Finnish championship goes to Tampere
by Risto Pakarinen|30 APR 2022
Tappara Tampere celebrated the first season in the new Nokia Arena (shared with city rival Ilves) by becoming Finnish champion.
photo: Reija Poutanen
Even if anything is possible in the playoffs, Tappara Tampere’s Finnish title seemed an inevitability. The regular season champions beat TPS Turku in the final games and dropped only three games in the post-season en route to the team’s 18th Finnish championship, and the third since 2016. 

Joona Luoto scored the championship winning goal after just 35 seconds in Game 5 and goaltender Christian Heljanko recorded a shutout leading to a 1-0 win. 

Luoto was name the winner of the Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP. He finished second in playoffs scoring with eight goals and 17 points in 14 games, two points behind TPS forward Markus Nurmi who played two more games in the post-season. 

“Feels good. I guess I played pretty good hockey,” Luoto told C More in an understatement. 

“I want to thank all our fans. It’s been an incredible year and they have supported us through everything. And now they got to support us when we win,” he added. 

All five games in the final series were low-scoring, with only Game 3 having a two-goal margin, the 3-1 goal being an empty-netter. The four goals in Game 3 were the most in one game in the final that also had two one-goal games. 

Both goaltenders were obviously good, but Tappara’s Heljanko just a hair ahead of TPS’s Andrei Karejev. Heljanko posted a 96.6 save percentage in the final. 

“I hope this proves that you can win a title with a Heljanko in the net,” he told MTV, referring to the criticism he’s faced during the season. He was pulled in Game 2 of the semifinal against KooKoo Kouvola. 

“There was nothing I could do, except come back and show that I had what it takes. And we had another goalie who was great when he came in. At times, when the team in front of me wasn’t at their best, I could help them. This is a really good team,” he added.

The 2022 Liiga playoffs turned into a hockey fever that will only get higher when the Worlds are hosted in the same Tampere arena. After two years of masking and distancing, the fans were finally allowed back in full force into the arena that was opened in November. 

With two big arena teams making the final, and the other Tampere team Ilves reaching the semifinal (and winning the bronze medal game Liiga also broke its six-year-old attendance record by tens of thousands. 

It was also Tappara’s 11th title since 1976 when the Finnish top division became the SM-liiga, topping the list. TPS has ten championships. For head coach Jussi Tapola, the championship was his third, which takes him to fourth place on the Liiga all-time list, behind Hannu Jortikka (6), Kari Jalonen (4) and Rauno Korpi (4). 

“Our dressing room is full of great guys. There’s skill, experience and characters who created an atmosphere where everyone was ready to give their all for the team. The team has been willing to do whatever it takes to get better throughout the season,” Tapola told MTV. 

There’s no doubt that Tappara, who’s made the Liiga semifinal nine years in a row, is one of the best teams in Europe. The only blemish in another otherwise perfect season is their CHL final loss to Rogle in February. 

“We’ll move forward step by step even if we’ve made big strides already. The team will also change a little in the off-season,” he added. 

“The goal is always to be the best team in Europe,” Tapola concluded and returned to the celebration.