Finland’s famous goalkeeper factory is in crisis.
For some time now, it has been seen that Finnish NHL goalkeepers are disappearing, but now the situation is alarming even in the SM League.
Only half of the league’s number one players are Finns. More than half of the clubs, eight, have hired a foreign goalkeeper.
For example, last Friday, six Finnish and six foreign goalkeepers played in a six-match round.
For the first time in KHL, the Jokers have a completely foreign combat duo.
Goalkeepers from around the world have also been drawn to Mestis and the junior series.
– Damn I’m worried about this situation, says the most deserving Finnish maalivahtivalmentajiin include Marko Torenius.
– Including the main leagues, ie the Finnish Championship League, Mestis, A- and B-juniors and the Jokers, foreigners will grab such 800 games during the season.
Torenius has recently been hired to reform the hockey association’s goalkeeper training.
A little playfully one could say that his task is: Make Finnish Goalies Great Again.
Golden time behind
Back in the early 2000s, everything was great and the Finnish goalkeeper mill was the most admired in the world.
More top goalkeepers left Finland for the NHL than top good defenders or attackers. It was Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Bäckström and Vesa Toskala. It was Kari Lehtonen and was Antero Niittymäki. All at the same time.
In the 2008–09 season, Finns fought in the NHL in a total of 367 matches.
A decade later, in 2018–19, the reading has dropped to 246.
When Pekka Rinne, 37, and Tuukka Rask, 33, quit, there is only one probable Finnish number one guard in the league, Hair Saros, who has already labeled the Slope Scepter in Nashville Predators.
After Saros, 25, only good entrepreneurs have left Finland for the NHL. No new star plow is visible.
One reason is the declining level of the SM League.
– When I played at TPS, I trained with top players from week to week and it developed me. I was in a competitive, successful organization and it took me a lot forward, says one hundred NHL matches played in 2006-09 Fredrik Norrena.
– The league is not so competitive today.
Finland was a pioneer in goalkeeping coaching in the 1990s. Every club already had a goalkeeper coach in the juniors.
– There was someone who really cared about us molars. It was a big deal and brought a competitive advantage, says Norrena, who raised IFK Lepplax from Pedersör.
Talents were found and honed. The national team and NHL clubs praised the fruit. The Finnish goalkeeper factory became world famous and went like everywhere in sports: the best are being copied.
When other countries woke up, satisfaction in the meantime had waned in Finland. Finland’s lead was closed.
In Russia in particular, it was realized that in an intensifying competition, it is not only possible to make a firepower attack, so Russia began to hit the goalkeepers. That included recruiting Finnish gurus.
When Vladimir Yursinov had brought revolutionary Russian studies to Turku in the 1990s, it was now Russia’s turn to enjoy Finland’s export product, the ABC of goalkeeping coaching. Almost all of Finland’s leading goalkeeper coaches have visited KHL clubs coached in Russia.
Torenius worked in Russia for seven years and saw a change.
– For the last ten years, there has been a systematic investment in coaching skills and a system has been created where goalkeeper coaching has been available since childhood. When it still combines training volumes and big mass, it brings them talent and good goalkeepers, Torenius says.
Russia is rolling
Recently, the Stanley Cup finals made history when the finals were for the first time a duel between Russian guards: Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevsky against the Dallas Stars Anton Hudobin.
The conference finalist New York Islanders also had a Russian No. 1 guard, Semjon Varlamov.
And this week, the NHL draft’s overwhelming goalie selection is Jaroslav Askarov, which Torenius has coached in St. Petersburg.
– He is a mature guy by his age and, as a type, not afraid of work, who has all the tools required of a modern hammer.
As a man of the Hockey League, it would be easy to talk in circles, but Torenius states the facts:
– You can say that Russia has passed us.
Therefore, we now need to think about how to get Finland back on track and on top of that.
Let’s take a look at the SM League. Why have eight clubs resorted to a foreign goalkeeper?
None of them is a so-called ready-made package, i.e. a star or a veteran. The age range is 20-27 and everyone has a career just rising – or at least that would be the intention.
There are three Czechs, two Slovaks, two Swedes and one Russian.
– The Czechs and Slovakia have become many goalkeepers in Finland. If we had a strong position of our own, they would not have a market here, Torenius points out.
So the fault is in your own goalkeeper tube, which is clogged. And when the lynx Lukas Dostal was chosen last season as the best goalkeeper in the series at just 19 years old, it inspires other clubs to try their luck.
– That spiral easily feeds itself when there are so many foreign goalkeepers.
“It’s not right”
The number of Finnish junior goalkeepers has not decreased. There is no problem with that. The problem is at the level of coaching.
Torenius, who makes club visits, talks emphatically about how the content of the coaching needs to be updated and made more efficient.
After thinking for a moment, he says his direct opinion. Coaches need to be changed.
– If a team loses, the head coach and the goalkeeper themselves pay for it at their workplace, but the goalkeeper coach is allowed to continue, he wakes up.
It’s true that goalkeeper coaches are in the SM League in amazingly long washes. Up to a decade.
– My hope is that the guys’ responsibility for results will be bigger and we will have more competition for those jobs, Torenius says.
– It is all too easy to continue there, even if you fail for years in the pipe. It is not good and it is not right.
One drawback is that in Finland, goalkeeper coaches are almost without exception also team leaders. It eats up time.
– It is not optimal when it has all kinds of organizational work, which takes time and concentration away from the goalkeepers.
Competition is intensifying. According to Torenius, it is simply necessary to have more Finnish goalkeepers in the top leagues. That is his mission now. Norrena talks about the change she noticed.
– The average length of the NHL’s number one molars, who have won more than 20 games, has risen dramatically in 20 years: 6-8 cents, he says.
– I myself am 183 centimeters tall and I was then quite large, but now I no longer medium length.
Whatever the length, the situation is clear: Finland needs new heroes.
– In our time, Cyprus (Kiprusoff) broke its glass roof. He showed the world and raised Finnish molars to new credibility. It always requires that one of us break. Others follow suit, Norrena says.
The Finland puck now needs the new 2020s Kiprusoff.