Lukko locks down Finnish title
by Risto Pakarinen|12 MAY 2021
Champions after 58 years: Lukko Rauma won the Finnish Liiga.
photo: Liiga
Lukko Rauma did what it had set out to do, and what was expected of the team, and won the Finnish championship in 2021. It was the club’s second title and the first since 1963. 

Eetu Koivistoinen, who won the post-season scoring title with 6 goals and 15 points in 11 games, was awarded the Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP. 

“Everybody was committed to giving their best to the team, duing everything as well as possible from warmups to post-game cool-downs. The coaching staff held everybody accountable,” Koivistoinen told Finnish Yle. 

“We were favourites so it’s nice to stand here as champions. We got the prize that we have been worth for a while,” said Lukko captain Heikki Liedes. 

“It’s been a long wait, but it’s over now,” he added. 

A lot of things can happen in 58 years but also within a few months. In January, head coach Pekka Virta became ill with Covid-19, and spent almost 50 days in the hospital, and almost 30 of those in the ICU, with assistants Erik Hamalainen and Jarkko Kauvosaari taking over the team. 

Virta returned to coaching in early April, first sitting in the stands, but in the final series, he returned to the bench with a nasal cannula that delivered deliver supplemental oxygen to him.

“I feel mostly reliefed that we didn’t mess this up and that my problems didn’t get the team off the track. We’ve played great hockey, the best in Finland, for a season and a half,” Virta said in a post-game interview with Cmore.

“We had a great team, and good players usually win in the end,” he added.

Lukko has had its share of ups and downs since 1963. Only a few years after winning the championship – and a silver and a bronze medal – Lukko was relegated from the top division. Frustrated by that, the Lukko management – in the 1960s, “management” referred to a few energetic local men – set up an organization to operate concession stands and a bingo, in support of the small-town hockey team. 

Lukko spent most of the 1970s and early 1980s in the bottom half of the standings, with a couple of relegations along the way. In the 1970s, once again prompted by a relegation scare, a new company fully owned by the fund set up in the 1960s, was incorporated as it moved into cleaning and industrial property service business. Today, that company has 3,000 employees and net sales of 115 millon euro, dwarfing the hockey team’s 10 million euro turnover. 

The hockey team is now one part of the corporation that operates “in the field of property, services and sports entertainment.”

And entertain they have done in recent years. Since the arrival of Pekka Virta, the head coach, and Kalle Sahlstedt, the GM, in 2017, Lukko has iced a team that has played an up-tempo modern hockey. Last season, the team finished second in the regular season and was gearing up toward the playoffs when the season was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

This season, Lukko took home the regular season title and swept Ilves in the first round in a best-of-three series. In the semi-final, Tappara pushed Lukko into overtime in Game 1 and won Game 3, but Lukko could close out the series thanks to Mikko Petman’s goal and Lassi Lehtinen’s first shutout of the playoffs. 

In Game 4 of the final, TPS rallied back from a 0-2 deficit within in five minutes in the second perido, but Lukko showed character by scoring a go-ahead goal just 90 seconds later, and then adding another with another 90 seconds after that. 

“Our core has been together for a while and we found new players to complement that. Our game was in a good shape after last season so we could focus on building a true team of all our pieces,” Virta said. 

A champion team.