Round of 32: TPS Turku vs IFK Helsinki
Read below for information on the Round of 32 series between TPS Turku and IFK Helsinki. IFK Helsinki won 6-5 in a penalty shootout to advance to the Round of 16.
Two of Finland's best known clubs internationally go head-to-head in this clash between TPS Turku and IFK Helsinki. In recent years, HIFK have been Liiga contenders while TPS rebuilds, but the play of both teams in the group stage seems to indicate that times might be changing. They have both started well in their regular season since then, but it's still too early to draw any firm conclusions. They haven't played yet in the Liiga this year, but HIFK dominated last year, taking 10 of 12 points in four meetings. It's hard to say which team will win this series, but it's safe to say these teams are a lot more familiar with each other than most CHL opponents.
Despite being the group winner, TPS will play the first of the two games on their home ice in Turku due to arena availability. The return leg will then go in Helsinki.
Closer look: TPS Turku
(3-1-0-0, 11 points, 15:3, 1st in Group H)
TPS Turku were nearly perfect in the group stage, taking 11 of 12 possible points, and allowing only three goals in four games in the process. They started with a 4-1 home win over Lorenskog IK, then had a couple of close battles with Bili Tygri Liberec, in which both teams got fine goaltending displays. First Oskari Setanen made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout win in Liberec, then Alexander Georgiev stopped 33 in a 3-1 win in Turku. With the group already wrapped up, they won 6-0 in Lorenskog. After facing two rather unknown opponents, their Round of 32 opponents will be very familiar.
Top Forward & CRAMO Top Scorer: Young and versatile forward Patrik Virta has shown his skills and speed in the CHL group stage and is TPS's top scorer with 5 points. Entering this season, the 20-year-old, who can play both centre and right wing, had played only 39 Liiga games, and had 6 points. Nearly matching that total in just four CHL games might be an indication he's on his way to being a big point producer, which he was in junior. Virta played on a line with fellow youngsters Oskari Siiki and Julius Vahatalo, and may have slipped under the radar of opponents with two lines full of better-known players ahead of them. With veteran talent like Tomi Kallio, Eric Perrin and Dave Spina, TPS are loaded with veterans who can score too.
Top Defenceman: Jani Forsstrom leads the TPS defence with 3 assists in four games, but HIFK need to be aware of Ilkka Heikkinen. Heikkinen has been a beast in the early rounds of the Finnish Liiga – a true blueline anchor, especially on the power play. With 5 goals from the back end in the first four Liiga games, he is on fire. Being from the same league, HIFK are well familiar with him and his interesting personal story. He is able to play in the top level even though he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during last season.
Top Goaltender: Just 22 years old, Oskari Setanen is entering his second season as a full-time goalie for TPS Turku. He was nearly unbeatable in his two CHL group stage games, allowing just 1 goal in 125 minutes of work. He forms a young but competent duo with 20-year-old Russian Alexander Georgiev. They split duties down the middle in the CHL and have done so in the early going of Liiga play, so there's a good chance we'll see both of them appear in the Round of 32 against IFK Helsinki.
Closer look: IFK Helsinki
(1-0-1-2, 4 Points, 13:11, 2nd in Group G)
IFK Helsinki were expected to be the top team in Group G, but instead they struggled mightily against EV Zug and, even more suprisingly, Esbjerg Energy. It was the Swiss club that beat them in their first two games – 2-1 in Zug and 4-1 in Helsinki. Still, few panicked, as the thought of not picking up the necessary points to advance against Esbjerg seemed unthinkable. However, Esbjerg came up with one of the more surprising performances of the group stage, getting a tying goal in the last minute and then winning in overtime, 5-4. HIFK now needed a regulation win to advance, but got things together and won 7-0. Their early Liiga play seems to indicate their group stage woes are behind them, and that's a good thing, as TPS will be far less forgiving to their mistakes.
Top Forward & CRAMO Top Scorer: Lennart Petrell is straightforward type of player who likes to play a physical game but also score some goals. In four group stage games, Petrell scored 4 points, even though he plays on the nominal fourth line. This 32-year-old HIFK icon is back in Helsinki after five seasons away, save for a brief period during the NHL Lockout. While away he played two seasons for the Edmonton Oilers, one for Geneve-Servette and two for Lulea Hockey, who he helped win the CHL title in 2014-15.
Top Defenceman: 34-year-old Daniel Grillfors might not be the most sparkling player on the rink, but his overall game is admirable. This well-rounded d-man is one of HIFK's key players and gets a lots of ice time on special teams. He's a great role-model for the younger players and Grillfors makes his teammates look better when he's on the ice with them. His +4 rating was the best from the team in the group stage.
Top Goaltender: HIFK-grown goaltender Niklas Backstrom has returned to the club after 16 years, mostly spent with the Minnesota Wild. After couple rough years in the NHL, nobody really knew what to expect from this 38-year-old, but Backstrom has already shown that he is on a good shape and ready to get back on the stage where he once was. During the group stage Backstrom played in three games, conceding only five goals.