Posts Tagged ‘SM-Liiga’

Finland named its roster for the World Championships after the completion of the Euro Hockey Tour in Brno, Czech Republic. The tournament ended in disappointment for the Finns, who lost all of its games in a tournament. When I watched a couple of games from the tournament, I thought that the team looked somewhat lacklustre and was never really a threat offensively. Defensively there were some questionable players on the ice, but at least, Finland’s goalies were strong.


The roster itself is a bit of a surprise from recent years, but upon reflection, it was to be expected. There are not that many Finns in the NHL and majority of them are taking part in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let’s face it, the Stanley Cup is a bit bigger than the World Championships. The Finns that were left outside the playoffs were: Sami Salo (Tampa Bay), Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia), Kari Lehtonen (Dallas), Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix), Olli Jokinen (Jets), Antti Miettinen (Jets), Ville Leino (Buffalo), Joni Pitkanen (Carolina), Tuomo Ruutu (Carolina), Sean Bergeinheim (Florida), Lennart Petrell (Edmonton), Teemu Hartikainen (Edmonton), Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary).


So let’s take a look at that list. Salo, Timonen, Jokinen and Kiprusoff have all more or less retired from the national team and would only suit up for a major tournament, like the Olympics. Lehtonen, Rinne, Leino, Pitkanen, Ruutu, Bergenheim (did not play the whole season) and Petrell are all out due to injuries. Miettinen is healthy, but has had a tough season and I’m not sure whether he was asked to join the team.


The only one out of that list that has said that he would play is Lauri Korpikoski and his participation is pending a medical from Coyotes, which he has passed and will be joining the team for the start of the World Championships.


Since the list of guys who said no thanks to the World Championships, some influential members of the Finnish hockey community have criticised the decision. Hjallis Harkimo, owner of the Jokerit team said on Radio Nova in Finland that “When they (the players) need to get noticed and they need to get into the NHL, the national team is a must. When they have used the national team, then some of them are not interested at all. It’s wrong against Finland.”


Juhani Tamminen, former coach of TuTo in Mestis went on to say that “If my generation would have acted and thought like this, we would only have ten rinks and we would be a B-class country in hockey.”



Both were also critical of the leadership of the Coaching and general managers in the way that they approach the players. However, the chief of Finnish Ice Hockey Association, Kalervo Kummola was quick to defend the players who had said “no thank you” to the World Champs and said that all of the players who declined had good and valid reasons (either injuries or other matters such as contract negotiations to deal with)


Where yes, it would be a good thing to have all those names in the roster, I can’t help but wonder what these guys owe to the Finnish system? They have donned the jersey when possible and in the biggest competitions i.e. the Olympics. They have endured backlash from fans and media alike when after a gruelling NHL season they simply have nothing in the tank. Is that the type of players they want? Guys who would get into the team because of their name but are so tired and beat that they have nothing to give. There is no point in playing guys like that.


It’s OK for people to bellyache after players, but the reality is that the NHL is the main job for these guys, and the national team would be sort of like overtime if you will. I tip my hat to the guys who do come after a gruelling season and find that extra gear to dig deep for a while longer, but at the same time I don’t blame guys for saying no.


Let’s not forget that it is always a risk to the players to join the team as there are things like insurance to cover and the risk of injury is ever present. It’s not an easy decision to players, specially those with family, or who are facing free agency and can’t afford to risk injury.


The roster (see below) is nothing earth shattering and at on paper it doesn’t look like a championship contender, when compared to the likes of Canada or Russia who are loaded with individual talent.


I see that Finland’s opportunity is in how quickly the team gels together (properly). These guys have been together for the last EHT tournament and have gone through the camp together so I would expect that they are well on their way. I still question the playbook somewhat, but that’s up to the guys to assume and play to the coach’s instructions.


While I would like to see Finland staging an upset, I doubt that we will see the Finnish roster in the medal rounds, if we do, it is a massive feat from this team. The way I see this roster, after a lot of reflection, is that it is an opportunity for these guys to get noticed and maybe get big money deals from either the NHL or European leagues. The roster is relatively young and inexperienced at this level, which should feed the hunger for the players. I can see that one if not two of the Finnish goalies will be playing in North America after putting themselves in the shop window at the World Championships.

