Even Tampere Ilves won their last game of the season in Nokia Arena and grabbed the bronze medals. And with the IIHF Men’s World Championship coming up in a few weeks, we may not have seen the end of the celebrations yet.
The latest celebration took place this week when Tappara Tampere raised the roof of the arena by clinching their second consecutive Finnish championship when they beat Lahti Pelicans 5-4 in OT in Game 5 of the final.
For Tappara, the Marcus Davidsson goal 8.57 into the first overtime period marked not only the end of a thriller game in which they lost a 3-0 lead and had to tie the game with one second remaining to get to over time. It was also the exclamation point to a season that was practically perfect.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard for this. I don’t think we’ll ever see a season like this,” said Tappara forward Waltteri Merela who led the league in playoffs goals scoring with eight in 14 games.
© Riku Laukkanen
Tappara entered the Finnish Liiga playoffs as the regular season champion and the winner of the Champions Hockey League. In the playoffs, they went 12-2 and claimed the club’s nineteenth Finnish title. The Tampere team is a true dynasty, again.
Tappara won five titles in the 1980s, none in the Nineties, but have now hoisted the Canada Bowl as Finnish champions four times since 2016. They have also made the semi-final ten years in a row now and have made the final eight times in the last ten seasons.
In this year’s edition, the focus was on the veteran players, for good reason. Jori Lehtera, who had never won the Finnish title, led the league in playoff scoring and linemate Veli-Matti Savinainen, tied for second in scoring, scored the goal that took the team to overtime in Game 5 and was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.
The championship also marked the end of the road for 40-year-old Kristian Kuusela who joined the organization as a teenager in late 1990s and served as team captain 2018-20 and alternate captain until … the celebration.
“This is what we work for so hard. Grab this moment and hold on to it,” Kuusela said as he placed the winning puck of the final series onto Tappara’s logo in the dressing room.
For goaltender Christian Heljanko, defenders Valtteri Kemilainen and Mikael Seppala as well as forward Waltteri Merela, the season may still continue in the arena where they’re used to winning as the foursome was invited to join Team Finland at their final IIHF Men’s World Championship preparation camp.
Another championship trophy, another parade, another sold-out crowd in the final may be waiting them on the other side.
You know the place. It’s where everyone knows their name.