Jyväskylä – Helsinki 1-1

28.9.2007

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.

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Round up

26.9.2007

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

26.9.2007

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:

Canal+:

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

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.


Introduction to SM Liiga, Part 2

21.9.2007


And now on to 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…


Seeing Doubles

20.9.2007

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!


Introduction to SM Liiga, Part 1

15.9.2007

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

15.9.2007

(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.