The Finnish roster is as follows:


Atte Engren – TPS – SM-Liiga
Joni Ortio – HIFK – SM-Liiga
Antti Raanta – Ässät – SM-Liiga


Juuso Hietanen – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod – KHL
Lasse Kukkonen – Rögle – Elitserien
Teemu Laakso –  Severstal Cherepovets – KHL
Tuukka Mäntylä – Tappara – SM-liiga
Sami Lepistö – HC Lev Praha – KHL
Ilari Melart – HIFK – SM-Liiga
Ossi Väänänen –  Jokerit – SM-Liiga
Janne Jalasvaara – Dynamo Moscow – KHL


Juhamatti Aaltonen – Rögle – Elitserien
Marko Anttila – TPS – SM-Liiga
Juha-Pekka Haataja – Kärpät – SM-Liiga
Niklas Hagman – Lokomotiv Yaroslav – KHL
Juha-Pekka Hytönen – Amur Khabarovsk – KHL
Pekka Jormakka – Pelicans – SM-Liiga
Miika Lahti – JYP – SM-Liiga
Petri Kontiola – Traktor Chelyabinsk – KHL
Jarno Koskiranta – Tappara – SM-Liiga
Janne Pesonen – Ak Bars Kazan – KHL
Antti Pihlström – Salavat Yulaev Ufa – KHL
Sakari Salminen – KalPa – SM-Liiga
Veli-Matti Savinainen – Ässät – SM-Liiga
Ville Viitaluoma – HPK – SM-Liiga 

Lauri Korpikoski – Phoenix Coyotes – NHL*


*Please note that I have not seen an updated team roster that would include the forward that will be dropped to accommodate Lauri Korpikoski. 



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Zoltan (insert Dude, Where’s My Car joke here) Hetenyi has gotten himself into a bit of trouble over in the US. The Hungarian puck stopper, who also played in the Finnish SM-Liiga for Jokerit last season, has reportedly been arrested on three counts of sexual battery. Additionally to the sexual battery charges, Hetenyi reportedly shouted that he hates America and other racial slurs.


The incident took place Duluth Georgia when Hetenyi and his team Orlando Solar Bears from the ECHL  were in Duluth to take on Gwinnet Gladiators. According to Gwinnet Daily Post, there was no mention in Hetenyi’s arrest record on whether he was intoxicated, but well, chances are he might have had one or two drinks. According to his arrest report, Hetenyi wanted to demonstrate his glove and blocker hands to a waitress at a local Duluth establishment. Hetenyi, according to the police report, grabbed a waitresses buttocks with two hands (did this twice) and then grabbed her breasts.


Following the arrest, Orlando Solar Bears have announced that they have cut all ties with Hetenyi following his arrest, making a serious dent in his plans to push for the higher tiers of North American hockey. Hetenyi has split his time this season with the Solar Bears in the ECHL and Peoria Rivermen in the AHL. It is unclear at this stage whether Hetenyi will be seeking playing opportunities in Europe or if he is likely to return to his native Hungary, or if he will have a spot on the Rivermen roster.

Jarkko Ruutu, a man who has probably caused more controversies during his career than he has scored goals. Fact is Ruutu is loved for his antics (I’m a big fan of his style. When it’s within the rules of the game). He is a player who has been typecast as a dirty player, sure there are incidents which I agree that have been dirty, but Ruutu is a clever player and knows how to get under your skin and even make you feel uncomfortable playing against him.


What I also like about Ruutu is his back story and his journey to the NHL, which wasn’t easy and required a lot of hard work and sacrifices. One could say his journey to the big leagues was inspirational. 

So why blog about Ruutu, who has not been in the NHL since 2011-2012 season after he left the Ducks. Ruutu has caused an uproar in Finland after his hit on KalPa’s Artturi Lehkonen. The Sm-Liiga disciplinary board has assessed a three game suspension for Ruutu for hitting a player without a puck. Even in the disciplinary notes, the leagues disciplinarian says, “The contact itself is clean but comes in late.” The suspension has of course sparked mass debate within the Finnish hockey populous on Twitter. There are some who say that Ruutu is a menace to society and those that feel three games was too much and there should have been no suspension at all. I think, where the hit was clean, it was late and it is always unfortunate to see a player sidelined with a concussion.


I’m not going to start wading into the whole hit and the suspension, but rather on the comments that have since ensued. This morning Kalpa’s director Kimmo Kapanen was quoted saying “Ruutu told Lehkonen at the start of the game that it would be lights out for him.”


OK, so Ruutu’s comment might come across as intentional that he did actually knock out Lehkonen, but who in our playing careers has not shouted something at the opposition. Hockey is such an intense sport where you try to get the upper hand from your opponents by any means necessary, be it skill, contact or psychological. It’s letting your opponent know that they better keep their head up at all times. I mean look at Esa Tikkanen, he was one of the motor mouths of the league when he played, or if you read the Theo Fleury autobiography, it looks like it’s common practice in hockey to give eye surgeries with a stick or to kill someone. Yet, we’ve not seen intentionally anyone carve out ones eye or actually kill someone on the ice after a threat has been made. Yes, there have been some damn right dirty plays in the NHL and in hockey in general, I accept that and I would like to think that every hockey fan is willing to put their hands up and say “hey our sport isn’t clean at times.”


