A fourth place finish in Finland’s top league, known as Liiga, was enough for Ilves Tampere to qualify for the Champions Hockey League for the very first time. Ilves join three other Finnish teams in the competition, including neighbours and bitter rivals Tappara Tampere, Lukko Rauma and 2019/20 regular season winners (by default of the early season cancellation) Kärpät Oulu. Things are moving in the right direction, according to Ilves CEO, Risto Jalo, “We have a growth based strategy where we want to play key roles in both national and European level ice-hockey in the future. Being regularly part of CHL gives us a great chance to fulfill this goal.”
Tampere, known as the capital of Finnish ice hockey, will for the first time host two CHL teams at the Hakametsä Ice Arena. Ultimately, Ilves plan to move into their new home, the Uros Live Arena, which is currently being constructed and will also be the main venue for the 2022 IIHF World Championship. The new arena is expected to offer an outstanding setting for major sporting events and will boast increased seating capacity for 15,000 spectators in addition to having the latest in stadium technology and services.
Established in 1931, Ilves amassed 16 championships over 1936 - 1985, making them the second most successful team behind Tappara. Since then they have been competing in the 15-team-strong Liiga with mixed results. Over the last ten seasons they have narrowly avoided relegation twice, missed qualifying for the playoffs three times, and suffered four quarterfinal losses, the most recent in 2018/19. Their fourth place finish from this season is their highest since 1998.
Although their glory days may have past, qualifying for the CHL is a significant step in the club’s development program. A crucial ownership change in 2017 was the catalyst for Ilves to modify their operations and with a newly executed corporate strategy they have made progress in both finances and the sport. Entry into the CHL has been a huge reward for the club and its owners, but it doesn’t stop there. Ilves eagerly await the opportunity to network with their CHL colleagues and establish a lasting dialogue on how to foster best practises and further develop both their players and as a club.
This progressive sentiment is shared by Jalo, “We see also future potential for the CHL to grow further, they have a very productive organisation and strategic partners.”
"We definitely want to be part of the CHL"
Ilves CEO and General Manager, Risto Jalo
With an average age just shy of 23 years, Ilves field one of the youngest teams in the Liiga. Leading that charge are the likes of 24-year-old Eemeli Suomi, the team's top scorer, and netminder Lukáš Dostál. At 19, Dostál, a native of Brno and currently the team's only foreign player, has been a crucial element in the team's success, suiting up for 43 games and finishing in the top three for save percentage last season. The talented Czech netminder was named as Liiga’s Best Goaltender (Urpo Ylönen Award), and added to the 2019/20 Liiga All-Star Team.
According to a spokesperson for Ilves - younger players know that the CHL is “a great opportunity for them to show individually that their development process is going in the right direction, while the experienced players are excited to show everybody that they can translate their game to another level.”
Ilves is led by Head Coach and former Liiga player Jouko Myrrä, a native from Tampere who spent most of his career playing in Finland prior to playing in Austria. Myrrä has been coaching at Ilves for the past 12 seasons and in 2019/20 he was appointed as Head Coach after spending nearly 5 seasons as an Assistant Coach.
How do Ilves compare to their Finnish counterparts? Rivals and CHL stalwarts Tappara have competed in all six CHL seasons, while Kärpät have competed in all with the exception of the 2017/18 season. Lukko Rauma participated from 2014/15 to 2016/17 and after a four year absence will rejoin the CHL again next season.
Ilves know they will have to be on top of their game to succeed, but with their proud hockey history and a game based on tempo and energy, their debut in the CHL will, without a doubt, be a memorable one for both the club and the fans.
Welcome to the Champions Hockey League Ilves!