Koivu was saying, but it requires time, which I don't always have, and effort, does the "I'm not perfect" argument work here? Simple answer is I am in the country that offers the best situation for my family for the time being and am grateful for the opportunities it offered me, and with all the good will in the World (and I do take classes once a week which means far from often enough), putting the extra effort in learning a language I will probably never master enough to hold a decent conversation or get my point across without using 4th grade vocabulary does seem like a vain effort somehow. But even if, or let's say when I do learn, it will be a hell of a long time before you see me answering the questions of the Finnish equivalent of Michel Villeneuve on TV, unless he accepts a punch in the neck as a Finnish enough answer.

The PR blunder from this season's home opener cannot be blamed on Koivu. Yes, he could have seen it coming, he is a smart fella, but still, someone should have thought about it in higher places. It is not that hard, just write in Finnish (which is phonetics without the funky stuff and a few dots more): "Lö nymero kätrövinkätr, Gijoom Läätaandress" and so forth...
Easy! Facile! Helppoa!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Forsberg in Helsinki

The news is out on There is a favourite for the upcoming Karjala cup. Foppa will lace his skate over his reconstructed ankle and come over the bay to line up with the Tre Kronor.

Tickets can be bought here if you are interested and have enough booing air stocked up in your lungs.

Forsberg is once again in a reflexion mode whether or not he will sign with the Wings, or the Ducks or the Avs or wherever. It probably is a legitimate process, his injury is/was serious, no doubt, but it makes one wonder. The man has a history of coming back when it counts. Or said differently, has a history of avoiding to be alongside his teammates for the long-haul work, showing up only when its time to shine and collect the glories.

Back in 2001, he opted to sit the year. The Avalanche having a solid enough squad to cruise to the playoffs with 41 year-old Ray Bourque lacing 'em up for 80 games, he opted to stay sidelined in Sweden, taking it easy and "healing" correctly while the rest of the boys did the dirty work. He showed up for the playoffs, all well and rested, Patrick Roy led them once again to Glory and he gets an extra ring on his fingers. Not too bad for a 20 games effort.

For last year's Olympics, he was in a questionable condition during all the qualification round. Leaving his team to be flogged 4-0 by Ovechkin and the Russians, before coming back all glorious in the medal round. Other teams worked their asses off throughout all the tournament. One team I won't name humiliated Canada and lost a good amount of teeth on the way to a perfect sheet before showing up undefeated but rightly so tired in the Finals.

So now, Peter is sitting out again this NHL season. Scanning which team has a shot at the cup while his Crocs sandals operation (who the fuck buys those, anyway?) compensates for his regular NHL salary. But at least he will grace Finnish ice for a quick round. A word to the Shedden Boys (or is it the Jalonen Boys already?) : "Make it a though one!"

Tappara beat Ilves yesterday to catch up with them in the rankings. Anssi Salmela scored the weekest goal given by a keeper I have ever seen in Pro Hockey, Tommy Salo included. Here you can see Tero Leinonen's failure in all its splendor. I also really liked the little dangle by Saviano that led to good old Janne Ojanen saying "Hey kid, cut the crap" and bury it the old fashioned way past Leinonen.

So here we stand with both Tampere teams with their heads above water. Good times ahead!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

HIFK Q&A today

Today is HIFK Q&A-session with official fan club and almost all keymen in HIFK. The meeting is only for the members (actually 25 of them) and probably that newsman who will take a cute photograph with the smiling club. Hopefully there will be real questions with real answers and not the general chitchat. Some questions (mostly in finnish) are in the Jatkoaika's thread but like someone there wrote are there anyone who has the guts to really question Matikainen and his actions with the club?

Before Matikainen took charge there have been only one bronze and if I remember correctly about 12 coaches. Only Shedden has been succesful but now he's at Ilmala with Harkimo and Kummola. Hannu Aravirta might have had the abilities to get HIFK back to top but he was sacked in the playoffs.

Next home game against SaiPa is a must-win. Before that HIFK only won Tappara and got one point from TPS. Previous game against Jokerit wasn't that bad so maybe there's hope.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pentti Ulos!

Can't find a better picture than this, unfortunately, but it seems the natives are getting restless down at Helsingin Jäähalli. Mika will be better able to explain this, but it seems like Pentti Mattikainen's days are numbered.


High octane fratricide matchup yesterday at Hakametsä. I sadly didn't get to attend but can still comment, that's what we're here for!

You get the highlights of the game here. Aamulehti apparently has got a contest out to find the least interesting person to lead off their highlights segment. They certainly have found a good contender for the title, Yrjö Kares might have been dead a while. I would suggest someone check his pulse.

The festivities started off with Marko Anttila getting a 5 + 20 min kneeing penalty. Hard time in the slammer. It is hard to find the footage of this but we, at HIF, have gotten exclusive coverage of the incident that you can find here. Tough call by the referee, because if we believe the tape, Anttila has a hard time bending his own knees in the first place (and Peltola badly needs a shave).

The play that led to Lehterä's goal was a superb effort from Jonas Enlund. with all the kindness in the world, he took time to put down Lehtivuori, tuck him in, sing him a lullaby, kiss him on the forehead, lie down next to him to pet his head a little and relay the puck to his linemate for the kill. Great play!

But Tappara had to tank it. They blew a 4-2 lead entirely in the 3rd to lose the 1 point they could have been salvaging with 5 seconds to go. Two penalties for dumping the puck over the glass handed in the last two minutes resulted in a two man advantage for Ilves. A real game killer and a real sign of panic from the defending team. One of the penalties was handed out to André Benoit, so all Tappara fans can now sign along: Blame Canada!

I have got to point out though that my fellow country man is now the most used player on the Tappara squad with 22:05 minutes of ice time a game on average and the best +/- stats on the team at 6. He stands nicely as the 5th highest scoring defenseman in the SM-Liiga, so if he drops the ball once in a while he can maybe be forgiven.

The rankings are still very tight in the middle, but with this win, Ilves has elevated its head above the Tropic of Cancer, passing Tappara for 5th. Hopefully both Tampere teams can remain in that pack, so that we get interesting post season battles this year. This remains to be seen!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Oh and peace broke out in the world

Helsingin Sanomat brings news (in Finnish) of cats and dogs living together - or, as they put it, of Jokerit supporters and the Hämeenlinna hockey arena settling their row.

