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Karjala Cup preview: Team Finland

The Karjala Cup, the Finnish stage of the Euro Hockey Tour, is just behind the corner. From November 6 to November 9, Helsinki will host four hockey teams in annual friendly-tournament. Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Russia take part every year in the Euro Hockey Tour, which saw a major lifting this season, per eurohockey.com’s Davide Tuniz. The Karjala Cup is hosted by Finland and thus they get to be the first team previewed.

New coach, new horizons

Team Finland, under new coach, ex-Lev Prague head coach Kari Jalonen, still hasn’t played a single competitive game. The former coach Erkka Westerlund took over Jokerit Helsinki, competiing this season in the Kontinental Hockey League. Lev ceased their operations in the elite Eurasian league, but coach Jalonen had been set to depart before it had been announced. This season the KHL won’t have an international break for the tournament, which will see difficulties for teams like CSKA and the reigning champs Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Sakari Salminen’s and Jarkko Immonen’s missings will affect Torpedo Nizhny-Novgorod as well. Kari Jalonen opted for a mixture between youth and experience, and hopes the Euro Hockey Tour will clarify things and get them ready for the World Championship in Prague and Ostrava.

Early blow

Before the tournament even started, the “Lions” as their nickname is in Finland, got a punch in the face. Actually, their projected captain got a puck to the face while the hard blow sent him to the hospital. Lasse Kukkonen of Kärpät was forced to leave the game Saturday, which saw Kärpät blow SaiPa with a shutout 3-0. Lasse is one of the best Finnish defencemen, well rounded, without any major weaknesses. Mainly, he’s not afraid of contact, which comes to count in games where the Finns are underdogs, such as clashes with Russia.

Goalies

Goalies have always formed an enormous part of the Finnish play. The Finnish hockey is known and appreciated for two things – skating and goaltending. Kari Jalonen sure knows his top goalie for the Karjala Cup Atte Engren, he was a part of Jalonen’s Lev Prague last season that gave a brave fight to Metallurg Magnitogorsk forcing seven games in the final series. In 14 KHL games he averaged .901 saves percentage, while this season he’s firm at .916 in 23 games between the pipes. Juha Metsola saw his major breakthrough in the 2012/13 season with his current team Tappara. 2.09 goals conceded per game in 46 of them, averaging .930 in saves’ percentage is pretty impressive. The numbers were even better in 15 playoff games the same season – 1.84 GAA, .941 SVS%. Last season he was averaging the least goals allowed per game in the single season, counted with more than 40 games. The only surprise might be Riku Helenius of Jokerit being left out, but these two will for a more than solid tandem.

Defence

Three KHL defencemen, one from SHL and NLA respectively and the rest of the gang from the Finnish Liiga forms a potent defence that will give a hard time to any opponent. Juuso Hietanen, Ville Koistinen, Ville Lajunen, Kristian Näkyvä and Atte Ohtamaa are the “foreign” call ups. Tommi Kivistö might see his first EHT minutes in the coming tournament. The 23-year-old Vantaa native has already capped for the national team, mostly in junior categories. He had 10 games in the last summer’s World Championship, racking up a goal. See below why the coach decided to have him on the roster. Tukka Mäntylä, former KHL defenceman, this season playing for Tappara will come together with a team mate in the net. Mäntylä will produce depth in the defensive line and is solid in front of his own net. Lasse Kukkonen is currently on the list, but might be called inactive as the torunament approaches.

Forwards

If you want to win, you have to score. It’s as simple as that. Jarkko Immonen and Sakari Salminen know it very well. The two combined for 35 points this season in the KHL for Topredo, with Salminen topping Immonen with 19 points. Talking about simplicity, the Finns are known not to complicate the matters. Their fast-paced skating and going straight to the net pose a threat for any defence, let alone goalies. Their ability to stretch the big ice is incredible, which makes any rink – their advantage.

Ilari Filppula changed Moscow for Lugano this season, but it didn’t affect his national team status. You don’t have to be an expert to notice that his playmaking skills might break any defence and him scoring almost a point per game in the NLA is of significant importance.

Teemu Hartikainen inked a contract extension with Salavat Yulaev of Ufa and is on track to get better than last seasons 30 points. Last year’s EHT he saw 2 goals and an assist, for sure will yearn for more as a long career is in front of him.

The rest of the crowd see talented killers such as Tuomas Kiiskinen, Oskar Osala nad Olli Palola that are able to strike when needed. Antti Pihlström will join Hartikainen from Salavat as well, Janne Pesonen will give more depth in the offensive zone with his nifty play while Petteri Wirtanen surely could get some ice time. The offense will suffer the loss of Leo Komarov, who can’t join his national team as he inked a contract with the Maple Leafs this summer, leaving Dynamo Moscow.

Projected lines:

Sakari Salminen – Jarkko Immonen – Olli Palola
Oskar Osala – Ilari Filppula – Antti Pihlström
Teemu Hartikainen – Juha-Pekka Hytönen – Tuomas Kiiskinen
Janne Pesonen – Petteri Wirtanen – Lenart Petrell

Juuso Hietanen – Tommi Kivistö
Ville Lajunen – Ville Koistinen
Esa Lindell – Tuukka Mäntylä
Mikko Kousa – Atte Ohtamaa

Starting goalie: Atte Engren

UPDATE: Lasse Kukkonen has been ruled out for Karjala Cup. Jyri Marttinen will jump in.

Complete list:

Goalies:

Atte Engren, Atlant Mytishchi
Juha Metsola, Tappara

Defencemen: Juuso Hietanen, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Tommi Kivistö, Ilves
Ville Koistinen, HC Davos
Mikko Kousa, Lukko
Lasse Kukkonen, Kärpät
Ville Lajunen, Jokerit
Esa Lindell, Ässät
Tuukka Mäntylä, Tappara
Kristian Näkyvä, Luleå Hockey
Atte Ohtamaa, Jokerit

Forwards: Ilari Filppula, HC Lugano
Teemu Hartikainen, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Juha-Pekka Hytönen, Lausanne HC
Jarkko Immonen, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Julius Junttila, Kärpät
Joonas Kemppainen, Kärpät
Tuomas Kiiskinen, Växjö Lakers
Oskar Osala, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Olli Palola, Tappara
Janne Pesonen, Ak Bars Kazan
Lennart Petrell, Luleå Hockey
Antti Pihlström, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Sakari Salminen, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Jani Tuppurainen, JYP
Petteri Wirtanen, Fribourg-Gotteron

Photo: youvebeenczeched/Flickr