Postseason continues this week with top teams competing in Finland quarterfinals
In the opening round of Finland’s U16 SM-Series playoffs, HIFK, TPS, Ässät and KalPa all swept their best-of-3 series. Now joining the fray will be Kiekko-Espoo, Tappara, Ilves and Jokerit.
Tappara looks to continue success against HIFK
Tappara and HIFK squared off once during the SM-Series regular season, with the former coming away with a 10-5 victory. Eetu Orpana, Joonas Rajala and Eemil Kokkonen all put up four points for Tappara. Orpana and Rajala also finished tied for first in overall league scoring at the end of the regular season with 37 points.
The lone standout for K-Espoo was Matias Vanhanen, who ended up with nine goals and 25 points. He only produced one assist in the opening series against Lukko. However, for HIFK to have any chance of overcoming Tappara, he will have to find the scoresheet with the same frequency as he did earlier in the season.
Series Prediction: Despite HIFK coming off a sweep, Tappara brings one of the deepest teams into the playoffs. A fact further supported by their 15-1-0 record during SM-Series matchups. HIFK did not have an answer for the dynamic offense of Tappara, and I don’t see much changing in that regard. Tappara sweeps 2-0.
Ässät sets sights on taking down another top opponent
Luukas Koski and the rest of Ässät kicked off their playoffs with an impressive sweep of Kärpät. Koski led the way in those games, scoring four goals and six points. Aleksi Juusela (2G, 2A) and Jesse Julienmaa (4A) aided the majority of the club’s offense as well.
Heading into their next series against Ilves, those three players will have to continue their consistent contributions. After all, Ilves brings three of the top five scorers from the regular season into these games, and they are all well rested. Jalmari Melanen’s ability to find teammates anywhere on the ice was on display as he racked up six goals and 36 points in just 16 games. Just behind him, Jiko Laitinen (25G, 9A) and Rasmus Rinne (12G, 17A) rounded out a dependable trio of scorers.
Ilves edged out a 6-4 win against Ässät on January 13th. They followed that up with a heavy 10-0 shutout to open this series up in Game 1. Eight players collected two or more points.
Series Prediction (Ilves up 1-0): Ilves didn’t waste any time in finding its legs after a lengthy layoff and proved why they are still among the elite of their birth year. Their power trio of forwards will continue to best that of Ässät, and Ilves will take the series 2-0.
Aapo Vanninen leads K-Espoo against KalPa
Only one skater from K-Espoo tallied enough points to earn a spot in the Top 10 of total point getters in the regular season. Aapo Vanninen’s dependable two-way play helped him record six goals and 29 points to lead his team. He even finished the regular season in the midst of a three-game point streak.
In the previous meeting between the two clubs on March 5th, Vanninen produced a goal and an assist to help defeat KalPa 5-2. A close battle that saw K-Espoo pull away with two goals in the third period.
KalPa enters this series with four players having scored four or more points in their two-game sweep of JYP. Rasmus Pakarinen (2G, 4A), Samuli Kosoen (5A), Onni Heikkinen (3G, 1A), and Topi Veteläinen (1G, 3A) picked up most of the offense. Veteläinen was the regular-season leader for KalPa, notching 12 goals and 24 points.
Series Prediction: With the layoff for K-Espoo and a good portion of KalPa forwards hitting their stride in their quarterfinal series, this one can go the distance. Even if KalPa takes advantage of a sluggish start from their opponent, eventually Vanninen and co., will warm up to the task and move on after a 2-1 series win.
Jokerit bolstered by goaltending against TPS
Jokerit goaltenders Oekka Korhonen and Sakari Savolainen were statistically two of the best in SM-Series play. Korhonen skated to a 2.53 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. Savolainen put up a 2.24 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. Their play was a large reason why their club was able to secure the fourth and final spot in the overall rankings, granting them a first-round playoff bye. They will be back in action this week against TPS, who finished just behind them in the league standings in fifth.
The one regular-season game between these two ended in victory for TPS in a close 3-2 tilt.
Aaron Paju and Jeremi Virtanen will try to continue their point production from the last series, where they each recorded four and three points, respectively. Refreshed from their first-round bye, Lauri Kouhia (5G, 12A) and Rasmus Kämäräinen (9G, 7A) are threats to once again top the leaderboard in point collection.
Series Prediction: This will be the most even matchup, given how close the regular season ended for these two teams. Jokerit has the goaltending, while the forwards for TPS pack a little more offensive punch. It will be a series of whether or not Jokerit’s defense can support the players in the crease. Eventually, I like TPS’ attack to wear down Jokerit and they will win the series in three tight battles.
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