Upside down


The new SM-liiga season is now a week old and all teams have played three games bar Jokerit and Lukko who have played one fewer. Top of the heap, and in generally unfamiliar territory — even at this stage of the season — are perennial underdogs SaiPa. They opened their account by humiliating us in Raksila, squeezed past Pelicans in their next game, and then followed that up by trashing HIFK in Helsinki, the maintaining their 100% record, the only club to do so. JYP are two points behind in second place. They started brightly enough with successive workmanlike victories over their two northern neighbours, but threw away their 100% record tonight in Turku after giving up two short-handed goals and eventually losing the penalty shoot out. Level on points with JYP are Kerho, who announced earlier today that they are to retire the number 9 shirt, that of their long-serving former player Jyrki Louhi, who retired a year back.

In the league basement are Jokerit, without a point after two games. Well and truly hammered on the opening day by arch-rivals HIFK, they also succumbed to their hosts in Kuopio. Similarly on a big fat zero after two games were Kärpät. The omens were not too good for tonight’s game against Ässät, given that the visitors had won their first two games in convincing fashion without conceding a single goal. Needless to say, we pasted them 6-0 with returnee in the number 36 shirt Jussi Jokinen getting one of the goals.

Also arriving in Oulu from the NHL will be Sharks’ Jason Demers, not a name I’m familiar with, though from Harri Aho’s gushing about him he certainly sounds the business. Demers’ contract is to the end of the season or until the NHL owners and players resolve their differences, whichever is the sooner, and he is being brought in to cover the injured Oscar Eklund, who is expected to be out for a month. Also out for at least a month is Jari Viuhkola with his seemingly obligatory early season injury, this time to the hand. A better understanding of his rehabilitation will be gained when he undergoes surgery.


SM-liiga results, 14.10.11


Blues 3 - 0 Tappara (0-0)(0-0)(3-0)
HIFK 1 - 4 KalPa (0-1)(1-1)(0-2)
Ilves 1 - 3 JYP (0-0)(0-1)(1-2)
Pelicans 5 - 0 HPK (2-0)(3-0)(0-0)
TPS 4 - 3 Jokerit (JA)(0-2)(2-0)(1-1)(1-0)
Ässät 5 - 2 Kärpät (0-0)(3-1)(2-1)

I watched the HIFK game and I’ll try to find the time later on to write a report about it, but for the moment, here are tonight’s results.

So then, HIFK versus KalPa in Helsinki. As someone who is largely neutral (neither team ranks among my favourites nor my pet hates, though I’ll admit to a bias for a KalPa victory) it would be easy to adopt a somewhat disinterested stance about this game. No chance! This was a gripping, exciting, high quality game with a final score that belies the true run of the match. The home side were dominant for large tracts of the hour, driving relentlessly at a fast and furious pace. They opened up the KalPa defence numerous times but failed to score from any of the chances thanks to Ari Ahonen’s outstanding performance in the away goal, any number of yellow jerseys sacrificing their body parts to block the shot, forwards fannying completely on the shot, and the pipe work rescuing KalPa twice. Despite the onslaught, the visitors were in no way out of the game, and launched their own high speed counter attacks and sometimes sustained assaults on the home goal. Their inter-passing and movement bettered even that of their hosts. Many players from both sides enjoyed sterling performances: Petteri Wirtanen and Mikael Granlund to the fore for HIFK, and Tuomas Kiiskinen and Sakari “one minute man” Salminen, in addition to Ahonen, were notable for the visitors. Kiiskinen, in particular, was at times electrifying, the Helsinki defence containing him only with great difficulty. Juuso Riksman in the home goal made a number of good saves, but at other times looked somewhat unconvincing. Of more importance though were the defenders in front of him, some of whom were plain flaky. Both Mikko Kousa and Markus Kankaanperä were error prone, and a mistake by the former would prove critical.

