Liiga preview

Liiga preview

08 Sep 2013 | Markus Nisius

A new name, but an old favorite for the Cup. Jokerit will take a last approach to win the Championship before joining the KHL.


Changes are coming in Finland! The most obvious one this season will clearly be the name. The Finnish top league just dropped the “SM” part in its name and can’t any longer be referred to as SML. From this season on, it will only be known as “Liiga”.

But nomenclature aside, there are indeed some other changes coming for the league. For starters, the season 13/14 will mark the last season of Jokerit Helsinki playing in a domestic Finnish league, before moving on to the great adventure of playing in the KHL. But before travel costs will rise significantly for Jokerit, they want to win one last championship in their home country and it doesn’t look too bad if they can avoid another First-Play-Off-round meltdown like last year. They lost two good forwards in Teuvo Teräväinen (Chicago) and Ilari Filppula (KHL), but also lured two KHL guys back into Helsinki: Janne Lahti returned from Khabvarovsk and Jere Karalahti from Minsk, so looking at the roster, they have more or less the same team that dominated SML last year in the regular season.

For champion Pori this season also means to deal with changes. They lost a couple of their best players like Finnish national goalie Antti Raanta, who first was supposed to go south to the capital and join HIFK, but then, after a stellar play at the World Championships, went straight to the NHL to join the Stanley Cup champions from Chicago. Obviously this will be a situation tough to handle. But also on defense (top defender Shaun Heshka) and on offense (Michael Ryan and Veli-Matti Savinainen) they lost fire power. The guys, who shall fill these gaps are Slowenian Ziga Jeglic and veteran Niclas Hagman. However these are also well-sounding names in the hockey world, it will be a hard task to defend the title this year.

Even more changes can be seen in the roster of the second club from Helsinki. HIFK almost changed everything after a disappointing season ending in a bitter Pre-Play-Off loss. And despite an equally disappointing outcome of their European Trophy participation, I could see yesterday myself, that they have an interesting squad this year. After it got clear that Antti Raanta will not end up in Helsinki, they had to look for another option and found it in Wilkes-Barre’s backstop Brad Thiessen, who made some important stops yesterday. The latest addition of Trevor Gillies will probably annoy some of the opposition's fanatics, but isn’t that exactly what you are looking for in a tall enforcer type defender? Austin Block from the university of New Hampshire also proofed some toughness and is incredibly fast. In Matti Kuparinen and Tony Salmelainen, HIFK was able to bring some team players back to Finland. They might need some time to find together as a team, but make sure you keep an eye on HIFK.

Similar to Pori’s destiny, the other surprise of last year’s season, Lukko Rauma, also had to suffer from some off-season disappoitnments. The stars of their Play-Off run last year, goalie Petri Vehanen and top scorer Justin Azevedo, both decided to leave the town. The only big name they could sign instead is Petteri Nummelin. So don’t expect Lukko to dominate the league, but who knows what happens when the Play-Offs start.

In conclusion Jokerit should be the top contender for the championship, but as usual in Finland there will be other teams like KalPa, Tappara or TPS joining the mix. And don't forget JYP, who just managed to break the Swedish phalanx as the only non-Swedish team in the Final Six of the European Trophy besides the directly qualified host Eisbären Berlin. It will be another season of surprises and more changes will come. For sure!

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