Mestis decision day

25.3.2008

Tuesday 25.3, and two games are taking place to decide the second play off finalist and the second team from the qualification group to join Titaanit in Mestis next season. The situation facing each team is straightforward and perfectly equal: win or else.

Hokki 6-2 Jukurit
Two games each in the play off semi-final. After 40 minutes the home team led 4-2. A disastrous opening 10 minutes for the visitors saw them ship three goals. They replied late in the period to trail at the 20 minute mark by 3-1. Jukurit’s goalie, Joni Myllykoski, at this point was saving at only 50%. The second period started almost as well as the first for Hokki, scoring early in the period to restore the three goal lead, but shortly afterwards missing a penalty shot. In a repeat of the first period, Jukurit scored late to reduce the deficit back to two goals. Two further goals in the third period hammered the lid on Jukurit’s coffin very firmly down. This game got away from the visitors in the first ten minutes, and the reigning champions return to the final.

Salamat 3-4 D-Kiekko
The “extra” game in the qualification group, necessitated by the two teams finishing dead level in second place. A goalless first period, the men from Jyväskylä broke the deadlock after 4:25 of the second, only to give up two power play goals later in the period. At the second break Salamat led 2-1. D-Kiekko equalised within two minutes of the start of the third period, and then took the lead mid-way through the period. Five minutes later the home team scored the third equaliser of the evening, and with no further goals the score at full time was 3-3. Into sudden death extra time, and after 66:34 Pirkka Lahtinen, just out of the bin for diving, scored the winner. D-Kiekko climb up to Mestis, Salamat flash down into Suomi-sarja.


Salamat and D-Kiekko fight again

24.3.2008

The final round of matches in the Mestis qualification group took place this evening. In Kotka, Titaanit ran out 3-2 winners over K-Laser, though with both teams knowing their destiny beforehand there wasn’t a huge amount at stake. A completely different story in Kirkkonummi, where Salamat met D-Kiekko in the battle for who goes where in second and third slots. The home side started well, Jarno Koskiranta scoring with just 2:29 on the clock; and that’s the way it stayed until full time, giving three crucial points to Salamat and leaving the final table looking like this:

  Team   P  F-A Pts
Titaanit 6 23-17 15
Salamat  6 16-13  9
D-Kiekko 6 15-13  9
K-Laser  6 12-23  3

The criteria for differentiating for second place are the head to head encounters, first on league points and secondly on goals for and against. With the former being tied at 3-3 and the latter being tied at 2-2, a deciding game must take place. With Salamat having a superior overall goal difference, this final final match will be played in Kirkkonummi. The men from Jyväskylä must be wondering where this weekend has gone. Before last Friday’s game they were perched atop the table, needing but a single point from the last two games to ensure playing in Mestis next season. They couldn’t get it, and face a difficult game on Tuesday.


TuTo to the final

23.3.2008

Not exactly unpredictably, TuTo reached this year’s Mestis final after breezing past KooKoo tonight. Two goals in each period brought them a 1-6 victory in Kouvola. Who (or should that be whom?) they will face remains undecided following an altogether different match in Mikkeli. Hokki started the match brightly, and a Jussi Tapio goal after 11 minutes gave the visitors a 0-1 lead at the first break. Jukurit picked their game up in the second period, equalising in under 4 minutes through Jussi-Mikko Makkonen and forcing their guests to work hard to keep things level. In a game of only 9 two minute penalties, the early part of the third period saw a rash of them, and with both teams a man short Antti Laakso scored what proved to be the winner after 46:51. A 2-1 win for Jukurit, tying the series at 2-2. The decider is in Kajaani on Tuesday.

I’ve not mentioned much about the SM-liiga quarter-finals, preferring to concentrate on Mestis instead. However, last night the remaining three semi-final berths were decided, so some sort of round up is in order. Blues were first into the semis: they lost the opener at home to HIFK but then trotted out four straight wins to take the series 4-1. The first five matches in the Kärpät v Ilves and Tappara v JYP pairings all went to the home side, so both home teams last night, Ilves and JYP, had to win to stay alive. Both lost, Ilves died with their boots on, as the Finns say, 1-2 in extra time, but JYP crashed and burned 2-6 having lost the plot in the last 10 minutes. Can’t think of any more cliches. The pyjama men and Pelicans arrived at the same position after five games via a slightly different route. The first three games went with home advantage, but then Jokerit won in Lahti only for Pelicans to return the compliment in the fifth. The end position was still the same though with Pelicans needing a win last night in Lahti. They didn’t get it; after leading, trailing, levelling, trailing by two goals and equalising again, they finally went out 4-5 in extra time.

So, the top four runkosarja teams are through to the semis. I should’ve stuck with the logic. The line up is

Kärpät v Tappara
Blues v Jokerit

Sorry to disappoint you all (alright then, both) but no predictions this time, the match ups are too close. I want a Kärpät – Jokerit final, but let’s see…

A final mention for Raimo ‘Raipe’ Helminen, whose long and illustrious career ended last night in Hakametsä, still playing professional ice hockey at the top flight at the age of 43.


