There has been a changing of the guard in Finnish hockey in recent years. After Karpat Oulu enjoyed a run as the SM-liiga's top team from the early to late 2000s, JYP Jyvaskyla has emerged as the team to beat. The defending champs have won the Kanada-Malja (Canada Cup, the league's version of the Stanley Cup) in two of the last four playoffs and captured the regular-season title in three of the last four seasons.
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JYP slipped to fourth in the regular season in 2011-12 but hit its stride in the playoffs. The team ripped through Assat Pori in four straight games in the quarterfinals, then needed only five games to down Jokerit Helsinki in the semis. JYP drew the second-seeded Pelicans Lahti in the finals. After dropping the first game 2-0, JYP won the next four games by a combined score of 16-8.
JYP enters the 2012-13 season as the favorite to repeat as league champion, but will face stiff competition. Among other clubs, Karpat, KalPa Kuopio, 2011 champion HIFK Helsinki and their archrival, Jokerit Helsinki, all enter the season with championship aspirations.
JYP was founded in 1977 and was an also-ran for much of its existence. The team enjoyed a period of success from the late 1980s to early 1990s, marked by losses in the playoff finals to TPS Turku in 1989 and Jokerit in 1992 (after a first-place regular season finish). Otherwise, the club primarily was known for its solid developmental system, which was raided liberally by wealthier clubs as its players began to mature at the professional level.
More recently, JYP has become a model of how a small-market European club can operate successfully and with stability. It has continued to develop strong young talents, such as Anaheim Ducks defense prospect Sami Vatanen, who will make his North American debut this season with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League. Even with Vatanen's departure, JYP should have a good defense corps this season, with a mixture of experience (including 40-year-old Kalle Koskinen) and youth, as well as a blend of puck movers and stay-at-home specialists.
JYP generally has chosen its import players wisely in recent seasons. In particular, the club has forged a strong relationship with former NHL forward Eric Perrin. A veteran of 245 NHL games and various European leagues (including a previous stint in Jyvaskyla), the center has become an integral part of the team’s on-ice success.
With 59 points in 58 games, Perrin ranked second in the league's scoring race in 2011-12 -- and he followed that with 14 points in 14 playoff games en route to the championship. Perrin signed a contract extension with JYP in August.
"This is a big day for me and my family," Perrin told the team's website. "The way the team was last season, growing extremely unified and bound for the championship, it was magical. I feel confident in JYP's future path as a team, because we're paving the way towards a path of strong, shared leadership."
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Perrin is serving as captain this season. He has two goals and three points through the team's first two regular-season games after totaling three points in five European Trophy games. Likewise, new arrival Ramzi Abid has posted three points in the team's first two games.
JYP has been tested right out of the chute this season, starting with a road game in Kuopio and a home game against Karpat. JYP passed both tests.
The defending champions shut out KalPa 3-0 in the season opener behind 21 saves from veteran goaltender Tuomas Tarkki and goals by Perrin, Abid and French defenseman Yohann Auvitu. In the home opener, JYP defeated Karpat 3-1, with Perrin, Kristian Nakyva and Miika Lahti providing the goals and Abid contributing a pair of assists.