It got started during last season's playoffs when a group of Jokerit supporters, displeased with the seating arrangements, took out their displeasure on the seats. The Rinkelinmäki folks responded by banning said fans and a few extra besides from the arena until they cough up 5'000 euros.

Now JF-Club, a Jokerit fan club, has agreed to pay for a portion of the damages, although the figure is well short of the demanded sum. Rinkelinmäki, for its part, will once again be open even to Jokerit supporters.

And they didn't even need Martti Ahtisaari to mediate.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ilves 3 JYP 1

JYP really aren't doing very well at the moment. They don't seem able t hit a rhythmn, and after conceding early goals they were always chasing their tails. Once again Marko Antilla had a decent game and he was unlucky not to score, Dwight Helminen got into a few tussles, Sinuhe Wallinheimo bawled out Jarkko Immonen for an unnecessary penalty in the first period and the Ilves cheerleaders have a routine for Finland's national anthem.

The Pharoah is obviously JYP's leader. It's funny to see a goaltender shouting louder than the rest of them team (and most of the crowd) but that's what Wallinheimo does. He used to be suspected of dislodging the goalposts a little too often, but he's now made his peace with the referees and is a very good keeper. I certainly wouldn't want to piss him off.

Lahti Rules!?

The Lahti Pelicans are garnering a lot of attention these days with their stellar season start. They came out of the gate swinging high this year and finally, The Chicago of Finland team stopped shadowing the results of their sister city's Blackhawks and put up the results the City desperately needs.

It is still early in the season, the wind could start blowing in any other direction any game now, but they are worth mentioning at this stage, in this blog, as well as on it seems. The NHL has vowed to increase its presence in Europe and they are doing so by showcasing a feature called Across the Pond on their website's main page. You don't learn much more there than you would by surfing the site or deciphering with very low Finnish comprehension but hockey instincts on and odds are M. Meltzer wrote that column from the comfort of his West Chester, PA, home, far away from Vesijärvi (what an original name!). Then again, you don't learn much more on this blog than you would googling for barnyard pornography, so M. Meltzer, hats off to you, nice to see that someone is paying attention, shedding some light on this country as the sun is withdrawing on us, a little further day by day. One question though, why is your one website coattail riding on Mikael Renberg's fame?

One NHL/SM-Liiga related mystery that remains unsolved to me - and most others who have nothing better to do - is the brief stint of Sean Avery in Lahti. During the lockout, he lined up with the Pelicans for 2 games, 3 goals scored, these are the recorded facts. It would make you believe the man was here for a walk in the park and would have stayed around to boost his rather low stocks (at the moment) anchoring the low expectations Pelicans attack and adding a few scraps with the SM-Liiga's best and brightest, namely Shelley and Westcott with Jyp and that Ogre, Pauli Levokari then with Ässät (here is some rare footage of Levokari playing with his son).

But after these two outings, the man disappeared, left without a trace. Breach of contract, never to be seen again. He resurfaced a while later in the USHL but in the meantime, the portrait is shady. Uninformed sources rumour that he has mingled with the wrong crowd, Laotians posing as Thaï masseuses, Kazakh mobsters or long-legged Karelians from the wrong side of the border, who carry lipstick and shaving cream in their hand purse.

Chances are he simply couldn't bear the prospect of a winter in Lahti. I spent, sorry sacrified, 2 of my winters to this god forsaken town and if I had had his options, believe me, I would have fled like Frank Morris. But I would like to have some light shone on this episode. If anyone has more info, please enlighten us (as well as our 3 readers). Please!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Hullut Päivät!

Finns are great bargain hunters. Flea markets, police auctions, pick your own strawberries - this country is full of opportunities to reduce the cost of living. The big department stores get in on the act, when they sell a huge number of discounted lines over 3 or 4 days and make a large proportion of their annual profits.

It's Stockmann's Hullut Päivät next week. They will sell huge amounts of everything, from chocolate and marshmallows to holidays in Thailand. Every day from Wednesday to Saturday they will release different products to the expectant crowds, who will queue stupidly early to get their hands on the stuff and fight with other crazed consumers.

On Wednesday of next week, they will be selling season tickets for 7 SM Liiga clubs at €235. I'm not sure how great the seats are, and you've missed a few games, but that's a bit of a bargain. The clubs are TPS, Ilves, Tappara, Kärpät, Blues, HIFK and Jokerit.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

HIFK, what's going on?

After few good games the season has gone down the drain. There have been four games, zero points:

HIFK-Lukko 0-1
HIFK-KalPa 0-2
Kärpät-HIFK 3-1

It's been pretty miserable for HIFK fans. First there was bizarre one minute horrorshow against JYP. After that they lost 0-1 against Lukko and then hopefully seasons lowest moment 0-2 defeat against KalPa. Yesterdays defeat against Kärpät wasn't so strange but at least now they got one goal. Sounds pathetic but maybe now they'll understand it pretty hard to win games without scoring.

Game against Lukko wasn't something one would hope for saturday evening. First period was ok, there were a lot of chances and it looked like things are going ok. After that something wierd happened and second and third period were just miserable.

Mondays game was even worse. Nothing was learned from saturday so KalPa got their points easier than Lukko. In post-game interview Mikko Laine said that it was KalPa who were good but I don't think that's the case. HIFK was just so awful it might have looked like it was KalPa that were good. Yes they did win but they didn't really have to do anything else than stand in the center of ring while HIFK was circling around the ice. At one time it looked like HIFK was about to get back to game but after a while Tuppurainen got the second goal. In tuesday they lost to Kärpät but it's not so strange. Kärpät are pretty good and they're playing for the gold while HIFK plays just to get season over. Hopefully things will bet better but I'm a little skeptic about that.

If you've read Jatkoaika there are a lot of talk about who should go. Manager Pentti Matikainen has had his chances in the HIFK so looks like he's the one who is going to go. I wonder will it happen sooner or later? Maybe after season there might be changes in management but who knows.. I doubt that even the HIFK board doesn't know what to do.

