Tappara wins CHL, Heljanko MVP
by Risto Pakarinen|18 FEB 2023
The Tappara Tampere players celebrate after winning the Champions Hockey League final.
photo: Simon Eliasson / Bildbyran / Champions Hockey League
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Tappara Tampere had to put in a full night’s work, but it was worth it because at the end of it, they hoisted the big Champions Hockey League trophy in front of their fans as the second Finnish CHL champion, beating Lulea 3-2.

“My heart’s still beating, but this feels fantastic. It’s great to see players who haven’t won anything in their careers now get this title,” said Tappara head coach Jussi Tapola.

Kristian Tanus picked up two points and goalkeeper Kristian Heljanko made 34 saves for Tappara, most of them in the second half of the game when Lulea was chasing a three-goal deficit. Heljanko was also named CHL MVP. 

The arena was sold out, with several hundred Finns who had traveled to northern Sweden to support their team. 

And if there’s one chant the others learned it was this: 

HELJANKO! HELJANKO! HELJANKO!

“He’s the best goalie in Europe, he kept us in the game in the end, and I thought he was confident he’d win this game for us,” Tapola said. 
In every game, there are always two or more, often conflicting, clich├ęs battling for which one of them will be true that particular night. That was also the case with the Champions Hockey League final in Lulea.

Yes, Lulea had the home-ice advantage but, on the other hand, Tappara was a returning finalist who had learned what it takes to win. Lulea won the Champions Hockey League title back in 2015. Both coaches swore their teams were ready to play. The importance of the first goal couldn’t be overstated. Also, it was a game between a Finnish team and a Swedish team and in those games, anything is possible. On the other hand, the Swedish team had five Finns in its lineup, how would that tip the scales? Goaltending is always key, and Tappara’s Kristian Heljanko had posted four shutouts en route to the final. 

Well, fortunately, there’s another cliche that can always be used. “That’s why we play the games.”

The coaches were right, though. The teams were ready to play, and they both came fast out of the gates. The intensity showed on the scoresheet, too, since the refs called four penalties in the first three minutes and Tappara scored on their first powerplay. Maksim Matushkin and Anton Levtchi played the puck to Kristian Tanus on the left faceoff circle. He faked a shot to get a better look and wired a wrister top shelf at 1:42. 

Tappara managed to kill their two penalties and once back at full strength, the team’s top CHL scorer, Niko Ojamaki beat Matteus Ward in Lulea’s goal for the second time. Assists were awarded to Ben Thomas and Juuso Ikonen.

“We learned from last year that we have to be ready from the opening faceoff. Last year, we were down 2-0 and couldn’t recover. Not today,” said Tappara coach Jussi Tapola. 

“The first period was great, and our penalty kill and Heljanko were excellent,” said Anton Levtchi. “We got everything out of ourselves in the first, we really wanted to get off to a great start. The second period wasn’t as good and the third one was survival.”

In his first shift of the third period, Jori Lehtera, Tappara’s leading scorer in the Finnish league, snuck one by Ward when his backhander from the side of the net bounced in off a Lulea player’s stick giving Tappara a three-goal lead. 

Lulea battled and pushed and peppered Heljanko with shots, but nothing helped. 

HELJANKO! HELJANKO! HELJANKO!

With eight minutes remaining. Linus Froberg and Jack Connolly played the puck from behind the net to Erik Gustafsson whose slapshot from the top of the circle broke Heljanko’s shutout bid on power play. 

A few minutes later, Lulea was invited back into the fight when they got a two-man advantage. Lulea then also pulled their goalie and turned it into a 6-on-3 advantage. 

Or six-on-four. Tappara also had Heljanko.

Just as Tappara was back at full strength, Tyrvainen scored with a swift backhand, making it a two-goal game, but that was as close as Lulea got. 

Tappara skated around the rink with Queen playing in the background. But even that faded under the fans’ chanting. 

HELJANKO! HELJANKO! HELJANKO!