It’s pointless for me to argue whether Ruutu said such comments to intentionally hunt Lehkonen as I have only seen the incident above and did not see the entire game. But seriously, you would have to be pretty demented as a hockey player if you are out there intentionally trying to injure your opposition. Where I do think that the hit was late, I think Lehkonen’s concussion was a result of his head making contact with the ice. Never the less if he had been in a position to receive the check and had he been in control of the puck and been aware of Ruutu, he would probably have skated away unscathed.


The other two problems I have from this incident relate to the wider problem in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Since the Ville Peltonen – Semir Ben Amor incident, the games this season have been relatively non-physical. I will put my hand up and say that I have seen less games this season than last (Thanks to  a poor internet connection). There is less and less in terms of big (clean) hits and physical play and it went all the way to 2013 till the league saw its first fight. What is lacking in the Ruutu – Lehkonen incident is the response from Kalpa players. If you look at Ruutu, while he is skating towards centre ice, he is prepared to drop the gloves and pay for his hit (as he would do anywhere else), but alas, the Kalpa players make no attempts to respond to it. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen in the league and I’d argue that in 90% of incidents SM-Liiga players do not respond as you would see, say O’Reilley responding to the hit that took out Gabriel Landesgok. Take a look at this: Your teammate is laying on the ice, injured and yet there is no response apart from a few push and shove attempts. 


Since I went back to playing proper hockey, as in not recreational hockey, one of the first things our coach drilled into us was that if anyone runs our goalie or a teammate was that we had to stick up for them and to make the opposition know that we weren’t going to take any s**t. I’ve stepped up once or twice and I’m not a fighter type of player but to me, a response is a natural reaction. Is that an old-school way of thinking? Or have I just been turned into a candy ass hockey fan who expects such a thing from watching too much NHL hockey?


I’m not saying that you turn the league to a total gongshow, but players need to be responsible for their actions on the ice. That is why there is the ‘code’ that has been often talked about. A couple of non-Finns that I’ve spoken to about the SM-Liiga say that the league is boring. Yes, it is compared to the NHL and the first comments always is, there’s hardly any hits or that you see bigger hits in a bush-league game. The product has definitely suffered as a result of the lacklustre disciplinary action that has taken away the players’ right to respond to dirty plays and the lack of physicality will only hinder the Finnish prospect production.


The couple of rookies I’ve had my eye on this year (Mikael Granlund and Sami Vatanen) are helplessly behind on physical play and physical development compared to some of their rookie class mates of this season, mainly from North America. The emphasis in Finland is more on flow and creativity where the NA school of hockey seems to pay more emphasis to speed and size and let’s face it; if these kids are being primed for the NHL, which is fast and hard physically, it is the right thing to do. Disclaimer: I know the North American school of hockey focuses on other areas as well, but that is just an example. The Finnish prospects are nearly not as NHL ready in their draft year as their counterparts.


All in all, hockey is a contact sport and highly entertaining when played as such. I doubt no-one in their right mind would like to see the NHL or the SM-Liiga for that matter to turn into a league where there’s no hitting, no one says a word, not even to call for a pass and the opponents just blow kisses to one another. But one thing is for sure. Hockey on all levels needs to get rid of cheap shots and head shots.


As this is a long rambling post, I’d be keen to have people share their views in the comments section. Let’s start a discussion around these issues. 




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It happened with the last shortened NHL season and it looks like it is happening again. There is going to be a player shortage in the market after all the NHL players have returned to their NHL teams. There are already reports circulating that AHL teams are scrambling to fill their rosters after their NHL players have left. The same can be expected once the last NHLers leave the KHL that the Russian behemoth league will start signing up top talents from other European leagues, further speeding up the snowball effect.



The challenge for European teams is that the IIHF transfer window closes on the 31st of January, so there is a lot of work to do to find a suitable replacement to bring in to plug holes left by locked out NHL players. As a UK based player agent from 9Hockey Management, Gareth Chalmers said on Twitter “I think a lot of European teams may struggle to replace departing NHLers, not in terms of quality but with an actual body.” Chlamers also added that he knows of teams that have been looking for import players for up to three months.


