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.