Liiga travels to Estonia, Donbass wins 31st straight

Liiga travels to Estonia, Donbass wins 31st straight

​This past weekend, the Liiga played its first-ever game outside of Finland, with HPK Hämeenlinna recording a 4-3 shootout victory over Pelicans Lahti in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. As well, Donbass recorded its 31st straight victory in the Ukrainian Hockey League.

A crowd of 5,003 witnessed the Saturday night encounter in Tallinn, and the Estonians and Finns in attendance got their money’s worth, with 65 minutes of hockey followed by a penalty shootout. Winnipeg Jets’ first-round pick Kristian Vesalainen was the hero, scoring the shootout-winner for HPK.

“Ice hockey is one of the finest export products in Finland. The Pelicans want to be an innovative pioneer in their operations and for that reason, the Pelicans wanted to be the first team to bring a home game to a foreign country. The idea of Tallinn was born together with our cooperation partners last winter and the idea was received with excitement in Finland as nothing similar has been done in the past,” Pelicans CEO Tomi-Pekka Kolu told IIHF.com.

“With this match [played in Tallinn], we hope to market hockey, the Liiga and of course also our own club in Estonia. Hopefully, this will also help the development of Estonian ice hockey,” Kolu continued, adding that “plans were already in place for a return next season.”

Despite the loss, Pelicans players were impressed, with winger Jesse Mankinen stating: “The event itself was great and we should have more of these. The crowd followed the game with enthusiasm and there was a great atmosphere inside the arena throughout the evening.”

The game was an important one for both teams, who are fighting for their playoff lives. With the much-needed two points, HPK now sits 11th in the Liiga standings, but will need to string some more wins together if the team hopes to break into the top 10 and qualify for post-season play HPK currently trails 10th-placed Ässät Pori but hold a game in hand. A further two points up are the Pelicans in ninth, who trail eight-placed KalPa Kuopio by a point but have played one more game.

Remaining in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian hockey has seen better days, but the dominance that HC Donbass has shown in the country’s top league is nothing short of amazing. Last Tuesday, the team that is currently based in Druzhkivka 100 km north of its traditional home in Donetsk won its 30th straight league game with a 15-2 thrashing of last-place Vovky Brovary. Then back home on Friday, Donbass shut out fifth-placed Halytski Levy Novoyavorivsk 4-0 to remain perfect with a record of 31-0-0-0.

Of course, with a record like that, head coach Sergei Viter has high expectations of his players.

"The team didn’t play so well today but I’m happy with the result,” the coach told the club’s website after the latest win. “The guys won, but we can play better than we did today. I can’t single out any individuals, we just didn’t play well as a group, but at least the guys worked and won the game.”

Outside of the domestic league, Donbass made it to the semi-final round of the IIHF Continental Cup a trophy the Ukrainian club won back in 2012-13 while a member of the KHL.

Photo: Tomi Natri/pelicans.fi

Derek O'Brien