In Finland, there has been talk that the KHL would be extending offers to some of the top Finnish players and that teams are looking to accept these offers due to the vast financial gains to be made in terms of compensation. The first move was seen today, when Espoo Blues, gave a green light to Teemu Ramsted’s move to SKA St.Petersburgh. Ramsted was one of Blues’ key players after scoring 5+29 points in 39 games. The centre was also part of Finland’s Euro Hockey Tour roster where he played under the SKA head coach, Jukka Jalonen.


With the lockout really messing up the markets there are undoubtedly more hockey jobs available now, but there might not be high calibre players on the market that would be able to fill the roles that are being offered. For example an Italian Serie A2 team (second league in Italy) was looking for players with significant SM-liiga, NHL or KHL experience. The demand surely is high, but I can’t see anyone in a current higher league team make the change to Italian second tier hockey.


With AHL teams looking to bolster their teams, they will likely call up players from the ECHL, who in turn will be looking at the lower rings of professional hockey to fill in gaps made by the AHL. In the KHL, the net is cast into Europe, with Finland being a good candidate for player recruitment. The Finnish SM-Liiga teams ideally would like to have import players, but at the same time, they are looking for quality impact players, which can be hard to find. The other option for teams in Europe is to replace departed players with their top junior talents and try and hurry along their player development, a move which can be risky but can also yield high returns.


So not only is the NHL gearing up for a start, but that doesn’t mean that the European teams are any less busy. The European hockey market could see some puzzling moves (as seen by Rauman Lukko in signing Josef Straka) or some great last minute finds. As said, the transfer deadline for European teams is on the 31st of January when all ITC registrations closes, so busy days ahead for team GMs as well as player agents.




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As the lockout is drawing to a close with new CBA now being written and ratified, a process that should take a couple of days or a week, here’s a quick thought of the team that might lose the most with its locked out NHL players leaving.

You might be surprised, but the team doesn’t come from the KHL, which has played home to many NHLers during the lockout. I believe that the team feeling the loss of its NHLers will be Rauman Lukko from the Finnish SM-Liiga.

Lukko and the town of Rauma, Finland was home to Dallas Stars’ defence man Philip Larssen, Phoenix Coyotes’ forward Mikkel Boedker and New York Islanders centre Frans Nielsen. The Danish trio has been instrumental for Lukko, who are 10th in the league at the moment. Boedker, at the time of leaving the team was its top point scorer after amassing 21 goals and 12 assists in 29 games (as reference, SM-Liiga’s top point scorer Ilari Filppula has scored 15 goals and 31 assists in 35 games). Edit: After Sunday’s games, Mikkel Boedker was the leading goal scorer in SM-Liiga with his 21 goals.

Lukko’s offence has not been the best and the Danish NHL players were a real boost to the team during their time in FInland. Where Boedker, Larsson and Nielsen might not be considered as the most prolific NHL players in terms of their point production, their impact in the Finnish league is a good indication of their capability. Where the KHL has played host to players such as Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Malkin (who has been on fire of late), I still think that the impact of losing such core elements from Lukko makes it perhaps the biggest losers out of the NHL lockout.


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The air cool and cold. Should be used to it this time of year. Saturdays on the road, couple of hours in the car, prepping your mind to what lays ahead. The 60 minutes, broken into fragments of 45 seconds of explosiveness where everything you have in your body, your legs, is revved up to compete with five others who share a sheet of ice with you, fighting along with you are a group of guys that have come together for the same cause, a cause that has been drilled into our psyche for years upon years.


Saturdays, on the road, couple of hours in a car. There might not be fragments of 45 seconds where you explode on the ice against five other players, but with a group of guys, who have grown to be a second family. We get put through our paces in a section of drills that have been designed to improve a teams’ game.


Regardless of the scenario, the mentality is the same. We turn up and we leave the world as we know it, on a day-to-day basis, behind. Once we walk into the cool and cold embrace of an ice rink, we know what we are there to do, be it a game or training. It is an escape, an exhilarating ride that pushes your body to its limit.


What I love most about the whole hockey life style, which is something that I have grown to appreciate as I’ve become older, is the moment when you first step on to a fresh sheet of ice. It’s in that moment that you truly understand what a great game you are able to be part of, and the special group of people you share that ice with. There’s nothing quite that compares to it. Well I can think of a few things, but this is not that kind of blog.


The reason I started to ponder all this was after I spoke to a colleague of mine was whether I could live a life without the game. Where I eventually have to face up to the fact that this body wont hold out forever, I honestly could not see myself living a different life and I hope that I can pass the lifestyle on to the next generation of Virtanen’s when the time is right.


