Friday, September 28, 2007
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
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.
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
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: http://www.pelicans.fi/), 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
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
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.
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.
Iltalehti do videos for ice hockey too, but they consist mainly of interviews in Finnish. And if you could speak Finnish you wouldn't need me to point you in that direction, would you?
The closest thing you can get, as far as I can see (and of course, if I'm wrong please correct me) is MTV3's sports news. You can watch it on the internet by following these instructions:
1. Go to their website.
2. Click on 'MTV3 Anytime NettiTV'.
3. This should open a new window. Within this window, click on 'Urheilu' at the top.
4. Now look for the highlights in the right hand column. They divide their sport bulletins into segments, so a lot of the links are interviews, but within that you should be able to see some goals.
SM-Liiga's website has had some problems of it's own recently, with Mr Pasi Mennander, an SM Liiga media official, interviewed about them in today's Helsingin Sanomat. Given that you now need subscription television to watch Finnish hockey, you'd think they might be a bit more professional about alternative sources of publicity. Mennander said it was working well apart from the last 5 minutes of the games when the livescore feature stopped working because of the level of traffic.
Apparently 'the technical people are on top of the situation', and this situation is normal at the start of the season when they configure their servers. It seems a bit strange, as it would probably be best to start off with too much capacity and then calibrate things further, but I suppose SM liiga knows it doesn't need to try too hard.
SM Liiga is a bit of a cosy club, without relegation unless the club that finishes first in Mestis meets certain standards. I don't know what these are, but I imagine they are unlikely to be met anytime soon. This is 'to promote financial stability' and protect non-achieving clubs. I don't know much about hockey, but a top flight without relegation will quickly become stale.
Anyway, I like the lower divisions. Games at Hakametsä remind me of the Sheffield Steelers - good fun and everything, but not a proper sport. Very artificial, more about the eating and drinking than the hockey. Maybe I'm holding them to a higher standard than I should, but I have been introduced to European hockey via Swiss supporter culture, which is a good deal more animated. Things like this appeal to my my sense of occasion.
So I like my flares and tifos, and I was surprised to find the Tampere derby a bit flat, without so much atmosphere. Nothing like a TamU-TPS game, for instance. Hockey fans here could do with learning from the Swiss, in my quite naive opinion.
This picture is of Ambri supporters making their protest against Israel's invasion of Lebanon last year, and supporting their team against Lugano in last year's playoffs (thanks to Yuri for providing the link). I'm told Finnish supporter culture can be good at hockey, and I hope to see some of that. I'm not encouraged by Yves's stories of being told to sit down at HIFK (he's an excitable lad), but we'll see. If any readers can suggest where to go for this kind of stuff (besides Jokerit) I'd gladly go along.
For the time being I will nail my colours to the mast of these boys, who are my local team. At least until I leave these western suburbs behind and move closer to the centre, but I think I can develop an affinity with them in the meantime.
Friday, September 14, 2007
As for myself, I will step back a little, give some time for this season to unfold a wee bit more and then set my mind if one of these two squads requires closer attention and has what it takes to be a contender. You can label me a mercenary but allegiance is normally not something you build in your Thirties, you're way too critical to summon the necessary passion and excitement over a bunch of kids mainly younger than you, so I'll take my time and pledge to the most impressive crew sometime during the winter.
Yesterday's matchup was Ilves' affair. Often a team that does not bring so much new faces around for a new season and sticks with the continuing chemistry within the men in place bet on the right strategy. Although I might add that the addition of Sami Torkki paid instantly with the beauty he served up to Peltola in the second. Torkki, coming back from 2 seasons with Linköpings we could call disappointing if we go by the numbers, seemed right at home on the second unit.
