They did it again. For the second time in a row, Tappara Tampere got to celebrate winning the Finnish championship when they beat KalPa Kuopio 3-1 in Game 6 of the final. The championship-winning goal was scored by Juhani Jasu in the third period, after a strong individual effort in which he intercepted a KalPa pass in the neutral zone and then, after a battle with a KalPa player, beating goaltender Eero Kilpelainen with a backhander, breaking a 1-1 tie.
It was the club’s 17th Finnish title, most in history, and tenth since 1975 when the current league format was established, tied with TPS Turku.
“I guess the dream is to score the big goal in Game 7 but I think it’s better this way,” he told Finnish Nelonen.
“One might think it’s been an easy season since we’ve been at the top of the standings for most of the season, but the reality is different. They say it’s easier to get to the top than to stay there and we’ve had to work so hard, all of us, from players to coaches to the trainers. We managed to deal with adversity which tells you everything about the quality of the people on and around the team,” he added.
“We’re disappointed but it was a great season, all in all, especially the playoffs. It was an unbelievable experience to see how the fans and the city supported us,” KalPa captain Jussi Timonen told Savon Sanomat.
Tappara has made it to the final in five consecutive years now, having lost the first three finals, before winning in 2016 and defending the title this season. And while Tappara has been the one constant in the Finnish hockey season finale in recent years, the opponent has been different in four of the five finals. Karpat and Tappara played in two straight finals in 2014 and 2015, with the Oulu team winning both.
This year’s opponent, KalPa, was the definition of the underdog. In a pre-season Jaakiekkolehti poll of eleven hockey journalists around the country, ten of eleven predicted KalPa to finish in the bottom 5 of the standings. The one dissenting opinion place KalPa seventh in 15-team league. They finished third in the regular season, six wins behind Tappara, the regular season winner.
Tappara had to go the distance in their quarter-final series against Ilves Tampere, before beating IFK Helsinki in five games in the semi-final. KalPa, on the other hand, beat the Pelicans Lahti in five games in their quarter-final but then had a rough seven-game series with JYP Jyvaskyla in the semi-final.
KalPa won the first two games of the final series, but once Tappara got going, their methodical style, supported by Dominik Hrachovina’s excellent goaltending, suffocated KalPa. Rallying back from 0-2, and grabbing four straight wins is a testament to Tappara’s strength. All in all, Tappara had 18 last year’s champions on their roster.
“It was the experience of the older players on the team that turned the series. They never lost faith,” said Hrachovina.
“I’m very proud of the team, the players have been committed and ambitious from the beginning, and we’ve had the leaders that have carried us at certain points of the season. You can’t win a championship if you’re not ready to shed some blood, sweat and tears,” said Tappara coach Jussi Tapola, 42, who is stepping down after two seasons as an assistant coach and three as the head coach.
“What has been missing from this team is something you sometimes see in other leagues and that’s doing things for money. This team and the whole organization is committed to being a sports team, and now we’ve even got some success which makes it even better,” he said to Yle.
Last year, when Tappara won their 16th (and ninth since 1975) championship, they had six players on the roster who had been on the losing side three years in a row and this year, four remained as the backbone of the team: Henrik Haapala, Jan-Mikael Jarvinen, Jukka Peltola, and Pekka Saravo. Haapala won the regular season scoring title with 60 points in 51 games, followed by teammate Veli-Matti Savinainen, who scored 56 points in 55 games.
Jarvinen, Saravo, and Savinainen served as alternates to captain Jukka Peltola, the winner of the Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP. Peltola scored four points in the last four games.
And on Saturday, the team will meet their fans on the main square. Same procedure as last year.