60 minutes. Funny, how we sometimes take days to prepare for 60 minutes. The preparation for those 45 second fragments, the concentration required for each shift, each different from the last. The bounces, the missed opportunities, the successes all come together for an entity that creates a wholly unique experience to the fan and the player.


Hockey, for the player or the fan, does not end once the final buzzer goes. Fans analyse the game, discuss the chances and the win or loss of their team, while the players gather round for the post game briefing from the coach which depends on the outcome and the way the 60 minutes unfolded.


The Saturday night lights finally go out, the players drive home, reliving those segments of 45 seconds and the overall 60 minutes. After all those moments, all you can do is count the minutes, hours, days to the next time you will be stepping onto the fresh sheet of ice and for the Saturday night lights to come on once more. 


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Unless you’ve been living under a rock. the NHL has been locked out. AGAIN! Since I’ve been following the sport from an early age from the 80s, this is now the third lockout of the league. There has been a lot of talk about who is to blame for the lockout, whether it’s the owners/NHL or whether it is the players. In my humble opinion, it takes two to tango and there has to be blame placed on both parties. If the NHL and the NHLPA knew that the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was coming to its end, why did they not start negotiating about it sooner? There was talk on the likes of TSN that the CBA issue would have been discussed at the annual GM’s meeting in Florida, but alas it was not something that was featured heavily on the agenda.


However, rather than ponder the causes and the colossal failure on getting the season started in the NHL, I wanted to focus on something that has fans anticipating and holding their breath over: “Which NHL players will play in Europe?”


While the KHL has been a big draw, specially to the Russian born NHL players, there are players heading out to Switzerland and other leagues, like the Swedish second tier, Allesvenskan, the Finnish SM-Liiga and so on.


But what is the biggest hold up or, barrier for NHL players on coming over to Europe? The answer can come down to six letters: TTD and ITC



Apart from players’ salaries during the lockout, there is one thing that can often be a barrier to players playing in Europe or other leagues, and that is Temporary Total Disability Insurance. Each locked out NHL player needs to have a TTD-Insurance in case their career comes to an abrupt end during the lockout.  During the last lockout, the cost of the TTD insurance was in the tens of thousands of Euros.


According to TSN, the costs of the TTD insurance can range between $2,500 to $20,000 per month. Basically, the better the player, the higher the cost. Obviously the cost of the insurance depends on the contract wage and the offer that teams/players receive from the insurance companies. It was reported in Savon Sanomat (24/09/2012) that NHL’s top scoring talent, Steven Stamkos, had been offered to SM-Liiga team Porin Assat. Not once but twice, but the team had to turn it down with speculation of Stamkos’ insurance costing the team €40,000 per month. Usually, though, players have been known to contribute towards their own insurances. 


Imagine if a player like Sidney Crosby went to an European league. The cost of his insurance could be astronomical.



Another thing that can hold up any transfer is that NHL players moving to an European league under the IIHF is the International Transfer Card (ITC). The ITC is needed for any player wishing to play in an European league, and as far as I know, all NHL players wishing to play in the IIHF events such as the Olympics or the World Championships need an ITC card. I know from personal experience that the ITC can be a pain as I had to obtain one to play higher than rec hockey.


The ITC cost, for an unlimited card, can be in the region of €1,000/$1,295. Sure it’s not as much as the insurance, but for a piece of paper that doesn’t take more than a few clicks to sort out, it is a lot of money for a team/player to shell out. With the influx of NHL players heading to Europe, the IIHF has struggled a little bit to get everything sorted out and there has been a backlog of transfers that the IIHF has had to shift through.


The other thing that players need to consider is the taxation. For example, if a player signs in the Finnish league and stays in the country for over six months out of the year, he will be taxed in accordance with the Finnish taxation system. I personally would not be at all surprised if we would see an influx of North American players signing in countries where the tax regulations aren’t as strict as they are in some other countries. For the Russian players, I can understand why the KHL is the number one choice. It is a chance to spend a prolonged period in their native, which I can’t fault. I can’t comment on the Russian taxation system and how it all works in the KHL in terms of tax and whether it still is as wild as back in the days when some players picked up their salaries in cash and carried it away in their hockey kit bag.


So there, that’s some insight to take into consideration into when players are looking to sign in Europe. Sure it would be great to have Brad Richards playing in the UK (seriously someone made this claim), but when you think about it with all the factors included, there might be only a handful of teams that can justifiably recruit NHL players on to their rosters.  In addition, considering the fact that some teams in Europe are not turning a profit, so as big as the temptation might be, financially it might not make sense