Kiekko-Espoo program sending two teams to Champions League
Based out of Espoo, Finland, no more than 11 miles west of the nation’s capital of Helsinki, Kiekko-Espoo is a top program with teams currently ranked No. 2 and No. 6 in the country in the 2008 age group. Its players will compete at the Champions League later this month, and will again be divided into two teams for tournament play. They’ll play under the names Kiekko Blues and Kiekko Espoo, and we’ll take a deep dive into the program as a whole, how they’ve performed thus far this season and what players you need to know about before puck drop on Dec. 28th.
Finland AAA hockey teams are divided into Blocks during the season — six blocks at the 2008 age level — based on geographic location. Kiekko-Espoo has two U14 teams competing in Block 1, with the first-place Blues I maintaining a 14-0-2 record and the second-place Blues II at 14-1-0. The two teams have yet to go head-to-head with one another, but with a strong showing, there’s a chance of an All-Kiekko matchup in the playoff rounds at Champions League later this month.
The coaches and players of Kiekko-Espoo share some core beliefs that carries them to success both on and off the ice:
“There is no shortcut to success. Consistency, dedication and putting in the effort on a daily basis is the only way to succeed. Respect everyone involved in the sports and carry yourself and your team with dignity. Our team has pushed for these goals and tries to live by these values. We are honored to be involved in this tournament.”
The Blues squad opens up tournament play with four straight North American teams: No. 1 Windy City Storm, No. 3 Little Caesars, Seacoast Performance Academy and No. 2 Los Angeles Jr. Kings. A matchup with Barys on New Years Eve will conclude pool play for the Blues.
Forwards Onni Kovalainen (38), Juuso Fredrikson (31) and Toomas Reijonen (31) are one, two and three in points this season. Julius Heinrichs, Joel Ikonen, Alvari Kuusisto, Remi Leppӓlӓ, Nicolas Mero, Matias Salmijӓrvi and Riko Salutskij provide a diverse makeup of hockey IQ and raw skill that will allow the Blues offense to attack with speed and precision.
Oskari Ahmajӓrvi and Sisu Alanen are not tall in stature, listed at 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-3 respectively. However, Both Ahmajӓrvi (96.50) and Alanen (89.78) have posted impressive save percentages in what is a high-scoring Finland league that averages nearly eight total goals per game.
The defensive group will have its hands full, with just five players on the blue line. Emil Finell, Jone Mӧlsӓ, Nooa Jӓrvenpӓӓ, Lauri Pajunen and Luukas Vahvaselkӓ make up a small but talented group that will see plenty of ice time between the five of them.
Espoo, on the other hand, will play five teams from four different countries. A matchup with U.S.-based Yale Jr. Bulldogs to begin tournament action for Espoo, followed by contests against Seacoast, Slovakia’s HK Dukla Trencin, Barys and Järved IF from Sweden.
With seven defensemen, Kiekko-Espoo has good size and depth on the back end with 5-foot-10 Max Syrjäläinen, 5-foot-8 Aleksi Ahola and 5-foot-7 Olli Ronkainen. Couple that size with Marcus Christodoulou, Kalle Kuntanen, Luukas Lehtimäki and Ossi Nyman who are good puck movers and defensively responsible, and the group is tough to score on.
Matias Ruuskanen is the lone goaltender on the roster, with an impressive 94.01 save percentage in 12 games this season, allowing just 17 goals against.
Forwards Noel Pakarinen (23) and Emil Holopainen (18) are averaging a point per game in Finnish action. Emil Holopainen, Eero Ilmonen, Matias Koukkunen, Max Laatikainen, Noel Pakarinen, Tomas Raunio, Oliver Torkki, Joona Virta and Atte Vuori add grit and toughness to the lineup. With strong goaltending and a scrappy game plan, Kiekko-Espoo could thrive in low-scoring contests that frustrate opponents.
Will we see an All-Kiekko matchup in the playoffs? Only time will tell, as these teams take the ice with eight others vying for youth hockey’s first ever world championship. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for continued coverage of the Champions League, upcoming features, highlights and recaps of the tournament, and so much more!
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