I often have a way to jinx my own predictions. If I cheer for a team, betting on them losing would bring you good odds. I even jinx my analysis of players. During the match, I turn around to my buddy and say "Look at Anttila, number 61, it's fuckin' Frankenstein, impressive alright but damn that guy is useless, look at him, he's gonna do nothing, just circle around and wait for his shift to end." Next thing you know, he grabs the puck, gets the D off his back in a subtle twist and drives to the net all alone. He couldn't get a decent shot but it seemed to be my remark that sparked his brief flash of talent. Goes to show. It stopped there by the way, we never saw him touch the puck again and he'll remain in my opinion only a tool, useless piece of meat like one would say. He'd be better off in a Broadway show doing his own version of Puttin' on the Ritz.
One last word on the goaltending. Tappara owes their one point to one man. Tommi Nikkilä, second best in saving average last year in the league, is off to a good start and hopefully for the team, he can steal the odd point here and there like he did last night.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
To me the game itself didn't look so good. Maybe it was a just the problem with first game of the season. Of course winning is cool but the game itself was somewhat slow and a bit boring. HIFK coach Baxter was pleased with the game. I don't know why he said but it might be that he'was trying to take some pressure off the shoulders of goalie Jan Lundell and other players. I was certain they would lose the game after HPK got their two goals. HIFK did have really good chances but they couldn't kill the game because Any Chiodoo was pretty awesome. Luckily other HPK players weren't so good. HPK did beat TPS (score 4-1) today so maybe things will change in their end.
While writing this HIFK got their second win of the season. This time they beat local rivals Jokerit 0-3 (goals: Heikkinen 1, Murray 2). I only saw the goals from Canal+ so I really can't tell anything about the game. Somewhat surprising result but 3 points are always appreciated. Fan views about the game can be found at Jatkoaika.com:s game thread. Something in english might be available at english section of the HIFK website.
So this was the first comment to this blog. Hopefully the grammar isn't too bad and I hope that future writings will be more interesting. I don't know how long that will take but hopefully not 110 years.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Ice hockey didn't come easily to me. In my younger -- and let's be honest, not so younger -- days, I played loads of sports to a distinctly average standard, went regularly to speedway meetings, went irregularly to various other sporting events, but ice hockey never figured at all. In England, we lived nowhere near any of the professional teams, ice hockey of any standard was seldom on the box, so it's not surprising it never figured. In Finland, it's not easy to avoid it -- more so in the days before Canal+ got their mitts on the league's exclusive TV rights -- and in Oulu, nigh on impossible. I liked the speed and skill and physicality of the sport, but had to learn the ins and outs of what was going on via a language I barely understood. It took a while to stop calling icing long puck, this and other similar ineptitudes causing sniggering among my North American acquaintances, but eventually I got to the point of understanding the game. Or so I think.
My biases and prejudices among the SM Liiga clubs run like this. No surprises in that I support Kärpät (which translates into English as "The Stoats" or, if you want to take the piss, "The Weasels"), but also like Kerho, TPS and Lukko. I dislike HIFK and Ilves a bit, Jokerit, of course, a bit more, and Blues most of all. These are mostly for historical reasons, enabling me to care which way a televised match might go. For reasons not entirely unconnected with semi-final events of two seasons ago, I've taken a more dim view than previously of our friends in Pori. For the rest, something ranging from fairly neutral to sublime indifference.
Kärpät's league season starts tomorrow at Raksila against Blues. Defeat would not be pleasant. The team's largely stable from last year, notable absentees being Jari Viuhkola (NHL), Spede Pyörälä (Sweden), Viktor Ujcik (dunno) and Ross Lupaschuk (Siberia). Mikko Lehtonen's back after a year across the pond, oh and go on then, we've signed Jere Karalahti. Difficult to take in at first, I really wish we hadn't, but now he's in our colours I'll support him the same as the others. Let's hope "until he buggers things up" isn't needed.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
EDIT-Highlights are available if you go to http://www.mtv3.fi and click on the netti tv link at the top of the page. Then go to 'urheilu' and then click on 'tulosruutu' in the left hand column. Then click on 'HIFK kaatui HPK'n liiga avauksessa'.
I would post the latest standings, but I think you can guess what they are. Ryan Vesce scored the first goal of the SM Liiga season, and there were a few empty seats at the 8,000 capacity Helsinki Ice hall. I'm new to this and I can't find the attendance figures just now, but hopefully we can see just how popular hockey is in this country over the course of the season.
