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Quarterfinal preview Ilves–Kärpät

Marko Herckman

The eventful 2021–2022 Liiga season will culminate with the playoffs that start this week. Ilves placed third in the regular season, and they will be facing off with Kärpät Oulu in the quarterfinals. This immensely interesting playoff series kicks off in Nokia Arena on Sunday, March 27th at 4 PM.
Ilves dominated in the regular season meetings

The Oulu team was a welcome opponent for Ilves in the regular season, as Ilves won all four matchups between the two. All the matches were played during a five-week period in December and January. In the first match, an away game in Oulu, Ilves snatched the points with a Matias Mäntykivi overtime winner. The final score was 3–4. Only five days later, the teams faced off in Nokia Arena and Ilves won 3–1 with goals by Nick Baptiste, Eemeli Suomi, and Simon Johansson.

The first meeting in January was total chaos. Ilves was already leading 1–4 halfway through the game, but in the third period it became a race to the finish line, and Ilves scraped by with a 5–6 win. A total of 12 Ilves players got on the score sheet in that cold night in Oulu. In the last regular season match Ilves’ defense made their best impression of a concrete wall, letting nothing past them and winning 4–0. Ilves scored all four goals in the third period, and goalie Vadim Zerenko saved every shot aimed at the net. Apart from Zerenko, Marek Langhamer also played against Kärpät and so did Roope Taponen who was the Czech’s back-up when he was injured.

Experience and youth in the net for both teams

Ilves starts the playoffs with Marek Langhamer in the net. He missed several games due to injury and played in a total of 26 regular season games. The Czech goalie’s save percentage was the second best in the league after HIFK’s Niilo Halonen. The young Vadim Zerenko, who played 30 games in the regular season, has also proved that he is a reliable goaltender.

Kärpät’s Stanislaw Galimov and Joel Blomqvist played in turns towards the end of the regular season. Both the experienced Galimov and the young Blomqvist have played creditably for Kärpät who has significantly closed ranks in the late season.

The versatile defenses

Les Lancaster was Ilves’ most prolific defenseman in the regular season. Unfortunately, Lancaster had to leave the final game against Sport due to a hit from Roope Talaja. Simon Johansson took some time to find the rhythm of Finnish hockey, but since the halfway mark of the season the Swedish defenseman has been one of the best defenders in the league.

Jarkko Parikka had the most ice time of Ilves defensemen, as expected. Parikka’s skating and reliability are admirable, and the defender will be in a key role if Ilves wants to succeed in the playoffs. Dominik Masin has been raising his profile toward the end of the season and might prove to be a tough opponent come the playoffs. Ilves’ defense has depth and is proficient in many areas.

The seasoned defenseman Atte Ohtamaa is the heart and soul of the Kärpät defense. The national team’s trusted player kills almost every penalty fully and plays a versatile game without many mistakes. Ludwig Byström and Topi Niemelä make up the core of the Kärpät defense when it comes to puck handling skills. David Sklenicka, a Czech defender who came from Jokerit to Kärpät for the remainder of the season, has been playing in a big role.

The offensive talent

When everyone is healthy, Ilves’ offense has depth and is high-class. Eemeli Suomi is the crown jewel of the Tampere-based team’s offense. The Ilves captain leads by example. He is a multifaceted phenom and he plays a winning game on every facet of the game. Among the new acquisitions, Henrik Haapala and Marko Anttila bring specific skills to the table. Haapala has exceptional offensive skills and Anttila, who has grown into a charismatic leader, is at his best when defending a lead.

Nicholas Baptiste has turned out to be a fantastic pickup. The 26-year-old Canadian moves forward with a great attitude and scored 21 goals in the regular season. Balazs Sebök has also raised his profile and is an important piece in Ilves’ fast offensive plays. The experienced center Petri Kontiola draws every important face-off and is a crucial piece of the team’s two-way play.

The depth of Ilves’ offense does not end here; there is enough for every line. Joonas Oden turns heads with his speed and is continuously a thorn on the side of the opponent’s defensemen. Joona Ikonen and Panu Mieho play a relentless physical game shift after shift. As many as 11 Ilves forwards scored at least 19 points in the regular season.

Saku Mäenalanen was Kärpät’s highest-scoring player in the regular season. The Kärpät side is full of experience and skill. Mika Pyörälä, Ville Leskinen, and Juhamatti Aaltonen are familiar to any Liiga fan. Also from Jokerit, Julius Junttila has been playing at a point-per-game pace for Kärpät.