Tomorrow's game is against Ilves and while writing this Arttu Luttinen will return to HIFK. I don't know will that help anything but maybe he will go to goal to put the puck in the net.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Rise of Frankenstein

My eyes are bleeding this morning. Perhaps Marko Anttila has read my previous posts and now is out on a rampage of vengeance and rabid goal scoring. I open the recap of yesterday's game against TPS and here it is, the ice breaker AND the game winner, both scored by the same man who's body frame could only have been reconstituted by a mad scientist going through the leftovers from Lempäälä's dissection facilities.

Ok, when you look at the highlights, you find out that his first goal wasn't meant to be a shot at all, but was an interrupted pass that he may or may not have batted through the goalie subsequently. The second though was a different animal. In all his slow-motion splendour, Anttila went on undisturbed by Petri Koskinen's vain attempt to move the colossus off his course. Then a precise wrist shot got the puck were it wanted to be. Kuddos on that one, finally using the size given to him by his Creator to bulldoze through opponent's defences. Here you can get a longer view of the move Anttila used on Koskinen.

That same size got Anttila to be chosen straight out of the Fourth tier league back in the 2004 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. He was a long shot by all means, like most 9th round picks would be. By the following year, the NHL had shortened its draft to 7 rounds, presumably to avoid giving false hopes of World Recognition to the good folks of Lempäälä, but too late, the damage was done. All in all though, if an average of 5 points a year with never more than 46 penalty minutes per season for a 6 foot 7 anomaly of nature gets Anttila an invite to next year's training camp at the United Center, I buy the next round for all of our readers!

Funny enough, Montréal's long shot that year was to pick the Captain of Team Switzerland, defenceman Mark Streit, only two ranks after Chicago's selection. Streit is groomed to take the place of Sheldon Souray on the Power Play this year (yeah, good luck with that, but still...) and won the Jacques-Beauchamp trophy last year, an internal club honour for a player that has played a determining role in the success of the team without withdrawing any particular recognition for it. The year previous, they drafted Jaroslav Halak in the 9th. It goes to show that you can get lucky with these far-fetched selections sometimes, but odds are it just won't happen.

As a follow up on Yesterday's investigation of the missing HPK scorers from last year, I found out, leafing through IltaSanomat's NHL supplement that Mikko Mäenpää maybe was not lying face down on a bathroom floor on the outskirts of Hermia with long dead hopes to be discovered, but is instead headed to Colombus to pursue the American Dream! "The day they laid poor Pancho low, Mikko split for Ohio" like the song would say. Problem is I checked the Blue Jackets' website and of course the kid hasn't made the team, but furthermore, he is not on their In The System feature either. He is not listed as a member of their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch, neither is he with their ECHL affiliate, the Dayton Bombers. News of his signing can be found through superficial googling, but no news of the man and even more worrying, for his parents probably more than for a chance observer as I, is that he was not even on the training camp roster.

So what happened to Mikko Mäenpää between the 1st of June and now. If anyone has got any clues on his whereabouts, please contact Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries. Here you get the proper form. Or just write a comment at the bottom of this post, but I can't promise to be as efficient as Mister Stack or wear a raincoat with the same aplomb either.

On the subject of this article in Ilta Sanomat's NHL supplement, since it just came out and gives you the impression that each player is destined to play for the team that invited him to camp, let's put a couple things straight. (Although if we undertake the task of setting straight all the crap printed in Ilta Sanomat and other misinformation papers of the sort, we got a lifetime of work ahead of us, but let's give this a crack, shall we?)

The NHL season is officially started and camps have wrapped up. None of the players listed cracked the opening night's lineup, not even came close. Here's where they ended up:

Petri Kontiola (Chicago) : Assigned to Rockford Icehogs yesterday the 1st. He didn't fare too bad at all, being part of the last train to Winnebago County along with prized prospects Cam Barker and Jack Skille.

Janne Lahti (Montréal) : Went mainly unnoticed at training camp (only two articles on him in La Presse, this is nothing!), got assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs on the 24th of September along with a bunch of no names (except for avid Montréal fans who prey upon the lives of these people.)

Sami Lepistö (Washington) : I bet he would be on the Hershey Bears if they would update their website, they have his name somewhere but the picture doesn't do justice to the boy.

Perttu Lindgren (Dallas) : Like announced in a previous post, Lindgren got retrograded to the AHL on the 27th of last month but I made a mistake back then, it is not to Utah he is going, but he rather is Iowa bound. Like Tom Petty said in the song Yer so Bad: "I Can't Decide which is Worse!"

Mikko Mäenpää (Colombus) : Ok, I'll break the thick suspense: here you go! (and not "here you are" like most Finnish waitresses seem to think is proper English phrasing.)

Janne Niskala (Nashville) : Seemed to fare quite ok and got the ticket on the 28th along with fellow Finn and high prized prospect Pekka Rinne to report in to the Admirals of Beer City.

Antti Pihlström (Nashville) : I found an interesting article on the Predators' site about Pihlström, Rinne, Teemu Laakso, Ville Koistinen, Oliver Setzinger (a HPK/Pelicans/Ilves alumni) and a few others about crossing the Atlantic to take on the North American Challenge. But for the matter at hand, Pihlström's challenge will have to get through Milwaukee as well.

Tuukka Rask (Boston) : Ilves' Pride was sent on the 25th to Providence, in order to be groomed as the heir of Fernandez between the pipes. Here's a nice article written three days prior to his exit. He played half of one preseason game, giving up 2 goals in 29 minutes.

Juuso Riksman (St.Louis) : On the same day, this other Finnish goalie in the list was assigned to Peoria, along the Illinois River.

Jari Viuhkola (New Jersey) : The Kärpät forward found his tickets for Massachussetts awaiting on the 28th of last month.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Reijo Surfacing

Odd top five this Tuesday morning in the SM-Liiga. Gotta love it though: the Season of the Underdogs. Kärpät are lower than normal but figure as the odd man in an otherwise unfamiliar picture compared to what the league has gotten us accustomed to over the past few years. And all the better for that.

Meanwhile, our Tampere teams hover in the qualification zone, the limbo of the league. Tappara was playing HPK on Nelonen this Saturday and for as much as I had the leisure to see, they put up a good effort. Ok, that was only the second period, when they were up 3-0 and seemed to be dominating all aspects of the game. Great puck moving, overall game control and scoring chances galore. That was until my daughter shut the TV, she cannot stand anything else than Muumipeikko and his bunch on the idiot box, can't blame her and I love her for that.

