Jaromir Jagr will suit up for the Czech Republic in the World Championship next month. Jagr hasn't played for his country since the Turin Olympics in 2006. (Normunds Brics-JansonsMedia)
Just as bizarre as having local boy Matti Nykanen, a former ski jumping World and Olympic champion-turned pop singer/general celebrity perform at the championship parade in downtown Jyvaskyla may seem, just as logical was the fact JYP won the Finnish SM-liiga championship this season.
At least in hindsight.
One of the outside favorites last fall, JYP parked itself on top of the SM-liiga standings in October and never let go, entering the post-season as the No. 1 seed. And like Nykanen, a modern-day prophet of sorts, once put it: “Every chance is an opportunity.”
JYP used its opportunity.
After an initial struggle, losing two games to TPS Turku, a team that finished 10th in the regular season and qualified for the playoffs through the wild card round, JYP gained confidence. And they proved it by dropping just one game to KalPa in the semifinal and sweeping last season’s winners, Oulu Karpat, in four straight games in the final.
Doubling as JYP’s coach and this year’s Team Finland assistant coach for the World Championship in Switzerland, Risto Dufva discarded one old hockey adage, but embraced another en route to the victory.
Rather than sticking with just one goalie, the coach alternated both Pekka Tuokkola and Sinuhe Wallinheimo all the way to the final. Wallinheimo, the 37-year-old veteran goaltender, played Games 1 and 4 and Tuokkola, 25, the two games in the middle.
Both Tuokkola and Wallinheimo posted impressive stats – Tuokkola led the league in the post-season in both goals-against average (1.19) and save percentage (.954), Wallinheimo’s figures were 1.50 and .937 – and also shared the Jari Kurri Trophy, the first shared MVP award in SM-liiga history.
But as the goaltenders’ stats show, Dufva did believe in the concept that defense wins championships. JYP scored 38 goals in 15 post-season games and let in just 20 - 11 of which were in the first six-game series against TPS.
And tonight, there’s a parade in Jyvaskyla, with Nykanen, the players and the trophy, the Kanada-malja (Canada Bowl). Tonight, everybody present will surely echo another Nykanism: “Life is a man’s best time.”
EISBÄREN REPEATS REPEAT
Then again, Eisbären Berlin’s Florian Busch said, “The playoffs is the best time of life and you can’t get used to winning” after his team beat DEG Metro Stars 4-2 in Game 4 of the best-of-five final series in the German DEL league.
The championship was the team’s fourth in five years, making it a true European dynasty. Of all the major European leagues, only the DEL champion managed to repeat this season.
“They showed their class and quality when it counted,” said Metro Stars coach Harold Kreis. “They simply have the playoffs routine that is needed to win.”
Mark Beaufait, 38, one of nine players who have won all four championships with the Polar Bears before he announced his retirement added: “It's unbelievable. It is the fourth title in five years for me and this club,”
The Dusseldorf team won its first home game 3-1 to make Eisbären work for their championship. But the experienced Berliners, led by defenseman Andy Roach, who led the team in post-season scoring with 13 points in 12 games, wouldn’t let the championship slip away.
Sven Felski, 34, was fourth in team scoring and the best German-born player. The Berlin native began his career with SC Dynamo Berlin – then in East Germany – which a few years later became Eisbären Berlin. This season was his 18th with the club.
"Every championship has its own unique character. We were, again, a bit better," Felski said.
On Saturday, he’ll meet an old acquaintance when the mayor of Berlin hosts a championship reception.
Slavia Prague had won two Czech titles in six years and played in the final on two other occasions. Karlovy Vary, hometown of Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun, on the other hand, had never won the championship. And except for last year’s final, its highest finish in the Czech Extraliga (since 1994) had been ninth.
In a rematch from last season, Karlovy Vary, sixth in the regular season, took on top- seeded Slavia Prague, but unlike last season when Slavia won Game 7, Karlovy Vary sent their opponents back to Prague without the trophy after a 4-3 victory in Game 6.
With Sparta winning in 2006 and ’07 and Slavia last season, it’s also the first time since 2005 the Czech champions don’t come from Prague.
SEVEN’S THE LUCKY NUMBER (AND SO IS 29)
While regular season champ SC Bern and runner-up Zurich Lions bowed out in the quarterfinal, fourth-seeded Davos managed to wrangle itself into the Swiss semifinal. It wasn’t easy, taking the team a full seven games to beat Lugano.
In the semifinal, Davos found itself in the hole three games to one, but managed to take three straight wins against Fribourg to advance to the final.
The final against Kloten Flyers also went to seven games – and again, Davos came out on top. The team won the game 2-1 with captain Reto von Arx netting the game-winning goal, claiming the franchise’s 29th Swiss title. Of course, for a team that has won eight Game 7s in two years, that’s nothing new.
For coach Arno Del Curto, the championship was his fourth since 1996, when he took over the team. He’s also taken Davos to the final in 1998, 2003 and 2006.
In other words, Saturday’s parade won’t be his first.
JAGR’S DRESS REHEARSAL
With just seven days remaining until the opening games of the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland, the top four European teams are sizing each other up at the Ceska Pojistovna Cup, the fourth leg of the Euro Hockey Tour between Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
In the first game of the tournament, Jaromir Jagr made a comeback to the Czech nationals and led his team to a 2-1 win over Sweden.
Jagr, who last played for his country in the Turin Olympics, set up the first goal - scored by Petr Cajanek - and scored the game-winner on a 5-on-3 power play, beating Swedish goaltender Stefan Liv with a slapshot from the slot.
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Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen.
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