Titaanit Mestis, K-Laser Suomi-sarja

22.3.2008

Tonight’s games in Mestis karsinta settled the destiny of two of the group’s four clubs. Reminding myself of my prediction that Titaanit would be playing next season in the lower division, they’ve proved me hopelessly wrong with a string of wins, the latest being 5-2 over D-Kiekko in Kotka. Meanwhile, Salamat travelled up to Oulu, with both teams needing victory to keep any hope of playing next season in Mestis alive. Both goalkeepers saw plenty of action in a game in which Salamat opened the scoring mid-way through the first period, and then extended it mid-way through the third. K-Laser scored a consolation goal 5 seconds from time when 6 on 3, but the visitors took the spoils 1-2. With one game each left to go the table looks like this:

  Team   P  F-A Pts
Titaanit 5 20-15 12
D-Kiekko 5 15-12  9
Salamat  5 15-13  6
K-Laser  5 10-20  3

D-Kiekko travel to Kirkkonummi on Sunday in a straight fight for second place. The other game is Titaanit v K-Laser.


Jere Karalahti sentenced

21.3.2008

Yesterday in Espoo District Court, Jere Karalahti was put on probation for 20 months and also fined €10000. He was one of the more peripheral characters of a drug running operation. Some 20 people were accused in relation to the offences, those at the centre of things being sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. It remains to be seen what’s left of his ice hockey career, if anything.


Titaanit, D-Kiekko to the brink

21.3.2008

In the Mestis qualification group, Wednesday’s fourth round of games left the table looking like this:

  Team   P   F-A  Pts
D-Kiekko 4  13- 7  9
Titaanit 4  15-13  9
Salamat  4  13-12  3
K-Laser  4   9-18  3

The top two meet in Kotka tomorrow, Good Friday, in a game that must see at least one of them, possibly both, secure a place in Mestis next season. For D-Kiekko, it would be the culmination of a strong, almost relentless, drive in the second half of the season. The same could not be said of Titaanit: more or less a basket case coming into this group, they finished runkosarja hopelessly adrift of the rest of the league. Turning a badly losing season around in the space of a few games is never easy, but they’re on the verge of achieving it. On Wednesday they won 4-6 in Kirkkonummi, thereby completing the double over Salamat. D-Kiekko’s victims in Jyväskylä were K-Laser who went down 4-3, making it four wins out of four against the northerners. The other game tomorrow is K-Laser v Salamat in the shed in Raksila.

Elsewhere in Mestis, the third round of semi-final games were played tonight. TuTo started off their series against KooKoo with what sounds almost like a one-sided defeat for the visitors. TuTo goalie Petri Koivisto earned his crust making 41 saves against his opposite number’s rather thin total of 19, but it’s only the goals that count and those went in 7-2. KooKoo hit back, however, with a 4-3 win in extra time last night in Kouvola to level the series at a game apiece, and put up stern resistance in tonight’s encounter in Turku before losing 2-1. The other match up between Hokki and Jukurit has been predictably unpredictable. Hokki sprinted into a two game lead by winning 4-1 in Kajaani on Monday and then 3-4 in last night’s return in Mikkeli. The combination of the prospect of Hokki sauntering into the final and Jukurit having their backs, once again, against the wall, duly resulted in a 3-7 win tonight in Kajaani for Jukurit. The next round of games are on Saturday in Kouvola and Mikkeli, both home teams having to win.

Away from the play offs, Sport’s Kim Nabb will be stepping up a notch next season, having signed with Lukko.


Pohjoisen

20.3.2008

I went to see Ilves-Kärpät on Tuesday, a game that saw Ilves win 3-0 and ensure Raimo Helminen would get at least one more game at Hakametsä. I was in the company of Kärpät fans, so we shall view the game from their perspective. Incidentally, I have been to three playoff games now, and each time my team has lost. I may stay away if Jyp take things to a decider.

Before the game the Kärpät fans unveiled a banner that read ‘teille on Raipe, meille on poikka’-you’ve got Raipe, but we’ve got ‘the boy’, the latter being the nickname for SM-liiga’s outsized trophy. Both claims looked a bit dodgy, as Raipe played very little and Kärpät did not look like champions in the making.

It was my first Kärpät game, but not the best example of their dominance of SM Liiga. They are clearly a good team, some of their passing was mesmerising, but when it’s not going right it’s not going right. I was surprised to learn that they go everywhere by coach, even during the playoffs, and those 7 hour journeys must take their toll.

Pesonen riled a few Ilves players and most of the Ilves fans, but didn’t do much of note otherwise. Tero Leinonen had a great game in the Ilves net, at one point trying to head a shot clear even though it was flying high and wide.

I was also surprised by how many supporters Kärpät had, and pretty stunned to discover the geographical range of their fanbase. My friend’s father in law had come down for the game, getting the night train home afterwards. Only he hadn’t come from Oulu. Oh no. He had left his home the previous night, driving the 80km from Kangosjärvi to Kolari, caught the overnight train to Tampere, and spent the day with his daughter before the big game.

He lives 400km north of Oulu, in the Meänkieli heartlands along the banks of the River Torne. He explained that he finds it difficult in both Finland and Sweden, as it is not just the language but more of a cultural difference. His daughter described her birthplace as ‘the armpit of Finland’, but I think she was describing the shape of the map rather than making a qualitative judgement.

This is apparently very common in the north. Kärpät are the best supported team throughout Finnish lapland, and this has a lot to do with their financial muscle. Most of the fans who were in Tampere live in the economically dominant south west, but have their roots up north. Supporting Kärpät in away games is a connection they’re not keen to lose.

Kärpät won yesterday, and provided Raipe’s boys get a win at Hakametsä tomorrow the game will go to a decider on Saturday at Raksila. Jyp host Tappara tomorrow on TV, and I think I’ll watch it that way rather than going to lend my support. Three games, three losses and only one goal for ‘my’ teams does not bode well for clubs I support in person.