They managed to blow their lead in order to make it interesting for the crowd one would guess, but still carried on to a narrow victory over Hämeenlinna's diminished squad. Highlights here, including the lightning fast solo effort of Steve Saviano, bloody effective! By the way, I have to point out that this was Tappara's first victory without the help of André Benoit on the scoring sheet. About time this team stops relying on French Canadians to do all the scoring, hehe.

HPK looks - on paper at least - like they've weathered a heavy storm over the summer that has forced a great deal of their roster's talent to jump over board. 5 of their top 7 players points-wise vanished in the mist. Leino dominates with Jokerit now while reports have been filed with the Police on the disappearance of Hassinen, Maenpää and Pihlström and light should be shed soon enough. Unreliable sources tell me the dragging of Ahvenistonjärvi turned only unlinkable evidence such as a blood encrusted Sälibandy stick and a keychain sporting the logo Kemi Über Alles. Their top goal scorer from last season, Janne Lahti, has flown over the Atlantic and under the radar of Montreal's training camp evaluators, which got him to land on the Calder Cup Champions Hamilton Bulldogs' roster.

Holes have been plucked of course, most notably by the addition of seasoned veteran Turkulainen Kai Nurminen. I was most shocked by his defection from his home team after so many years of loyal services as the face of the franchise. (Ok, as the nose of the franchise, while Kiprosoff has filled the duties of mullet of the franchise with great panache.) Nurminen has donned the Golden Helmet on many outings for TPS and was seen as a leader at least from what I have seen on the three occasions I have had the chance to see him play live, sitting in the first row behind the player's bench. He could be a dominating player at times and something must have gone haywire with TeePSi for the 38 year old to pack his bags and immigrate to Hämeenlinna. If anyone has more info on the subject, feel free to enlighten us through the comments section.

The one major overhaul that has taken place with HPK is not amongst the roster though, but rather behind the bench with the exile of Kalevi Numminen trophy winner Jukka Jalonen toward the greener pastures of the Leijonat squad where he is the heir apparent to Ontarian Doug Shedden as head coach. Jalonen used to run a tight ship in Hämeenlinna, with a style I would dare compare to Hall of Famer and two times Jack Adams winner Jacques Lemaire who is coaching in Hockey State, USA, at the moment. Efficient, hard-working, meticulous and mind crushingly boring defensive hockey. No emphasis put on a talented roster but rather on puck dumping, trap practising, hermetical zone defense. Can't argue with results though with HPK winning the title two years back with no flash whatsoever in the lineup (with the exception of dwarf-wonder Jukka Voutilainen, the Finnish Martin Saint-Louis, playing with a stick the size of his ambitions). Now I have been told that Matti Alatalo draws good praise already at the helm but results will have to come soon and the first solution could be to get reinforcements to pad the team in front of Chiodo and Lassila.

Ilves fared good over the weekend also and Kontiola asserts himself as the man of the grand occasions, helping his team beat the Suburban Blues to the ground somewhere in the God-forsaken faraway woods of Espoo.

In quite less SM-Liiga related news, last week saw an interesting little competition took place in Salzburg, Austria between four teams of uneven levels. The stacked by Austrian standards hosts Red Bull Salzburg EC, the Swiss powerhouse HC Davos, HC Färjestads from the next country left and the team formerly owned by Uncle Buck/John Candy, from the City of Angels, the Kings. The results are fairly irrelevant, no huge surprise apart from the 3-0 lead that the hosts, who seemed under the effect of Tyrone's fabled Red Balls, took over the Kings in their first match-up. This was quickly solved by future all-star and neighbourhood boy Anže Kopitar from down the road a little over 100km South East over the Slovenian border with a hat trick that left no doubt on the kid's potential.

What was interesting to me in that tournament is the composition of the various teams. Something that never fails to amaze me is how sports careerists reinvent themselves and their trade in the most unlikely places. The current coach of Salzburg is none other than the second to last man who mended the bench in my Province's Capital city. Pierre Pagé almost directed one of the most star studded casts of player the NHL has known in the 90s. He got fired before the franchise finally got it together after the 1993-94 campaign, leading them into their last season of a long spell being excluded of the series and being the laughing stock of most everyone in the league but especially of us, Canadiens fans.

The team he left to the hands of Mark Crawford counted amongst its ranks the names of Burnaby Joe Sakic, Northern Ireland's own Owen Nolan, a green little rookie known as Foppa, Scott Young, Valeri Kamensky, Uwe Krupp, Adam Deadmarsh, Adam Foote and now-Islanders GM Garth Snow. Oh, and one Janne Laukkanen from Lahti! that I have to mention since I promised not to stray away so much from Finnish hockey. This team was one goalie removed from total dominance of the league. They moved South, stole Roy from us, during that time, Pierre Pagé checked in at the unemployment agancy and the rest is history.

Now in the Alps, the cast is not that glamorous any longer. But by Austrian league standards, the Energy drink sponsor does seem to have splashed quite a bit of money in order to give Pagé that championship he craves for. Frank Banham who I saw literally flying on the ice for SaiPa a couple years back, anchors the offence. Reinhard Divis, the first Austrian ever to reach the NHL when he warmed the bench in Saint-Louis, is between the pipes. Stanley Cup winner as an extra with the Ducks last year, Richard Jackman finds himself solidifying the blueline. NHL journeyman Josh Green who played 50 some games last year for Vancouver, and skated for no less than 8 NHL teams in his career, is on the wing. Olympic Gold medallist Daniel Tjärnqvist is a late addition on defense, he was the first Swedish player to win a championship in the SM-Liiga, it was with Jokerit in '97, by the way. Not too shabby at all.

But the main point of interest for Finnish readers here is the man backing Pagé behind the bench: Hall of Famer - he's got his jersey on the wall in Vaprikki - former Ranger and two time Stanley cup winner with the Oilers alongside the Great One, Reijo Ruotsalainen. Along with Kurri and Tikkanen, he constitutes my first memories of how Finnish names can be weird. If only I would have known that it simply meant Réjean Le Suédois!

