Groundhog day in Oulu

OULU – Sometimes you can’t get enough of a good thing. Last season, Finnish hockey fans got to enjoy an exciting final that went all the way to Game 7, and overtime, before Kärpät’s Juhamatti Aaltonen scored the game’s lone goal and won the game against Tappara Tampere.

So this year, they got some more of that candy.

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Defending champions Kärpät, the regular season winner, took on Tappara, regular season runner up in the final, and again, the route to the title was nothing if not long and winding.

Kärpät went the distance in its semi-final series against JYP Jyvaskylä, and Tappara had to play a full seven-game series against Lukko Rauma, and had the final not been a best-of-seven series, the teams might still be at it.

It can’t get much closer than this year’s final in which the series was decided in the second overtime period of Game 7, in which five of the games ended in overtime, and all seven games were one-goal games.

“Tappara is such a great team, they played in the final for the third time in a row. These two teams were so close, if it was up to me, we’d split the gold medals,” said Kärpät CEO Juha Junno.

But only one team can win, and just like a year ago, it came down to one player seizing his opportunity. Last season, Aaltonen carried the puck from Kärpät blueline into the offensive zone and snapped the series-clinching goal. This season, it was 17-year-old Sebastian Aho, who came over the boards to end the game.

Literally.

While the puck was in Kärpät’s zone, Ivan Huml got the puck in the corner, and he sent a long pass all the way to the Tappara blueline, sending Aho on a breakaway, and he slipped the puck through Juha Metsola’s five-hole, exactly one minute into the second overtime.

“We changed on the fly, I got a great pass from Huml, and got on a breakaway. It was just an instinctive move, I’ve scored similar goals before,” said Aho.

Two years ago he was a member of another Kärpät championship team. The under-16 team.

“I’m so happy that it was Aho, who scored the goal. Who even thinks of going on a breakaway straight form the bench? Well, maybe a 17-year-old kid,” said coach Lauri Marjamäki.

The championship was Kärpät’s sixth since 2002. The team has also two silvers and a bronze in the same time span.

For Tappara’s fans, re-living the past wasn’t exactly good news. The team played in its third straight final, and has lost them all. Ten of the players on this season’s team have played in all three finals. The same goes for the current coaching staff, although head coach Jussi Tapola was assistant in 2013 and 2014.

Tappara’s latest championship is from 2003 when it swept Kärpät, who else, in the best-of five final. Esa Pirnes scored the game winning goal in Game 3 in overtime.

On Monday night, Pirnes took the stage at the Oulu market square and celebrated the championship with the fans.

“This team had to face more adversity than last season’s team, but we managed to get through all the downs. When I joined the team in October, we were eleventh in the standings,” said Pirnes who underwent an ankle operation after last season, and re-signed with Karpat in mid-October.

The Oulu native started last season with AIK Stockholm but joined Kärpät in early 2014 to pursue a Finnish championship with his hometown team. Despite having come up through the Karpat junior system, he had never played for Kärpät in the Finnish league, only around 50 games in the second-tier league.

“I made my Finnish league debut with Kärpät 14 months ago, and now I have two gold medals. Unbelievable,” Pirnes said.


Originally published on IIHF.com

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