Editor's note: Arda Ocal, an Emmy award-nominated broadcaster and the voice of the NHL Gaming World Championship, will be covering the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship for NHL.com. Here is his recap of the European regional finals:
In the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky gave opponents nightmares with his dominant play behind the net in the offensive zone, the area known affectionately as "Gretzky's office."
That same strategy was used to perfection by the reigning NHL gaming world champion at the European regional finals Saturday.
Erik "Eki" Tammenpaa remains undefeated in GWC competition, using a combination of suffocating puck possession, patience behind the net leading to either a slick wraparound goal or an unstoppable one-timer between the hash marks. The formidable competitor from Finland collected the $5,000 top prize and a guaranteed final four spot at the Grand Final in Las Vegas on June 18.
"I don't even know what to think right now, my mind is just empty," Eki said. "Hard work being paid off, it's just the best feeling you can have."
NHLGWC color commentator Andrew "Nasher" Telfer said the performance solidified Eki's place as the gamer to beat.
"Eki proves again why he's the best in the game," Telfer said. "His incredible patience, puck control and mindset is what sets him apart from other players in the tournament. He's able to create space and open up lanes when nothing seems to be there. Whenever you give him an inch of space, he'll bury it bar down, pull off an impressive dangle, do whatever it takes to score."
Joining Eki in Las Vegas representing Europe will be Hannes "Hansulinho" Kettunen, also from Finland and one of the pioneers of the Chel community. Universally respected for his years of competition and success, particularly in Finland, Hansulinho finds himself with the biggest opportunity of his career, the right to battle to become world champion.
"Well it's a dream come true of course," Hansulinho said. "I have been there in 2013 playing NHL Virgin Gaming Championship and came in third on that competition, so it's time to shine once again. (I'm the) happiest man for sure at the moment."
It wasn't easy. Hansulinho had to battle through an epic three-game series with fellow tournament favorite Paul "Pleemaker" Arontie. It won't be easy in Vegas either. "Hansu's" second-place finish means hea will have to battle other runner-ups in a three-person playoff for the fourth and final spot at the Grand Final.
If Eki is inspired by Gretzky, Hansulinho is motivated by San Jose Sharks defensemen Brent Burns, especially in the beard department. The lifelong Sharks fan says Burns is his favorite player and hopes to one day meet the 2017 Norris Trophy winner and a finalist in 2019.
Eki and Hansulinho await the winner and runners-up from Canada and the United States. The Canadian regional finals are in Toronto on May 25. The U.S. stop is at Stamford, Connecticut on May 30. Each will be streamed live on Twitch at twitch.tv/nhl.