Tappara fails no more

TAMPERE – For three years in a row, Tappara players had to stand on the ice and watch the other team celebrate. Not in 2016. This time, they were the ones parading with the Canada Bowl wearing brand new championship caps, hugging each other, having just beaten Helsinki IFK 2-1 in Game 6 of the Finnish Liiga final.

All three goals were scored in the first period, within 7 minutes and 37 seconds. Juuso Puustinen gave HIFK the lead at 3:21, Patrik Laine, 18, tied the game with his tenth playoff goal four and a half minutes later, and Henrik Haapala redirected the game-winner with 9:02 remaining in the period. HIFK won the shots 20-7 in the last two periods and got the puck over the goal line in the end … only, it came a second too late.

Laine was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Tappara 2016

“It’s been tough to get so close so many times and then having to wait for a whole year before getting another chance at it. This is an unbelievable group of guys,” said Tappara captain Jukka Peltola, who made a surprising comeback to Game 6, having missed the two previous games due to an injury.

But the team needed its captain – to hoist the trophy.

In a world in which all teams use different kinds of mental exercises to rally around and in which motivational quotes are almost as big part of the everyday life as clichéd truths about getting pucks to the net, Tappara can surely identify with the oft-quoted line by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett: “”Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

That’s exactly what Tappara has been doing. In 2013, they lost the final to Assat Pori in six games. The year after, they were back in the final, now facing the Finnish 21st century dynasty Karpat Oulu, and pushed them all the way to Game 7 – having blown a 3-1 lead in the series – only to lose it 1-0. In overtime.

Last year, Tappara battled its way back to the final, for a re-match against Karpat. Again, the series went the distance, and again, 60 minutes wasn’t enough to settle it. Not even 80 minutes was enough. And then, early in the second overtime period, a 17-year-old Sebastian Aho found himself on a breakaway and he didn’t miss his chance.

In 2016, it was another 17-year-old who became the talk of the town even if Patrik Laine, Aho’s linemate at the World Juniors, turned 18 a week before Game 6. The forward projected to go very early in the upcoming NHL draft scored league leading ten goals in the playoffs, two of which were game-winners.

He got especially hot during the semifinal and final, having gone the first four quarterfinal games without a goal.

“It’s been a fantastic season, I couldn’t even imagine this. It’s been an honor to be a part of this team,” he said in a TV interview on the ice right after the game.

Laine got his gold medal with his first try, and took a backseat when the dressing room celebrations started, letting the veterans take over. It was especially emotional for the six players that have been on the losing side three times in a row: Teemu Aalto, Henrik Haapala, Jan-Mikael Järvinen, Markus Kankaanperä, Jukka Peltola, and Pekka Saravo.

Kankaanperä and Saravo had won the championship earlier in their careers, but Haapala had two silvers, Järvinen four, Peltola three silvers and a bronze, and Teemu Aalto, 38, three silver and five bronze medals.

Peltola handed the Kanada-malja – Finnish for “Canada Bowl” to commemorate the fact that Canada’s Finnish community donated it to the Finnish hockey association in 1951 – to Aalto, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6.

“It was horrible to watch the game from the stands but it doesn’t matter now. This is a team victory,” Aalto told YLE.

Tappara tried, failed, tried again, failed better until they didn’t fail anymore.

The team has had the same goal song since 1986: “Live is Life”, a chart-topper from 1985 by Opus from Austria. The lyrics may not be poetry, and not many fans – let alone players – listen to them when Tappara scores, but at a moment like this the text surely resonates with how they all feel.

When we all give the power
we all give the best.
Every minute of an hour
don’t think about a rest.
Then you all get the power
you all get the best.
When everyone gives everything and every song everybody sings.
Then it’s live
live is life

All is well in Tampere.

Originally published on IIHF.com

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