JYP Jyväskylä celebrates first-ever Finnish ice hockey title
Central Finland ice hockey miracle wrests coveted Canada Trophy from Oulu
For seventeen years, possibly even longer, Jyväskylä had waited for this moment. The ritual was a familiar one. When the end buzzer sounded at the Raksila ice hockey arena in the northern city of Oulu, up in the air went the hockey sticks, helmets, and gloves and just about anything else that would come off without too much difficulty.
Traditionally, this moment has signalled the start of city-wide celebrations for Oulu (home team Kärpät has clinched four Finnish SM-Liiga titles in the last five years), but this time around the coveted Canada Trophy - awarded to the winners of the country's top ice hockey league - travels to a new address.
The last time JYP Jyväskylä made it to the final was in 1992. That is now but a fading memory. This season JYP has had more to offer to its supporters than ever before.
In the best of seven final series JYP Jyväskylä only needed four games to secure the championship.
In the final encounter the reigning champions Oulu fell 5-2 to the Central Finland team, which had shown its class earlier by topping the table at the end of the regular season.
“It was of utmost importance that we made it past TPS of Turku. They really bit down on us”, says JYP coach Risto Dufva referring to the play-off stage quarter finals, where JYP had to show what they are made of to squeeze out a 4-2 victory in their best-of-seven series.
Kärpät did their best in trying to prolong the final series, but this time their skills, luck, and stepmarks just did not quite do enough.
When JYP Jyväskylä’s Antti Virtanen had scored one and Ossi Louhivaara a brace by 4:23 into the second period, the outcome already seemed just about sorted. 3-0 left the home side with a mountain to climb.
Kärpät, however, had other ideas. The reigning champions wanted to preserve their dignity until the bitter end.
By delivering the puck to the back of the JYP net Kärpät players Jonas Andersson and Kristian Kuusela made sure that tension remained high even in the fourth game of the finals.
JYP Jyväskylä’s deliverance was finally achieved through a 55th minute goal from Jari Jääskeläinen, and two minutes from time JYP captain Juha-Pekka Hytönen swept the puck into an empty net after Oulu pulled their goalie.
“We had a superb squad”, Hytönen praised his bunch. “Without too many dazzling individual performances, we were strong as a team.”
The fact that JYP produced a clean sweep in the finals, beating Oulu twice on their own turf, took everybody by surprise.
“We did not set off for a 4-0 result, just four wins”, Hytönen continued.
The two JYP goalies Pekka Tuokkola and Sinuhe Wallinheimo were both awarded with the accolade of “Best Player in the Play-offs”.
“The fact that both of them were acknowledged best describes our team”, said Hytönen.
In Jyväskylä, presumably the plan is to celebrate the achievement quite comprehensively.
“I would expect things to quieten down by around midsummer”, Hytönen reckoned with the assertiveness of a captain.
JYP Jyväskylä secured the championship even if it did not always dominate the events in the rink.
“You do not have to be good, just the best of those present”, observed coach Dufva before winking his eye.
The bronze medals went to KalPa of Kuopio, who beat Espoo Blues 2-1 in a winner-takes-all playoff game.
After relegation candidates Pori Ässät eventually overcame the challenge of promotion hopefuls Vaasa Sport, who took them all the way to seven bitterly-contested matches, the league line-up remains unchanged for next season.
Previously in HS International Edition:
SM-Liiga play-offs: And then there were four... (25.3.2009)
Oulu Kärpät too good for Espoo Blues - 4th Finnish title in five years (14.4.2008)
Oulu Kärpät deny Espoo Blues yet again to set up final with JYP Jyväskylä (6.4.2009)
SM-Liiga official site (mostly in Finnish)