28.9 HPK 1 - 4 Pelicans
28.9 Kärpät 1 - 4 Blues
29.9 JYP 2 - 5 Ässät
Well, it had to happen: our first defeat in normal time of the season. But did it really have to be at home? By such a heavy scoreline? And, of all the teams on earth, by Blues? The pain is almost real. There were two games last night, featuring my two favourite teams at home against opponents who have a long history of under-achieving. Both teams got pummelled by the same 1-4 scoreline. Kärpät went down with all hands in Raksila to the aforementioned men from Espoo, and Kerho suffered the same fate in Rinkelinmäki to Pelicans.
Just the one game tonight, in Jyväskylä, where the league’s basement dwellers, JYP, hosted Ässät. Ässät are a resurgent team these days, carrying on from their strong season last year after aeons in the wilderness. The first period was nip and tuck with both teams having chances. Only one was taken, by Ässät’s Joel Armia, who siezed on the loose puck after Arto Laatikainen had over-elaborated in defence. JYP’s defensive frailties were further exposed in the second period, the beneficiary on this occasion being Radek Smolenak, scoring a ridiculously soft goal. Short-handed and with a defender blocking his route to goal, the Czech nevertheless shot towards goal only to see the puck ricochet off a skate and loop innocuously in the air towards Joni Myllykoski. Bizarrely, the goalkeeper allowed the puck to bounce off him and back towards the now unattended Smolenak who had ambled in after his own shot. The same man made it 0-3 with a power play goal 90 seconds later, and came within a whisker of a hat trick when he steered a shot onto a post from directly in front, and then seconds later hit the other post with the attempted wraparound. At the end of the period it was the visitors’ turn to pay for their complacency. Just 6 seconds remained on the clock when Eric Perrin won a face off just outside the Ässät defensive zone, going forwards. He fed Ossi Louhivaara who skipped round Antti Raanta to score.
JYP exerted increasing pressure in the final period and reduced the arrears to a solitary goal when Antti Pihlström lashed in from distance on the power play. The equaliser wouldn’t come though, and JYP’s attempt to force it by withdrawing Myllykoski cost them two further goals, both while playing six versus four. First, Ville Uusitalo scrambled the puck down the ice for Tomas Zaborsky to race on to and score. At the following re-start, Stephen Dixon beat Perrin and fed back to Uusitalo who immediately scored into the still vacant net from his own half.
Ässät’s players now occupy three of the top four places in the points market. Uusitalo leads with 1+9, second is Smolenak with 5+4, and fourth is Zaborsky with 5+2. The interloper is HIFK’s Ville Peltonen with 4+4.
JYP’s defeat keeps them at the foot of the table, while Ässät’s victory makes them the new league leaders, two points clear of Jokerit. Pelicans win means that they overhaul the Weasels into fourth place, and Blues victory lifts them to their usual mid-table mediocrity.
There was an interesting interview with Stephen Dixon during one of the interludes in today’s game. He won World Championships at both U18 and U20 with Canada, has played in the AHL, but never had the opportunity to show his skills in the NHL. When asked about this he was calm and philosophical, hoping for the chance, but content with things if it doesn’t come. He came to Europe at quite a young age; he’s 26 now and has previously played in both Sweden and Russia. He surprised me by saying that the game in Finland is faster than in either Sweden or Russia, and it took him a couple of games to adjust to the pace over here.