An interesting bunch by all means, remains to see how much the Austrians give a shit about Pierre and Reijo's drive for the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga's greatest honours, however great they might be!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Jyväskylä - Helsinki 1-1

Two teams from the capital travelled to the land of capercaillie yesterday. HJK had no problems with their cup game against JJK, winning 4-0 in Harju stadium, whereas HIFK's visit to Hippos proved less successful. To cut the story short, the first period was Jyp's, the latter half of the second and the beginning of the third HIFK's and the end of the event again Jyp's. Three goals in seventyfour seconds.

J-P Hytönen, the captain and a Jyväskylä native, was the man of the match (in football terms; in hockey we should of course talk about the amount of 'stars') and nailed 2+1. The winner was a proper clap-clap beauty...the older Helminen was her best friend helping with the make up, Kalle Kaijomaa the loving brother who gave her a lift to the party, Tommi Hannus, that old chaperone, introduced her to J-P - Mr Right, who took her home. She's a brilliant goal and, like all Jyp's home highlights, you can admire her here.

So, after the round seven, Jyp's at the top of the league and I can't go and see any of their matches. I hope to make it to the first home game after Christmas - it's always around the same time with my birthday, and I've a sort of tradition with my little brothers, now 12, that we go and watch a Jyp game. As it happens, this year it'll be HIFK's second visit to Jyväskylä.

In another news, seven Jyp players in total will go on loan to Mestis, with SaPKO of Savonlinna and for two matches. It's a wise move; the seven include four who currently don't fit into the regular team (defs Forsberg & Leppänen, forwards Niemi & Piiroinen), plus three who are recovering from injuries - i.e. the forwards Louhivaara & Tenkanen, and ex-Tappara Tuokkola, our second goalie. Jyp has a broad squad so, assuming that no one gets traded, this won't be the last consignment of this sort.

Also, I've been informed that Hippos will most probably go through a renovation during the next summer. This would bring the long-needed VIP lounges and add space for some extra facilities, which is all very welcome. If you ask me, having an old and rundown arena in hockey isn't as bad as having an old and rundown arena in football (you're indoors anyway, so the weather isn't an issue) and can even have a positive impact to atmosphere: a fully packed Hippos surely translates into lengthy pub and toilet lines and lack of breathing space, but into a genuinely electric atmosphere as well. Those VIP sections are badly needed, though, as it's corporate hospitality that brings big sponsor bucks to hockey clubs in this country - and Jyp doesn't have those at the moment. Harju stadium's renovation project is pending in city administration too, but I guess that'll be a clear runner-up when it comes to priorities.

Nevertheless, both of the sport venues were sold out last night: 4500 pairs of eyes in Hippos and 5125 in Harju. Not bad.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Round up

Ilves got a right humping at home to Jokerit on Tuesday. I wouldn't ordinarily post about something so mundane as this, but I really want to post a link to my favourite ice hockey broadcaster JP Lammi.

jYp returned to form form with a 4-3 overtime win over Saipa, Blues followed up their thrashing of the leaders (they beat Jyp 5-0 on Saturday) and Kärpät beat Tappara 3-2.

So there are reasonable highlights for the Tampere clubs and JYP (although the young fella at keskisuomalainen could learn a lot from JP's minimalist presentational style), I would love to be able to provide more. So please tell me where they are.

New TV contract

Sm-Liiga has signed a new contract settling TV broadcast rights from 2008-2013. The new deal is almost business as usual, but Nelonen will get a 'game of the month' to show live. This is an excellent idea, giving broader exposure but retaining the lucrative Canal+ money for the Tuesday and Thursday matches.

It breaks down like this:


Tuesday and Thursday matches in the regular season
Exclusive rights to the first round of the play-offs
Dual rights to the semi-finals with Nelonen


Game of the month on a Saturday at 5pm
Joint rights to the semi-finals
Exclusive rights to the finals

This deal will begin from next season, so it does not affect the 2007-08 campaign.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Introduction to SM Liiga, Part 2

So we continue with the other half of Tampere. Tappara grew out of Tammerfors Bollklubb, assuming their current name in 1955. As you can see, they like their viking imagery. They've been more successful than Ilves in recent years, their 12th and most recent title coming in 2003.

Their theme song is 'Life is life' by Opus, and they play in a very ugly kit. Two things that don't immediately endear them to me, but I'm a very superficial person. They do have a French Canadian, Mr Andre Benoit who scored a cracking first goal of the season as Yves pointed out before. Benoit is from New Brunswick, I think, but in any case is not a Quebecker. I include this information because until I discovered it I was unaware that any French Canadians existed outside of Quebec (or, y'know, significant numbers of them. Obviously some of them exist outside Quebec, they don't just vapourise at the border. Two of them have even survived in Pirkanmaa before Benoit's arrival, so they are a multi-habitat breed).

Tappara are the Chelsea of Finland. At least partly owned by Poju Zabludowicz, a London-based billionaire, they have been pretty successful recently and lots of other people don't like them that much.
Porin Ässät are not called 'asses', their name actually translates as 'Aces'. They are represented here by Jussi, who survived the perils of an upbringing in his home city. Dangerous moments included the time someone got shot in the eye outside a Grilli kioski, and this summer's brutal murder in which a young man got bored with the two women he'd invited back to his apartment and shot them both dead with a crossbow. It's a hard place, run by cruel people, who in 2006 ruined the only nice thing that ever happens in Pori by inviting Sting along to the Pori Jazz festival. Evil has triumphed there, and a west coast tour is not complete without a picture outside the famous kiosk and one from Rauma's nuclear power station.

In hockey terms, they were good a couple of years ago but not so hot last season. Pori's a small place and the council support them as much as possible - having lost the Pori Jazz football team they wouldn't want to be without an SM Liiga presence.

Moving down the coast to that nuclear power station, we have Lukko. The city of Rauma has a UNESCO world heritage site (its old wooden town centre) and a nuclear waste dump. The people of Rauma have been compensated for this via their local council, who plough the money into Lukko to make up for their sixth digits.