I read recently that JyP need an average attendance of 3,900 to break even this year, a 400 increase on last year. The budgets of sports clubs are notoriously hard to decipher even in Finland, and we won't know how accurate that figure is until next year. But it would be good to compare, given the big crowds football clubs have secured this season (TPS being the shining light in this regard) and the numerous sell out or near sellout crowds at the Olympic Stadium for Roy'n Boy'n.
Thursday the Thirteen, hockey masks will be put on, no chainsaws allowed, but the puck will drop on another SM-Liiga season. We will be attending at Hakametsä (providing there is still tickets left, tickets that were supposed to be purchased last week by a collaborator that will rename nameless and that blamed poor old booze for his own shortcomings, when will they learn…) the first duel between this fine city’s rival units.
I have witnessed only 2 games of the team they dub the Montreal Canadiens of Finland, and I can see the similarities. Capable of the best and most often the worse, terribly inconsistent and frustrating for their fans that have known the glory heights of being crowned champions and that are left to wonder if they will see this glory revive during their lifetime, taste the bubbly wine and wander the street high-fiving total strangers.
The first match up Ilves was implicated in that I got to attend was a humiliating defeat. It was a Tappara home game and it showed. We were sitting under the giant orange and blue flag, which covered up nicely our illegal Jim Beam intake from the breast pocket flasks. I had made plans to cheer for Ilves, strangely, for an allegiance to Vesa Toskala's former colours, I guess, and was a bit worried what would happen of our asses if the wind had turned the black and green way. But Tappara showed the dominance that made them the top home team in the league last year and when Mikko Kuukka finally scored a goal to make it 3 to 1, it was already clear anyway in which way the breeze was flowing and the surrounding crowd was simply mildly amused at the lost foreigner standing up to cheer in the C3 section (or was it D1?)
I say humiliating defeat, but that crew seemed like they had been down this road before. Exuberant comportment is surely not a Finnish staple but one could tell when a team is used to defeat, when frustration is just another one of those daily annoyances you don’t have a control over, like the price of gas, runny noses and recurring herpes symptoms. There is no use getting mad no more, you just bear with it, bite the lower lip while you piss, maybe but the swearing ain’t gonna affect nothing.
While my Italian friend, who was popping his Ice Hockey cherry by attending his first game, was wondering why when someone gets a tap on the elbow, he doesn’t fall on the ice all teary eyed, looking at the ref for a yellow card while holding his knee, I couldn’t notice much brilliance on Ilves’ side. I had previously even seen brilliance in a SaiPa/Pelicans game, so it goes to show diamonds do lie, buried in manure. Tuukka Rask, which is touted as one of those Next Big Things, on a par with Carey Price now, Kari Lehtonen a couple years back or sliced bread a while ago, didn’t seem to mind the red light, like he knew this was the inevitable outcome of most nights he still has to hold fort with a jersey bearing the ugliest sports logo since the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons moved up to Motor City in 1957 and got themselves a potent graphic designer that could achieve the feat of drawing a proper basketball.
Rask will be at training camp this week in
But for me Pierre Dagenais is an even more special case of a thick head, the guy gets a one year contract with Montréal. Minimum NHL salary is not too shaby, 450 000 US dollars per year then, but still, if you get this sum guaranteed for 1 year and you are fairly conscious that your talent is limited to career ECHLer potential that is lucky to get along with the team's second center who is in the process of being booed out of town, what do you do with the good financial fortunes that fell upon you this year? Invest in high interest long-term stocks and bonds? Buy a Taco Bell franchise? Stash under your mattress for post-concussion days? You never know nurses willing to feed you with a straw and change the diaper of a 29 year old man don't come cheap. But Pierre did not go that route, no, he took the high way, blew the bulk of the money on a cardboard mansion is the far suburb of Blainville, on a Ferrari and on a Hummer, the ride that eclipsed the Corvette of old as the emblem for minuscule genitalia compensation. Of course, there is a resale value to these things and both his motor vehicules are probably not seeing a lot of mileage in the Québec winter since he now spends his season being out skated in the highly competitive Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, but yeah there you have it, another airhead that blew it all away and make us French Canadians look like shortsighted dimwits.
