JYP, they can!

Jyvaskyla beats Vaxjo 2-0 in CHL final

06.02.2018
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The JYP Jyvaskyla players celebrate after becoming the first Finnish club to win the Champions Hockey League. Photo: Jonas Ljungdahl / CHL

JYP Jyvaskyla skated onto the ice with the Scorpions’ “Like A Hurricane” blasting off the speakers - with a not-so-subtle reference to the team’s logo. Tonight, JYP wasn’t a huge hurricane, but it was big enough to leave devastated Lakers fans in its wake.

JYP beat Lakers 2-0 in the CHL final, with Joonas Nattinen scoring the game winner in the second period. Jussi Olkinuora made 31 saves en route to a shutout.

“I don’t think they had all too many great chances, though,” Olkinuora said.

The Jyvaskyla team is the first non-Swedish team to win the Champions Hockey League since its relaunch in 2014/15.

“This is such a great feeling, we’ve met great teams along the way and to stand here as the champions feels fantastic,” said centre Jarkko Immonen.

“We knew Lakers were a great team, but I think we defended really well tonight. It was a battle out there, but it was great,” he added.

The city of Vaxjo, the host of this season’s CHL final, was ready for the game already in the morning. Stores had “game day” flags outside, there were small Lakers flags on top of buses, and people were wearing their Lakers hats and scarves. The Lakers flag had even been raised at the former City Hall (now a hotel).

On the surface, Vaxjo and Jyvaskyla have several similarities. Both are university towns in the hearts of their countries. Both are surrounded by lakes – although, the lakes are bigger and there are more of them in Finland. Also, Jyvaskyla is a slightly bigger town, but all in all, the psychological distance between the cities is a short one.

On the ice, the teams were close as well, even though the Lakers controlled most of the game. Maybe JYP had the away game jitters, or maybe the loud Swedish crowd inside the sold-out arena intimidated them, but especially in the first period, it was the Lakers that had the game under control. The Swedes outshot the Finns 15-6 in the first period, and none of the Finns’ shots came from the real danger areas and Swedish Olympian Viktor Fasth had no problems turning them away.

In the second period, Vaxjo got a golden opportunity about halfway through the period when it got to play with a two-man advantage for over a minute. JYP’s penalty killers managed to keep the puck out of the net, and five minutes later, now with JYP on a powerplay, Nattinen carried the puck into the Lakers zone and fired a wrist shot from the top of the circles, and the puck found its way to the back of the net under Fasth’s arm.

“It was huge for us,” said Immonen.

With nine minutes remaining in the third period, the arena erupted when the Lakers finally got the puck into the JYP net, but the goal was disallowed due to goaltender interference.

Vaxjo pushed and pushed and the JYP players were on their heels in the second half of the third period. With a minute and a half remaining, the hosts got another power play opportunity, but couldn’t capitalize on it.

Instead, Janne Kolehmainen sent the puck for the full length of the ice into an empty Lekrs net, sealing the final score, 2-0.

“Winning the CHL has been one of our main objectives this season. This is great for us, and for Finnish hockey in general,” said Jukka Holtari, JYP’s director of hockey operations after the players had greeted a group of traveling Finnish fans by hoisting the CHL championship trophy.

“Hoisting a trophy never gets old,” said Immonen. “And we’re now the first Finnish team to have won the Champions Hockey League.”

The unofficial capital of central Finland is now also the capital of European hockey.

RISTO PAKARINEN

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