Introduction to SM Liiga

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 lie 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 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.

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. excitingly for Yves, they do have a French Canadian, Mr Andre Benoit. 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 slightly 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 till 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 stuffing their faces 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 a 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:, 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 seen Pasi 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, who 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…

Saipa are the pride of Lapeenranta, and not exactly one of the leading lights of SM Liiga hockey. Established in 1948, they have defended the Finnish end of the Saimaa canal (hence the name) in Mestis, the regional leagues and the top flight. Home to one of the only Lithuanians to have earnt a living in Finland via professional sport, Arturas Katulis, they have a low budget and low expectations. Their home arena is Kisapuisto, with space for 2037 standing spectators and 2810 sitting down.

Now we move on to the Helsinki teams, and first is Jokerit. Coached by Doug Shedden, playing at the 14,000 capacity Hartwall Areena, with the biggest budget in the league they are the envy of every other club in Finland. Known almost universally as the ‘pyjama men’ because of their jester style kit, they will be coached by Glen Hanlon next season after Doug Shedden jumped ship to go to Zug, in Switzerland.

Given their financial clout, they should be a bit more dominant than they are. Harry Harkimo, the president, is supposedly quite interested in the Russian Open League, and if they ever do decide to make that break I’m sure many Finns would contribute to a whip round for their train fare to the border.

Finally, a word for their fans. Ultras Jokerit are some of the best fans in the country and make their games a much more enjoyable experience. They threw a flare on the ice in Lahti this year, but that’s hardly representative of the group.

hifk.jpgJokerit’slocal rivals are Helsingfors Idrotts Föreningen Kamraterna. As the name suggests, they were established by Swedish speakers and are pretty much the biggest sports club in Finland. They also play football, bandy, handball, floorball, and athletics.

They play at Helsingin Jäähalli in Töölö, and their fan group is Stadin Kingit.



4 Responses to Introduction to SM Liiga

  1. Lasse H says:

    Wow, nice!
    Thanks… I was actually looking for some updates in the finnish league concerning injuries and such.. You should start doing that!

  2. Egan says:

    Lasse, if I had the time and inclination, I would. A good place to look is the, they have a weekly update in English that has some info at least. And of course we will update this as often as we can.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Pelicans goalie is usually Niemi, not Sato

  4. Sakari Kestinen says:

    You left at least Espoon Blues, TPS and Saipa out. Was that deliberate? 😛

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