Playoff season tickets: You can pick up your season tickets at Lippupiste’s service desk in Nokia Arena’s entrance hall.

There have been problems with the Tampereen Ilves app’s mobile season ticket, and we are currently working on it. We hope to have it working in time for Sunday’s game. The physical season ticket is valid even if your mobile season ticket is not visible in the app.

The game event: The doors will open at 2:30 PM, 1.5 hours before the game begins. The pre-game show starts at 3:45 PM. Please arrive early to avoid the rush. Read more about Nokia Arena’s restaurants and ways to get to the arena.

The pre-game and post-game: The happy hour at Original Long Drink Bar is from 2:30 PM to 3:30 PM. The pre-game show starts at 3 PM. Ilves Hockey Legend Timo “Tinke” Peltomaa will be interviewed. There will also be an opportunity to guess the first goal scorer of the game, and the winner will be awarded with #9 Leo Lööf’s autographed stick. The post-game show will feature a player interview.

Merch: The Ilves Shop will be open throughout the game event. The shop is located to the right of main entrance B on street level. A smaller outlet is also open in the main concourse and there are pop-up carts in the hallways. New playoff shirts will be available on Sunday! The shop opens at 1:30 PM on Sunday.

Travel to Nokia Arena free of charge with your game ticket.

The playoffs get Petri Kontiola fired up
Interview by Milla Mettiäinen

I reached Petri “Konna” Kontiola on Thursday after morning practice, and he was in a good mood. When I asked him how he’s feeling before the playoffs, Konna said: “It’s an amazing feeling. We’ve been waiting for some time for the opportunity to test what we’re really capable of, and now it’s finally here. We’ve been preparing well.”

Konna sees Kärpät as a tough opponent. “No opponent has been easy in the last regular season games, which means that everyone must give their all. We need to stay sharp from the start.”

Has Kärpät been scouted through and through? “We’ll still be going over everything about them on Friday and Saturday. But of course, we’ve already got something on them from the four regular season games.”

Kontiola doesn’t think the home ice advantage is a game-changer, even though he highlights the importance of Ilves fans. “These playoff games fire up everyone regardless. We have an amazing home crowd behind us, which certainly is important. Having such terrific fans there gives us crucial support going into the playoffs, as it has done all season.”

Lauri Marjamäki hopes that the time spent together will be enough
Interview by Vesa Suonsyrjä

I asked Kärpät head coach Lauri Marjamäki for comments on the series on Thursday.

You came on board Kärpät’s Liiga team after Jokerit ended their season in February. Do you feel that you have had enough time to influence the team’s playing style before the playoffs?

– We have a very different starting point than the other teams. I still want to believe that we’ve had enough time.

Ilves won every regular season matchup, but you were not part of the team then. Do you feel that those games can be learned from in preparation for the next meeting?

– We can definitely learn from regular season games. If we don’t, that’s being stupid.

How is Kärpät approaching the playoffs? How well do you know Ilves’ current team?

– We approach the series with clear thoughts. I do not know the Ilves team very well. I’ve watched a dozen games of theirs and coached a few players before.

What are the keys for victory in this series?

– Living in the moment and enjoying it.

“Work is what it takes”
Interview by Henri Honkala

Ilves coach Marko Ojanen has won the Finnish championship as a player and knows what it takes from the team.

– Sometimes it takes a little bit of luck too. First and foremost, it takes a hell of a lot of work. Small things have to be done correctly in every shift, and you have to play one situation at a time without thinking about the score or winning the series too much.

I reached Ojanen on Friday after the team practice, and he, too, is excitedly looking forward to the start of the playoffs on Sunday. He knows his team is ready.

– Everybody is looking forward to it. We’ve had a few days for practice, and on Sunday we’ll be ready when the puck drops.

Ojanen is mostly in charge of the lines’ ice time. Distributing the ice time becomes more important in the playoffs where certain players square up for battle and advantages need to be found.

– There will be player matchups, and with the distribution we can control a lot especially in home games. We went over the Kärpät team a little bit to see what’s to come.

What kind of series are you expecting?

– A really close one, surely. The opponent is a high caliber team, and we are in a great shape now too. We’ve achieved the home ice advantage by finishing the regular season well, and that’s great. Of course, Kärpät have changed since the start of the season, but it’ll be a close one.

Kolumni: ”ETTEEN-TAAKSE, Oulu ja minä”
Ilves kyykyytti Kärppiä neljännesfinaaleiden ensimmäisessä kohtaamisessa