KalPa took the lead on 11:15 when Ossi Saarinen got sufficiently free in front of goal to get a clean shot past Riksman following a face off in the HIFK defensive zone. Rather improbably given the home side pressure, this was extended early in the second period when a HIFK defensive “clearance” went off the back board to Kiiskinen whose shot from a narrow angle went through Riksman. Wirtanen scored HIFK’s only reply from a penalty shot, awarded when the same man was hauled down from behind when in the act of attempting to beat Ahonen. The penalty employed no tactics: straight down the ice and shoot through the goalie’s legs, Ahonen giving the impression of being sat on a horse. Shortly afterwards, there was an almighty goal mouth scramble in the KalPa goal, that developed into what appeared to be a game of British Bulldog. When it was over, all 10 outfield players, plus two of the officials, were piled in a heap on top of Ahonen. Where the puck was is anybody’s guess. The game got beyond HIFK towards the end of the third when Kousa made a mess of a straightforward defensive situation, and then, when trying to rectify it, succeeded only in passing the puck to Salminen. The KalPa winger advanced on goal and gave Riksman not an earthly with a vicious shot. Scoring was wrapped up on 59:44 when Mikko Kukkonen found the untended net from behind his own red line.

SM-liiga results, 13.10.11


JYP 4 - 0 Lukko
Tappara 3 - 2 Kärpät

SM-liiga results, 12.10.11


HPK 2 - 6 Ässät
Jokerit 3 - 4 HIFK
KalPa 5 - 2 Lukko

Three more games tonight, and we’ll start in Helsinki where a full house in the Hartwall Arena saw Janne Pesonen get an assist on his debut for HIFK. However, it was the brothers from Oulunsalo that made the headlines, scoring three of their team’s four goals between them. Elder brother Mikael got two, the first after just 12 seconds of the game, and the younger Markus got one. The surname’s Granlund, in case you’re wondering, and the net result was Jokerit’s first home defeat of the season. Seven goals in Helsinki and seven goals too in Kuopio. KalPa continued their winning ways with a comfortable win over Lukko, a team that’s stuttering a bit at the moment. An evening of lots of goals is rounded off in Hämeenlinna, where Kerho and Ässät share eight of them. Not too evenly unfortunately from my perspective as Kerho get yet another thumping, in which Tuomas Santavuori collected a hat trick for the visitors.

Jokerit’s defeat means that Pelicans stay top, but their lead is trimmed to two points over KalPa, who jump up a couple of places. Jokerit slip to third, and are joined on 22 points by Ässät, who squeeze Kärpät out of fourth place. Lukko remain sixth, but are now five points adrift of the team above them. HIFK’s win takes them over TPS into eighth place, and a terrible season for HPK continues with them propping up the rest of the league.

Pelicans go top


Blues 3 - 2 JYP (RL)
Ilves 2 - 5 Pelicans
Kärpät 5 - 2 TPS

Three games tonight in SM-liiga, in Espoo, Tampere and Oulu. Blues hosted JYP, and eventually won on penalties, Tommi Huhtala getting the decisive goal. They did it the hard way too, hauling in a JYP two goal lead, built up in half an hour with goals from Kristian Näkyvä and Harri Pesonen, thanks to replies from Petri Lammassaari and Camilo Miettinen.

TPS made the journey to Raksila. Their recent form has been good, enabling them to climb to mid-table respectability, and with Kärpät suffering from injuries (Lehtonen, Mäntymaa, Eklund, Saarenheimo and Haataja are all missing), they must have arrived with a good sense of optimism. What greeted them, however, were the front two chains firing on all cylinders. Juho Keränen and Miikka Salomäki scored a brace apiece, alternating to ratchet up a four goal lead before the clock reached half an hour. Mikko Laine replied with a power play goal late in the second period, but in the third Joonas Donskoi restored the four goal advantage while short-handed, before Marko Anttila completed the scoring with the visitors’ second goal.

Meanwhile in Hakametsä, Ilves took on Pelicans. Well I exaggerate: Ilves may be a fierce feline and Pelican a gormless bird, but in the fight that took place this evening, the bird was a lot more astute, decisive and had a far bigger bite than the soft pussy. The final score flattered Ilves: Ville Koistinen scored from close in when a ricocheting puck squirted his way, and was accredited with the second when Niko Hovinen saved his rasping drive, but then Jarkko Immonen, trying to glove the puck away to safety, succeeded only in putting it into his own net. By the time Ilves opened their account, however, Pelicans already had five on the board, and with not too much luck it could have been even more. Man of the match Max Wärn and Aaron Brocklehurst both scored twice and Arttu Luttinen got the other. Pelicans don’t have any star names in their team — their finances are very modest so they probably couldn’t afford any big names even if they wanted to — but Kai Suikkanen has got the whole team playing well as a unit.

