Hämeenlinna born, Hämeenlinna raised, and a rock on HPK’s defence. Petteri Nikkilä has rapidly become one of the Liiga’s finest blueliners. The 26-year old, who rose through HPK’s junior ranks, spoke about his club’s title and HPK Hämeenlinna’s upcoming debut season in the CHL.
Title wins don’t come more dramatic than overtime in Game 7. “I was a little scared in the locker room before overtime”, said Nikkilä. “Though once I got to the ice, I felt pretty good. We just tried to play a simple game and thank God we got the first goal”.
HPK defeated Regular Season Champions Kärpät Oulu, Tappara Tampere and TPS Turku on their way to their first Canada Cup since 2006. The team didn’t have it all their own way, trailing 0-1 and 1-2 in their Semi-Final series against Tappara.
However, Nikkilä emphasised HPK’s confidence despite trailing twice in the series. “We beat them in the Regular Season, so we know we could beat them in the Playoffs also. We played pretty well against them before”.
Nikkilä played a crucial role in the team’s Game 4 overtime winner against Tappara which levelled the series.
"It was a great feeling after it went in"
Petteri Nikkilä on Robert Leino's crucial Game 4 OT winner against Tappara Tampere
“The guy from Tappara shot the puck and I blocked it with my stick. It bounced luckily to Robert [Leino] and he got that goal. It was a great feeling after it went in”, commented Nikkilä.
HPK’s success was driven by a core of young players who had risen through the team’s junior system together. “I played nearly 15 years together with Robert Leino and Otto Paajanen”, said Nikkilä. “I was pretty happy to have won with those guys. It was awesome”.
Nikkilä was a crucial part of HPK’s success this season. The smooth-skating defensive dynamo racked up 42 Regular Season points and a further 13 points in the Playoffs. In doing so, he trebled his output compared to his previous career-best season.
When asked what had changed during the summer to lead to such a dramatic increase in performance, Nikkilä said, “After the summer I was in good shape. My game felt pretty good right away and I just got better and better.”
By virtue of winning the Liiga title, HPK will make their CHL debut in the 2019/20 season. For Nikkilä, this experience will also be his first appearance in Europe’s premier club ice hockey competition
"It is good for HPK to be in the CHL"
“I think it is good for HPK to be in the Champions Hockey League”, said Nikkilä. “There are a lot of good teams. It’s good for us to see different styles of hockey and travel to other countries”.
HPK are top seeds in Group B and will face EV Zug (SUI), HC Pilsen (CZE) and fellow debutants Rungsted Seier Capital (DEN). HPK will in fact play in the 2019/20 season opener against Pilsen on 29 August at 17:00 CEST. See the full CHL schedule here.
“They’re going to be pretty good games as I think that in the CHL every team is a good team”, commented Nikkilä. I know Zug as my one friend Santeri [Alatalo] plays there. It’s a pretty good team”.
HPK will seek to address a number of key departures in the offseason, but have already strengthened their roster with the signings of defenceman Elmeri Ernonen (previously TPS Turku), and forwards Cody Kunyk (SaiPa Lappeenranta) and Tommi Tikka (Sport).
So what can CHL fans expect from HPK? Nikkilä promised “High speed, and that we will move the puck well. We are a young team, so we skate well. In general, we just play good hockey!”
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