Lukko's kit is a garish bright yellow, which only adds to the plutonium tinge around the club. To be fair, they did win a title in 1963, which is almost certainly before there was a nuclear plant there. Their Canadians include Shane Toporowski who once played for Toronto, and Doug O'Brien who played in Quebec Major Junior League before he came to Finland. All three of their goaltenders and a surprising number of their players come from Rauma, which surely has nothing to do with the danger of nuclear contamination inherent in living in this part of the Western Finland Archipelago.

Their home 'facility' is Äijänsuo, which holds 5,400.

Next up, HPK. I am playing fast and loose with the 'southwards' direction, but I think it's best to leave the Helsinki and Turku clubs will last, because they are the most southerly clubs. They also play in the most Swedish dominated areas, which in Finland is a good indication of power and influence.

HIF has one HPK fan, Ari. He has provided a guide to their key players, and so I shall lazily copy and paste it directly:

G Andy Chiodo - Acquired last season. Considered one of the best
goalies in the league and needs to play like that for the club to
succeed. A bit injury-prone, at least in the past.

D Harri Tikkanen - Came from SaiPa. Slated to become the team's number
one offensive defenseman. Small, especially for a defenseman.

F Kai Nurminen - Came from TPS. An experienced goal-scoring winger.
First played for the club in the mid-'90s. Is he over the hill?

Another key is how the centers as a group succeed. The position is
widely believed to be a weakness, but Emil Lundberg and/or Iivo
Hokkanen could conceivably exceed expectations.

Kerho represented Finland in the European competitions last year, and did quite well until they got hammered by the Russians. They are widely regarded as another well run club, with a tight but atmospheric rink that still has a good bar and opportunities for fleecing the corporate idiots. Their 'Sika Katsomo' or 'Pig stand' is regarded as providing some of the best heckling in Finland, and it is indeed brilliant to have a standing area so close to the ice. At hakametsä those seats are usually empty because the aforementioned corporate idiots are too busy to watch the game.

Interestingly (for me at least) they have their roots as a bandy club, and switched to the smaller game after the war. Their pesäpallo team were the Finnish champions in 1936, when the long trips to Sotkamo must have been a lot of fun.

Pelicans, the pride of Lahti. I have nothing to add to this logo. Thankfully Yves does, having spent some time in that fine city:

The unfortunate logo of this unfortunate club is only one more unfortunate aspect of the miserable city of Lahti. The Chicago of
Finland, as they say referring to the town's organized crime links, has the highest suicide rate South of the Arctic Circle and that should say a lot in the country with a traditionally high suicide rate.

The Cyan-coloured squad has done nothing in recent years to bolster the morale of the endangered souls that periodically half-fill Isku Areena.

Key players include Marko Jantunen, who, if we believe the Pelicans Web Site Home Page, is made out of plastic (link here:, along with Matias Loppi, they both led the team in scoring last year and are returnees for this season. To be fair, I have to say that the Pelicans seem to be building on something the last few seasons, making the playoffs last year for the first time since their 2002's early exit. But under the captaincy of 36 year old Erik Kakko, they have had a long crossing of the desert. Kakko could be the least accurate point man I have ever seen. His goals/shots average makes you wonder if it wouldn't be time somebody would bring him the news about his limited talent, but silence is golden in this country, isn't it?

Satosaari minds the net and boasted an impressive 92.3% save average last year. Superhuman save percentage has been a necessity from Pelicans' netminders for years now. During the NHL lockout, I have seenPasi Nurminen get over 60 pucks coming his way during one 60 minute. He
gave up 5 goals (who wouldn't?) and still got the first star. Didn't seem so glamourous to him though.

The team is part owned now by Pasi Nurminen, a former solid starter in the net for the Atlanta Thrashers, that was put to early retirement by a knee injury at age 29. You would suspect him to be a bitter man, with a fucked up knee, an addiction to pain-killers, an obnoxious wife and a
hometown that at best strives to be a far suburb of Hell. He now coaches the goaltenders and this bitterness might be the fuel behind his team's surge, but who knows...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Seeing Doubles

The early race for the scoring title comes to underline the very limited choices that Finnish parents seem to have when comes time to name their newborn. (Ok, Québec isn't that much better, there used to be 3 Steve Tremblay in the same grade at my high school, so just friendly teasing, fellas) Sitting nicely at number one on this fine day is a player from a team Jääkiekkolehti deemed to have no player worth being included in this year's top 49 (and this was written before Hrdina and Majesky came around, although they might not count being on loan and all).

Jarkko Immonen, no not the comeback kid looking down at the rest of the league hanging strong at number 4 on the list, rather his homonym from the Lapperanta Underdogs. Both guys whose teams battle for the top spot of the league. What are the odds that these top two ranking teams retain their actual spot til the end of the calendar? Wouldn't bet my pocket gravel on it.

Jyväskylä's prodigal son, the J.I. claiming the 3th spot in the SM with an even 5 points, has had a rough year one would say. Of course, he gets showered with flowers and accolades from the home crowd, but looking back at last 1st of July, it must've been a heartbreaking moment for the young lad who thought he had a clear break to move in Nylander's skates in the Big Apple. Once touted as a hot prospect destined to anchor the Rangers' second line, Immonen spent two potent seasons trying to impress, alternatively during brief call-ups to the big club and with the farm club in the Insurance Capital of the World, Hartford. Boredom, grey suits, suicide rate, repressed guilt and tedious conversations come to mind. Could almost be Lahti. He did exceptionally well in the playoffs last year with 8 points in 7 games and you would have thought some reward would come out of this.

But that was without counting on irresponsibility coming back to the forefront of Bettman's New NHLtm. The salary cap got a steroid injection in an arse cheek, got up to a level where the playing field is not that level any longer and guess who started spending like there is no tomorrow again... Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are gonna be feeding Jagr and Straka and Shanahan and the lot. Nice one two punch down the middle, what a splash on the free market, something something, lots of shiny headlines but not that many talks about the one main victim of this double-signing: Immonen's bank account.

I am not an advocate of the get-rich-at-all-costs mentality and better to be a hero at home than to be a marginal role-player elsewhere, but still there is the argument of playing at the highest level instead of circling around traffic cones like Marko Anttila (damn I'm gonna get beat if I keep on doing this), be all you can be and make a few bucks by riding your God-given talent (or Vishnu or Allah or Jeannie of I Dream of Jeannie-given talent, I'm not picky) to a comfortable retirement. "Let's get it while the getting is good", like Hank Ballard & the Midnighters said in the wonderful early rock n roll classic "Work with me Annie"(you can hear the song there but forget about the vid), he also says "Annie, please don't cheat. Give me all my meat." but it would seem irrelevant to the matter at hand.

