In Finnish ice hockey, we saw such a rough fight that even Jukka Jalone got better

Is there a more depressing feeling than doing your job better than someone else, but that other person gets a much better reward? Or worse, the one who handled things better is still punished.

The discussion about the hockey SM league series system is hot, but against the backdrop of the brightest lights in smaller and colder ice rinks, a blatant injustice took place again this hockey season, which has gone unnoticed.

For a long time, the ice hockey championship league clubs have had a so-called mandate place in the youth championship series, i.e. under 20 years old. The mandate places, which caused widespread frustration outside of the league clubs, recently showed their harshness, when the first series of the under-20-year-old SM series was played.

In the 20-team series, Ilves finished in 19th place and Rovaniemi Kiekko (RoKi) in 18th place. RoKi, who collected 10 more points than Ilves, will continue their season in the age group Mestis, while Ilves will continue in the lower continuation series of the SM.

The last two of the series are relegated to Mestis, but the relegated cannot be a junior team of a League club.

I called Rovaniemi and asked: How do you feel now?

– Well… You can probably imagine. Yes, it eats quite deeply, RoK youth head coach Mika Uramo said.

– Now it became concrete, when you look at the league table, that 10 points is the difference to the one that remains in the series. It’s not really.

Even more direct feedback was given by Jukka Jalonen, head coach of the Ice Hockey League and the top product of Finnish sports as a whole, when he asked about it at the association’s press conference on Monday.

– In the opinion of all of us national team coaches, the most important thing is to get the series in shape quickly in Finnish hockey. In such a condition that they serve the competition and the development of the players. The Under-20 Championship series is the worst show of it. The example you mentioned (RoKi & Ilves) reflects quite a lot.

Jalonen was unequivocal in his answer. The youth series system must be changed and the mandate places must be removed.

Jukka Jalonen put the youth series system straight. Petri Saarelainen / AOP

– If there are no changes, then there will be very few jokes. It’s something that should be able to be fixed if we think about the best of Finnish ice hockey.

– Ilves would not be below RoK if there were no mandated positions. Ilves would have invested in his team in a completely different way, because they would not want to play in the second level. The series system makes it possible to work in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you lose or not. And that’s pretty sad.

In the Mestis clubs, hair has been torn out because of the mandate positions before.

The under-20s of Koovee from Tampere finished third last in the 2019-20 Youth League, just like RoKi in the beginning of this season. For the next season, Koovee was placed in the age group Mesti, because the second-to-last ranked Vaasan Sport is a men’s league club.

Koovee complained about it To the Sports Legal Protection Boardbut it has not been publicly reported before that Koovee also submitted a request for action to the Finnish Competition and Consumer Agency (KKV).

Koovee was unsuccessful in his appeals. According to the Sports Legal Protection Board, the series system put Koovee in an unequal position with the league clubs, but there were “in itself sporting and financially acceptable reasons for the Ice Hockey League”. KKV, on the other hand, did not take any measures, because even possibly unfair actions in the youth hockey league do not actually affect the gross domestic product.

In the spring of 2022, KalPa and Lukko fought for the Finnish championship of the U20 series in the final. The matches drew a nice crowd. Elmeri Elo / AOP

– According to KKV’s preliminary assessment, the matter is not significant in terms of the functioning of competition, the national economy and the general interest, and it is not necessary to take measures in the matter in order to secure healthy and functioning competition in the market. The preliminary assessment of the matter was particularly influenced by the low financial value of the procedure and the targeting of only one series level, as well as the absence of a clear consumer disadvantage, KKV announced.

Koovee ry did not take KKV’s decision to the market court.

When Koovee took the matter to KKV, Matti Nurminen, the Jääkieksoliito’s CEO at the time, defended the matter. Nurminen wrote that the Jääkiekkoliitto is an equal association of its members, whose goal is to maintain and promote the interest and status of ice hockey in Finland.

– All decisions are certainly not right in the opinion of an individual club, but you have to look at the whole thing, Nurminen wrote.

Apparently, in the opinion of the Ice Hockey Association and the league clubs, the interests and equality of Finnish ice hockey are best served by a fat oligopoly, where the top leagues and the production of top players are concentrated in 15–17 top clubs, which swell from their inflation.

Other clubs are left to languish with the attitude that there is no life outside the league locations or clubs and if there is, it is not meaningful but condemned to serve elite clubs without hope for a better tomorrow.

There are indications that the smoldering dissatisfaction, bitterness and quite justified feeling of injustice in the sport is bringing about a change. Examples of the slackening effects of the benefits received by league clubs have added to the pressure.

Many people at least want to try something that would be completely new and revolutionary for Finnish ice hockey in the 2020s: Fair and equal competition.

– We want to compete as high as possible in the U20 age group, in order to get players from our region in our own representative team, which is an important thing here. It will undoubtedly be a big setback for this region if we permanently drop from that league level, RoK’s Uramo said.

On the other hand, it could be that the guys who decide the game will develop yet another eye-rolling trick and keep the discussions in a “family circle”, as the recently elected new chairman of the Ice Hockey Association Heikki Hietanen has hoped.

RoK’s youth head coach Uramo said that he hasn’t heard a single opinion from the Mestis clubs that the youth league system is fair. Uramo welcomed a possible discussion on the topic.

– Hopefully, in the future, decisions will be made more openly. Since spring, we have been told how things are going, but there has been no justification or names behind the decisions. It doesn’t seem terribly good, Uramo said.

The cooperation agreement between the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation and the League is broken at the end of June. So a new contract will be drawn up soon.

Ice Hockey Federation values are, among others, respect and community spirit. During the negotiations of the new cooperation agreement, the values ​​will be implemented, for example, by strengthening the dude club and the culture of secrecy.

– We have had good and open communication relations with the League all along. We have those discussions in those forums and not in public. This is the way we operate, Sami Kauhanen, the current CEO of the Jääkieksliitto, told MTV Urheilu in November.

Yes, this is indeed the way it works.