So short story long, I have good pictures of that game. I'll post them here one day. Ilves took it 7-2 and never looked back. They got thrown out of the playoffs by the same Jokerit bunch (without Dagenais), in 4 straight whipping but I wasn't around to witness. Although here in this contest, the flashes of brilliance I saw emanating from the local side were again not from the tender of the goals, which did not see much action, but rather from the power play point men, Radek Duda and Kristian Kudroc. Solid team at the back, reminiscent of my most hated duo of McCabe/Kaberle with the Leafs, efficiency from both sides, precise and dangerous shots. Problem is: Duda is now on his way home to Slavia Prague after a short stint with Amur Tigers Khabarovsk where apparently they cut his hair. 6 foot 6 Kudroc, which if you pronounce his name in French means something "hit by a stone", a name that made him a crowd favourite back when he played junior with Patrick Roy's Québec City Ramparts, has crossed the bay to Södertalje where he will soon be joined by Quinn Hancock.
If you add to this that last year's Golden Helmet Home Boy Lingren has flown to Texas to skate with the Finns back there a while and then probably be shipped to the Mormon State Grizzlies for a year because he's stuck in the line behind Mike Ribeiro, of all men, there is not much left of what barely made Ilves a playoff team last year.
Like I previously said, my mind isn't made up but Ilves' chances at renewed glory don't appear to be so obvious this year. I'll say more on the Tappara crew in the next column, but I guess it's time to post this since I lost the interest of most readers 7 paragraphs ago...
Sunday, September 9, 2007
One of my least favorite aspects of Finnish hockey is the heavy turnover in playing personnel from one year to the next. This is especially bad with the less affluent clubs like my own favorites HPK, who lose players not only to abroad, but to wealthier domestic competitors.
Perusing Kerho's roster, I found remarkably few players toward whom I have warm feelings from previous seasons. There are Veli-Pekka "Pokecheck" Laitinen and Risto "Golden Retriever" Korhonen in the defense and Jari "Tank" Sailio among the forwards, but very few others. About three lines worth of players moved to other clubs after last season. Well over half of the players on the squad are new acquisitions.
The club has been through the most successful phase in its history, being just one season removed from its one and only championship, yet the key players from that team are gone almost to a man. I'm quite sure that as I get to know the current squad better, I'll learn to appreciate their unique talents, should they exhibit any. Still, it's annoying to know that the process will repeat before each new season any star caliber players won't last much longer than two seasons on the team.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Two big stories in the past week. The first is Jere Karalahti, who has left HIFK to sign for Kärpät. Apparently he had missed a lot of training over the summer and HIFK coach Paul Baxter got rid. They announced that he 'wouldn't play for HIFK next season, despite having 1 year left on his contract', and that HIFK 'would not stand in his way if he wanted to find a new club'. Here he is, looking suitably pensive.
He is not allowed to drink, or he gets sacked. He is not allowed to take drugs, or he gets sacked. He has to attend the NHL's substance abuse programme, or he gets sacked. We'll see how this one pans out.
JyP also signed Jarkko Immonen, and have more than doubled their budget from last season. They were woeful in 2006-07, and after a 6-0 loss to Ilves at Hakametsä in January they pretty much surrendered.
They have a new coach and have re-signed a lot of the players that gave them a decent 2005-06, so big things are expected. If they don't deliver the club may be in financial trouble. They have one of the worst rinks in the league, with few revenue generating possibilities and antiquated facilities - they even had to pospone a game against Jokerit last year after a pipe burst and flooded the rink.
Despite this, they are able to sign big players because, well, Finnish guys like living in Finland. They are a group of mates who were successful last time they played in Jyväskylä, so it's not such a big risk.