The Tampere connections
by Andy Potts|27 MAY 2022
Finland's Marko Anttila and Mikko Lehtonen are among the players who have represented Tampere's teams during their careers.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Tampere’s hockey heritage is huge. As the medal games approach, here’s a look at the players and coaches from Finland and Czechia who have connections with the city’s two top-flight teams, Ilves and Tappara.

Marko Anttila

There’s no doubt about who has the closest connection with the Tampere crowd. Marko Anttila is a much-loved figure in Finnish hockey, and nowhere more so than here. Anttila, who celebrates his 37th birthday today, first came to town in 2004/05. Still in junior hockey, he helped Ilves U20 win their championship in his first season, producing 12 (5+7) points in nine play-off games. He also made his SM-Liiga debut with Ilves that year, going on to spend seven seasons with the Lynx. Later, the rangy winger moved on to Turku and had spells playing in Russia and Sweden before going to the KHL with Jokerit. But he never forgot where it all began, and when the Helsinki team withdrew from the Russian tournament in February, Anttila went straight back to Ilves for the conclusion of this season.

Jukka Jalonen
Jalonen’s huge haul of hardware makes him a giant figure in Finnish hockey. However, many of the fundamentals of a hugely successful career were learned early on here in Tampere. After hanging up his skates in 1989, Jalonen got his first job as director of coaching for the Ilves junior section. In the 1992/93 season he was involved with the first team, having also had a taste of the international game with Finland’s U17 program and he served as Ilves first team head coach from Nov. 1992 through to 1995. That was the start of the journey that has brought World Championship gold in 2011 and 2019, World Juniors gold in 2016 and Finland’s first ever Olympic hockey gold last February. There’s also Olympic bronze (2010) and World Championship silver and bronze – and every chance of another medal in the 2022 World Championship.

Toni Rajala
Perhaps surprisingly, none of the Finnish roster here was born in Tampere. However, Toni Rajala is about as close as it gets. Hailing from Parkano, just to the north of town, this 31-year-old winger began his career with Ilves U16 back in 2004. He made his first-team debut in 2008/09, with one Marko Anttila among his team-mates back then, before being drafted by the Oilers. After a season within the Edmonton system, he was loaned back to Ilves for two more seasons. Rajala’s subsequent career has taken him to the AHL with Oklahoma, the KHL in Khanty-Mansiysk and spells in Sweden and Switzerland. Currently with Biel-Bienne, Rajala remains a Tampere boy at heart, speaking of his excitement at scoring in front of his hometown crowd in Finland’s opening game at this tournament.

Mikael Seppala
This 28-year-old defenceman has played his whole career to date in Finland and got his first taste of IIHF play last year in Riga. After that, he joined Tappara and helped Jussi Tapola’s team win the Liiga this season. A stay-at-home type, Seppala had 8 (1+7) points through 46 regular season games, and further 5 (2+3) in 15 play-off engagements as the Nokia Arena hosted a championship celebration within a few months of its opening. Seppala is contracted to Tappara for next season.

Mikko Lehtonen
When Finland won gold in Bratislava and Beijing, Lehtonen was on the tournament All-Star team both times. A blue liner with an eye-catching approach to offence, he’s also playing a significant role in this year’s World Championship, most recently setting up Sakari Manninen’s game-winner in the quarter-final comeback against Slovakia. The 28-year-old is back in Tampere, where he played the 2017/18 season with Tappara. That was a productive campaign for the defender, who earned an Olympic call on the back of his efforts. However, the Liiga season ended with silver for his club; this time, Finland expects gold.

Jussi Olkinuora
Finland’s first-choice goalie at this championship was born in Helsinki. However, he learned his hockey in Tampere with Tappara, playing for the club’s U16s in 2005/06 and U18s the following season. It was ultimately a brief association with the town; in 2007/08 he played AAA hockey in the USA and later played NCAA with the University of Denver and AHL in St. John’s and Manitoba, as well as featuring in the KHL. In Finland, Olkinuora’s senior club experience came with SaiPa, JYP and Pelicans, winning the Champions Hockey League at JYP. Although it’s been a while since the 31-year-old goalie was based in Tampere, he’s had no problems settling back in with four shut-outs in eight games here so far.

Harri Sateri
Back-up goalie Sateri, the first choice during Finland’s Olympic campaign, comes from Toijala, another town not far from Tampere. His first steps in hockey came in the Tappara youth system and, after a couple of seasons with HPK, he made his Liiga debut with the club in 2009. In total, Sateri made 105 appearances for the Tampere club before crossing the Atlantic to join the Sharks organisation. His NHL debut had to wait until 2017 with the Panthers, but Sateri built a solid reputation in the KHL and was instrumental in Finland’s Beijing triumph.

Marek Langhamer and Lukas Dostal
Neither goalie has been used heavily at the Worlds, but both have ties to Ilves. Langhamer is currently on the books with the Lynx, set to return next season after 14 wins in 26 regular season games and an impressive play-off that brough a GAA of 1.72 and a 93.3% save ratio. Earlier the 27-year-old made a couple of NHL appearances with the Coyotes after breaking into senior hockey in Pardubice. Dostal, 21, got the start in Czechia’s opening game against Great Britain. That marked a senior international debut in the same season as the youngster took his NHL bow in Anaheim. Much of Dostal’s early progress, though, came at Ilves. Over three loan spells in Tampere, he played 64 games for a GAA of 1.76 In 2019/20 he made the Liiga All-Star team and won the Urpo Ylonen award for the best goalie in the competition. 

Jiri Smejkal and Michael Spacek
In the 2020/21 season, Tappara acquired the services of these two Czechs. Spacek, 25, played 18 games and had 13 (5+8) points before he returned to his homeland and helped Ocelari Trinec win the championship. Smejkal stayed for the full season and had a bigger impact. His 26 (9+17) points placed him sixth in team scoring and made him the most productive import ahead of Charles Bertrand, who played in Helsinki for France at this World Championship. Smejkal, 25, remained in Finland this season, playing for Pelicans, and is heading to Sweden for the coming campaign.