This is not for Jarkko, though. His NHL hopes hit a road block called Satheronomics, which I predict will exclude their star-studed/no chemistry club from the Series like it did for 7 straight seasons when the team boasted guys like Pavel Bure, FatHead Lindros, Fleury, Nedved, Kovalev, etc on a salary mass that could be seen with teary eyes from as far as Deadmonton on clear September evenings. He'll be riding high in Jyväskylä this year, but my humble guess is that looking right or left to a Helminen or another is not quite the same as being backed by sure fire Hall of Famers Shanny and the Jagrmaster.

Early scoring races are good fun to watch if anything at all. I remember keeping the Journal de Québec clipping of the ranked scorers of the league one year because after two playoff games Mike Keane was throning atop the Lemieux and Yzermans of the land. And that year where Saku stayed until early December at #1 before that awful knee injury took our hopes away and the Lemieux of this land claimed his rightful place.

On the Tappara front: win number one of the season came off of who's gun? Oooh Yeah, with ten seconds to go in the third, the shining beacon of French Canadianness in Pirkanmaa (shining not only because of the hairdo) blasted his second killer shot past Vehanen, evening up the score to push the game in overtime where it took them all of 8 seconds to put this one in their back pocket. You can see the highlights here. Vas-y André, ca ne fait que commencer!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Introduction to SM Liiga, Part 1

This here is a map of Finland. Lacking the skills and software to mess about with it too much, I have decided to commence my introductory post from the top, both geographically and in the league table. I intend to offer a brief introduction to each team, giving the basic facts about the club and team. Including their badges, as they are apparently a source of controversy among my fellow contributors and this blog's readers. Better that you can judge for yourselves, I think.

So first up, Oulun Kärpät. They are based in Oulu, surprisingly enough, and have been pretty darn dominant in recent years, following a bankruptcy and years in the wilderness. They are held up as an example of a financially solid club, and have increased their budget by €300,000 this year (with the caveat that very few sport clubs are open and transparent about their finances, obviously. We won't know till next year).

They have thrived on a sound transfer policy and massive crowds, averaging 5,000 crowds even when they were in Mestis, which would provide a good foundation for any organisation. Their badge looks like this:

They play in a 1970's shed in Raksila, which has recently been given a lick of paint and cunningly re-named as the Oulun Energia Areena, a 6614 capacity stadium. Key players are net minder Tuomas Tarkki, defender and captain Ilkka Mikkola, and forwards Michal Bros, the ever improving Janne Pesonen and the skillful but enigmatic Juhamatti Aaltonen.

Heading south, the next team is KalPa of Kuopio. Their origins are in Sortavalan Pallo, a team of evacuees from Karelia. They are in the province of Savo and are owned by NHL players Sammi Kapanen and Kimmo Timonen, who both played for them during the NHL lockout. They play at the Niiralan Monttu, which holds 5,165 people. This is their badge:
KalPa are local rivals with JyP (or JYP, or Jyp, or jYp or whatever the appropriate acronym is) and their games are the 'derbies' that are more numerous than the longer distance matches in Sm Liiga. It's a sensible policy in a big country, but I do wonder whether they should schedule all the derbies on the same day. Surely if JYP-KalPa was the only derby on a Saturday it would ensure greater media attention for two clubs who don't often grab the limelight? As it is, Helsinki journalists (that is, those that work for national organisations) usually pick HIFK-Jokerit as the most crucial game.

Anyway, Kalpa usually struggle and probably will again. They don't have the resources or sponsors, and Kuopio has an established football club to compete for the advertising budgets that Savolainen companies dish out. Kalpa's key players are Jani Tuppurainen, Tuomas Kiiskinen, Matti Kuusisto, Janne Kauvosaari and Jeremy Stevenson, who has over 100 NHL games. Kuusisto is a defenceman, the rest are forwards.

Moving on, we have JYP. Based in Jyväskylä, they are the pride of Central Finland and share a city with the best sport science department of any Finnish university. The team has faced financial troubles in recent years and play in one of the worst arenas in SM Liiga. Having re-signed Jarkko Immonen and doubled their budget, they will be looking to get to the final four. They're one of the small provincial teams punching above their (economic) weight, and as such deserve a portion of your sympathy.

Key men for JYP are the aforementioned Jarkko Immonen, goaltender Sinuhe Wallinheimo, Tuomas Pihlman, Dwight Helminen and Ilari Filppula. Helminen's brother Lars also plays for the club, and despite their Finnish surname they are both Americans. JYP have a new coach after Matti Alatalo's departure to HPK, and it will be Risto Dufva's first season coaching at this level. Jyp have re-signed an entire line from 2002-03, Immonen-Virtanen-Pihlman. Aapo, our resident Jypite, describes this as 'an exceptional and expensive move.

I think Tampere is north of Pori, so we shall head to Hakametsä next. Two teams are based here, and 2 out of 7 HiF writers live in this fine city. Neither of us have much preference over Ilves or Tappara, so we'll just go alphabetically shall we?

Ilves are one of the giants of the Finnish game. They've won the title 16 times and are therefore the most successful club in the league. The most recent success was over twenty years ago in 1985, but they still have a big following in Tampere, unsurprisingly. This is their logo, a lynx. Judge for yourself whether it is the best or the worst logo in Finland, I myself will simply say that is it better than Tappara's. Which is surely controversial enough.

Key players for them include Canuck Mike Bishai, Sami Koivisto, Sami Torkki and the wonderful, freakishly tall forward, Marko Antilla. Raimo Helminen is the captain, and he's 42 years old. They also have Mikko Peltola (37 years old), Pasi Määttänen (35) and Vesa Viitakoski (36). Spring chickens they ain't. I'll continue with Tappara, Aces, Lukko and Pelicans before heading into the deep south. Any suggestions for editing will be gratefully received-I intend these intros to form part of an FAQs section so they will have a longer shelf life, I think.

Yippie yi ohhhhh, yippie yi yaaaaay

(Fuck me, is that the canon spelling?)

