Pelicans worry about the fate of their own sons

Tommi Niemelä and his team announce the good news of hockey, writes Vesa Parviainen.

Tommi Niemelä thanks the audience. Pelicans beat KalPa on Tuesday in Lahti 4–2 and advanced to the semi-finals with a 4–3 win. Tomi Natri / AOP

“When we talk about the racing series, the goal is to win the racing series. The team has also set a big goal that we really want to be in a position in the spring where we can aim for the place of the last team to raise their hands”.

Tommi Niemelä’s words surprised me a little when I interviewed him in the middle of last October.

The Pelicans did start the series strong, but still: The team was tenth last season, and it hadn’t made a splash in the transfer market. The season of Jonas Enlund, who was acquired as an important reinforcement, had already ended with a knee injury.

And on that basis, the coach talks like poker about winning the championship. So not about any playoff spot or six sacks, but about an achievement that the club has never reached. The silver in spring 2012 is the Pelicans’ only medal.

Don’t misunderstand. I didn’t think “Hölö” was a cheeky goof tune.

On the contrary, I appreciated the coach’s honest talk about what competitive sports is basically about.

As Herbert Elliott, who won Olympic gold in the 1500 meters in 1960, said: an athlete who sets as his goal something other than Olympic victory achieves something else in sports.

Already at the beginning of the season, Niemelä planted a similar idea in his young crew, and the team has internalized it nicely – without making a big deal out of it, however.

Of course, there is still a long way to go to the championship, and the two highest mountain peaks have yet to be conquered by the people of Lahti, but the unprejudiced and at the same time purposeful approach of the team, which was already declared a sensation in the fall, has to be appreciated.

Niemelä, who is always or at least always smiling in public, proclaims the good news of hockey in his personal way.

One of his most important principles is the positive atmosphere of the work community, where everyone can feel safe and dare to be themselves.

It works for today’s youth who haven’t experienced the authoritarian yelling leadership of the old league – and there are a lot of them in the Pelicans.

The club’s junior production has provided Niemelä with good players, and the coach has shown his ability as a developer of young players.

However, the situation of the city’s own sons, the Vilén brothers, casts a shadow over the wonderful spring of Lahti residents.

Elias Vilén was injured in the quarter-final series against KalPa, and in Game Seven, Topias Vilén made a fool of himself for a tackle on the head of the outfield.

The younger Vilén is now threatened with a suspension. In the opening round of the semifinals, Luko’s Samuli Piipponen was banned for five matches and Pelicans’ Anton Mylläri was banned for three matches for the same reason.

Everyone has injuries at this point, but the Pelicans really couldn’t afford to go against Ilves without an important center and a first pair defender.

Topias Vilén got himself a shower sentence. Tomi Natri / AOP