Pelicans’ win makes them the new league leaders, three points clear of Jokerit who have three games in hand. Kärpät’s win lifts us to third place, level on points with the pyjama men, but, like Pelicans, having also played 11 games. Blues stay in seventh place, though the gap to eighth placed TPS now stretches to four points. JYP’s point takes them above Tappara, and Ilves stay very firmly next to bottom. Tampere’s two clubs now occupy two of the bottom three positions.

Home for old rockers


So, Janne Pesonen signed for HIFK after all. Another player being linked with the club is the currently unemployed (in ice hockey terms, that is) and recuperating from a troublesome back injury, ex-slaughterhouse into night club owner, Janne Niinimaa. Rumours even went so far as that HIFK would sign a contract with him this week, though in an interview with Iltalehti newspaper, HIFK boss Tom Nybondas replied that that was not in the plans. Whether that amounts to a denial or is careful wording remains to be seen, but HIFK are believed to be looking actively for defensive reinforcements.

Needless to say, this then fuelled speculation that Niinimaa might sign for Kärpät. He’s from very near Oulu and said night club is in the city and we are running a spate of injuries to defenders at the moment, so there’s no shortage of partisan logic. Oscar Eklund is out for a month or so with knee ligament damage, and injuries to Mikko Lehtonen and Ville Mäntymaa necessitated call-ups to 17 year old Ville Pokka and just turned 21 year old Mikko Niemelä. The former is so young he’s actually spent less time in Finland than I have. That apart, youth and inexperience prevented neither man from acquitting himself well, though it’s still none too challenging to comprehend why someone of Niinimaa’s experience might be under consideration.

HPK – KalPa, 7.10.11


HPK 3 - 5 KalPa (1-2)(2-2)(0-1)
KalPa travel down to Hämeenlinna to face the league’s next to bottom team. They don’t take long to make their mark, scoring in the first attack of the game after just 25 seconds through Sakari Salminen. Most of the rest of the first period is taken up with the visitors skating circles around their hosts, sometimes quite literally. The Kerho goal survives through a combination of good goalkeeping, shoddy finishing and luck, until Marko Kauppinen finishes off some superb approach work by Tuomas Kiiskinen. Nil-two and it’s all one-way traffic. It’s difficult to describe how dire Kerho are playing at times, both at individual and at team level. There have been any number of completely missing the pucks, missed passes, getting in the way of team mates, and the whole team’s skating at half pace at times. By a minor miracle, Kerho clawed a goal back when Ari Ahonen left a chasm at the near post for Arsi Piispanen to slot the puck home.

Oh dear, 36 seconds into the second period and Salminen, in acres of space in front of goal, restores KalPa’s two goal advantage. A few minutes later and Kerho are getting even worse, believe it or not. They pay the price for failing to clear their own defensive zone, Joonas Riekkinen scoring KalPa’s fourth with a free shot from directly in front despite the close proximity of two defenders. Halfway through the period and the home side are fighting back thanks to KalPa penalties. Piispanen scores his second of the night with a backhand wraparound. Ahonen was desperately slow getting across his goal and was nowhere near covering the post when the puck went in. End of the second period and KalPa are rueing their inability to stay out of the penalty box. Repeatedly having the man advantage, Kerho finally put their game together, and in the fourth penalty of the period, all of which went against the visitors, Marko Tuulola narrowed the deficit to a single goal with just one second of the period remaining.

The end of an exciting and fluctuating game. The final period was pretty even, both sides playing well, creating chances but not able to convert them into goals. With some three minutes remaining, Jyri Junnila took a penalty for high-sticking. Kerho played the penalty six on four and put the KalPa goal under intense pressure searching for the equaliser. Ahonen made a couple of important saves during this spell, and KalPa remained hard pressed after Junnila returned. Eventually, the puck fell for Riekkinen who shoved it down the ice just to relieve the siege, and was probably as surprised as anyone when it trickled into the net at the far end for his second, and his team’s fifth, goal. On the balance of play over the hour, a deserved away victory.

Other games:
Ilves 0 - 6 HIFK
Ässät 0 - 1 TPS