My name's Aapo and I'm a Jyp fan. You can also call me Aapo, and, I tell you, not everybody can. The two "A" letters are pronounced as if they were one vowel and half in English, after them comes a "P" as in lavatories or in Finnish streets at weekends, and the last "O" to stretch your mouth and eyes wide open shares the same phonetics with her sisters within Olokkosen Grilli's Olokkonen. Hence I am not Apoo, Habo or Apu, thank you very much.

My team is normally referred to as JYP, but by casually dropping the extra capitals and referring to it as Jyp - or Jyppi, if communicating in my mother tongue - I'm making a statement that I've followed the team for long enough to distinguish myself from other hockey wonks and to drop those extra capitals, casually and just like Seppo Mäkelä used to drop face-off pucks.

Living in London (and thus being the only one of us without a national level hockey team in his city) I bring some expatriative equilibrium into this blog's contributorship. I was born in Suolahti, a small town relatively close to Jyväskylä, which is usually known for its contributions to Finnish metal, be it either the musical or the industrial side of it. Here you can see the Machine Men vocalist Antony with two of his fans - one being a three-time Selke Trophy winner, another the only man ever traded for Mike Ribeiro - whereas here you can watch Jyp players and their new coach, Risto Dufva, having a tour in our world-famous tractor factory. "Managing a hockey team is like managing a modern tractor assembly line", as they say. Suolahti boasts a hockey team of its own, too; 99 year young Urho play, to my knowledge, in the fourth tier. To a contemporary observer the best known player in Urho's history is probably Juha Junno, the CEO of Kärpät.

Which by no means necessitates that I'd like Kärpät. When Jyp last time was having a satisfactory season, 2002-03, it was indeed Kärpät who emerged 02-03 victorious from our quarter-final series, and, as it happens, I have decided not to like any club who have beaten Jyp in quarter-finals, semi-finals or finals proper. Such clubs are many, and I may later elaborate my feelings towards every single of them - anatomising, for instance, that catharhic sensation I experienced in the evening of last Independence Day, when I and my task force witnessed Jyp snatching an overtime victory in Bagel's Hill, Kerho's atmospheric home lair - but later, indeed, means not now.

Though let me state that I've recently felt rather neutral about all three from Helsinki. Maybe it's because against HIFK and Jokerit we've typically played (relatively) well, and that sausage team from their suburbia anyway never wins anything so, apart from unavoidable mischief, I haven't cared much for them. Until two seasons ago, when they won an eighth-final series (yes, we do have also those in SM-Liiga) against Jyp. That said, Jokerit, for their part, have actually beaten us in the real, ultimate finals, yet that happened with Selänne and Janecky in 1992, and the years have allowed my grudge to turn milder.

Well, there's one eighth-final defeat after that, but you get my point; in hockey it takes approx fifteen seasons for the sins of your fathers to be forgiven. For the same reason I incite no hatred of massive scale against TPS, either, that another team ever to deny the Canada Bowl from Jyp, back in 1989. And Tepsi's recent fall from grace has been so striking that if you're to come across as a mature sport following individual you just pity them. They will be absolute crap this season.

Jyp did okay in Kuopio on Thursday. Kalpa went down 3-1 and, more importantly, the comeback kids Immonen and Virtanen scored one each, with Tommi Hannus shooting the last one. All of them are expected to be industrious in offense, so it was nice from them to uncork their bottles before the party gets sweatier. Dwight Helminen, the older one of our Yankee brothers, having recovered from a broken jaw, is expected to debut on Saturday, meaning that pretty much for the first time since the days of Dolezal et al Jyp are experiencing an over-supply of decent forwards - which, at the end of the day, is hoped to more than match the shortage of solid defensemen. We'll see about that; I'm personally putting my faith in the younger Helminen and Mäntymaa from Tappara proving key players, and some of the old defense guard to improve from the last season. If that happens, and if the Egyptian remains the usual safe pair of hands, succumbing to no injuries, we stand a chance to make it into the top four. That ought to secure that the financial risk of this season - doubling the player budget - would pay off too.

It'll be the first home match of the season and it'll be against Tappara, the team I probably hate most. This antagonism dates back to the turn of the millennium when Tappara started to exploit Jyp's plight and seduce our best players to the brighter lights of Hakametsä. Almost always it proved a wise career move for the lads, yet I've never been a man great enough to admit it, and then there was of course the eighth-finals in March 2005 when Jarkko Immonen and our fantastic Blue Jackets lockout duo, Westcott & Shelley, were meant to take us beyond the annual ice ceiling of the eighth-finals, and who knows how afar. Tappara were a piece of mustamakkara in the first game, but during its second intermission Westcott allegedly punched or headbutted Tappara's Pasi Puistola in the face and got a game misconduct with a two matches ban. Puistola was of course an innocent passer-by on the way to his intermission bottle of Smurf lemonade, so to him Reijo "Pim-Pom-Ding-Dong" Ringbom gave only sympathy. The second game in Hakametsä witnessed Jody Shelley giving a proper, rough but clean check to Robert "Cantor" Kantor but, as he was the physically bigger counterpart and those couple of crimson drops from Robert "Cantor" Kantor's nose were enough to convince the ref - someone else than Reijo "Pim-Pom-Ding-Dong" Ringbom - of Shelley's intrinsic brutality, the SM-Liiga policy on the encounters between bigger and smaller players and the drops of blood dictated that he was sent to an early shower. Tappara scored the only goal of the match during the five minute power play that was to follow, and the decisive third game I watched in Grand Star Cafe on Hämeenkatu, a sport bar full of Tappara-jerseyed locals. A Tappara woman next to me and my Chilliwackian (that's where the music video of Summer of '69 was filmed, cowboy) mate was spitting the floor, insulting Jyp players and swearing like women not from Tampere certainly don't swear. Then we lost.

So, my name's Aapo and I'm a Jyp fan. I'll be following my team via SM-Liiga's impressively sluggish website and posting my varyingly random thoughts once in a while. When I say "not now", it does or does not mean "later".

The readers who have made it this far get an Easter egg for their effort: the highlights of a pre-season match between JyP HT and Tappara, played in Mänttä, on 7th of September, 1993.