Tumultuous times in Finland
After the December’s World Championship Gold party, it’s been a lively midwinter in Finnish floorball. The ever-present anonymous commentators had a field day biting into Petri Kettunen’s sudden exit from Finland’s bench and with that settled, new tasty topics have been flowing in. Outrageous victory margins, popularity of the Superfinale, the necessity of sudden-death overtime…
Finland’s glimmering WFC gold was merely ten days old when Finland’s biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a story about the Finnish Floorball Federation possibly not using Petri Kettunen’s contract option for another two years.
“We are looking for someone who can coach the team for the full four years and we are looking at other possibilities besides Kettunen, too”, the chairman of the board Ismo Haaponiemi told the paper somewhat vaguely.
Petri Kettunen himself. interviewed for the same story, was taken by surprise. “I have not heard anything about being replaced”, he said, stressing that he would be happy to lead the team into the Prague WFC in 2018 and to Finland’s home WFC in 2020.
For the next six weeks, the situation stayed open but with rumors getting stronger about that Kettunen would be replaced by Classic head coach Petteri Nykky. When Kettunen lead Finland to take on Czech in an exhibition game in the beginning of February, it was understood it would be his farewell as the head coach. A week later, it was time for the federation’s press conference that saw Ismo Haaponiemi pull a very familiar-looking rabbit from the hat: Petteri Nykky would take over again assisted by his trusted lieutenant Samu Kuitunen and additional staff to be named later. Nykky would continue in a double role for two years, coaching both Classic and the national team to then devote his time to Team Finland only to maximize the effort for the home WFC.
Curiously enough, Petri Kettunen will continue as the head of top sports in the federation, with national team coaches, Petteri Nykky included, reporting to him.
Quite obviously, Petteri Nykky’s double role as both a Salibandyliiga coach and a national team coach drew dissenting voices from other teams. How could the coaches of competing organizations afford to share confidential information about their teams, tactics and players with him? Would Classic now have an unfair edge hiring players with a fast lane to the national team?
In an interview, Nykky himself sounded almost offended by such allegations. “Persons thinking about things like that do not sound like sports people at all. It has always been my task and goal to help potential top players reach their goals and I do not think we can yet afford not to have the best persons in the most important roles in Finnish floorball.”
One would think sharing the costs for employing a top coach like Petteri Nykky with the national team would be a bargain for Classic. There have been lots of speculation about Nykky’s contract and Helsingin Sanomat wrote about two representatives of Classic’s sponsors who are members of the central board of the federation and about the chairman running the very golf club that employs Petteri Nykky as a golf pro. The editor of Finland’s leading independent floorball site Pääkallo.fi, Joel Siltanen, wrote a commentary about Classic’s CEO Pasi Peltola’s trusted men’s strong position in the federation. He also revealed there had been a clique of national team players wanting Petri Kettunen replaced. No players were or would be named, Siltanen stated.
With the federation announcing changes would also be made to the U19 national team coaching staff after the WFC in Sweden in May, commentators thought they saw a pattern emerging: Lead Finland to a WFC gold and see someone else take over. Finland’s present U19 coach Heikki Luukkonen won the WFC gold two years ago in Helsingborg.
With the storm about Finland’s national team management settling, outrageous Salibandyliiga results started another one. After Classic beat SalBa 18-2, even top players started coming out with frustrated tweets. Do something, players like Miko Kailiala and Peter Kotilainen tweeted, implying the number of Salibandyliiga teams should be reduced to maintain quality and make games more even. It is now too easy to become an elite player and not all players have ambitious goals to develop themselves like we do, Kailiala said. Everyone wanted to have their say and opinions differed. Happee recording Salibandyliiga’s biggest win ever with 17-0 against last-place M-Team helped little.
After EräViikingit crushed M-Team with 11-2 their coach Markus Huhtimo drew more than a 100 comments saying it was a sad occasion and their opponent should start working harder to develop. Huhtimo’s comments were seen as offensive and disrespectful towards a smaller club with far less resources or top players but Huhtimo said he had mostly been saddened about their opponent’s hopelessness and lack of fighting spirit even before the game.
Basically, the dramatic results have been due to three things. First of all, Classic and EräViikingit are in a class of their own and seem to crush even middle-class teams who do not happen to have one of their best days. Secondly, SalBa seems to cynically concentrate in avoiding relegation, putting all their effort in winnable games and bending easily when there’s little hope against top teams. And thirdly, M-Team seems to have given up and accepted their goodbyes to Salibandyliiga. Just last weekend, they were only 4-2 down at Nokian KrP to then lose interest and be destroyed by 18-3.
Eventually, the federation asked about Salibandyliiga teams’ opinions and a bit surprisingly, they expressed no interest for a smaller league. hence, the federation just today declared they had decided to continue with a 14-team league at least for the season 2018-2019.
Despite a good final day last year with more than 10,000 spectators, there still seems to be a strong opposition among Salibandyliiga teams against Superfinale. In a recent poll by sports newspaper Urheilusanomat, 11 Salibandyliiga coaches out of 14 still favored an old-time final series played best of five or best of seven. The managers of the teams may have their own opinions, though.