It’s already been a month after the first leg of the SPBL Finnish Championship League, sorry about that – we had a bit of a landscaping project after the tournament, and a sudden outbreak of summer weather made dating a laptop the last in line for things to do.. Still a day left before the second tournament though!
Coming into the season 2011 after winning the championship last year, we knew there was no easy ride to victory as we would be the ones to beat this season. We did a punishing (but voluntary) physical fitness program over the winter months – many of the guys lost quite a bit of weight and gained endurance. After some time off from the markers we begun the weekly trips to Sparta Reball, some 160Km from Helsinki to blast tons of reps and drive back home again. As the spring progressed, we begun outdoor practises at our own field, grinding at the sandpit up to three times a week for a month before the first tournament – only to have our asses handed to us in the two first games.
Talk about a rude awakening – three more prelim games to go.
The tournament format for the Finnish league has been condensed for this season, there are now only six top-tier teams that play a round-robin topped with a decisive final match between the 1st and 2nd and the bronze match for 3rd and 4th finishers. Five preliminary round games and a 6th game for the top four makes the tournament day physically demanding, but it also gives the teams the opportunity to truly measure their level of play at each event. For us, the two first games against RumaQ Oulu and Takeover Kuopio really showed us that much of the game is in your head. The first game of the day, RumaQ took the first two points, and we caught up to tie it up at 2-2. RumaQ adjusted and took the win 4-2. For the second game against Takeover, we vouched to be more crisp, and were sure that the first game was just a slip-up.
No, it was not.
Takeover played a fast and solid game, taking three first points in a row. After the third point we were starting to be properly woken up, and decided to tighten our roster to get our heads back in the game. We took the following two points, but it was too little too late, and Takeover squeezed the victory. We needed to seriously pick up the pace if we were to squeeze into the top four. At that time the tournament standings were the complete opposite from the previous season with oureselves and Urho occupying the last row of seats, and Takeover in the driver’s seat with RumaQ riding shotgun.
In the huddle for the next game against Dream Team Turku we decided to focus on the little things, win every gunfight and battle for each ED point like our lives depended on them.
With the new-found focus, we played a strong game against DT, or at least the three first points with the fourth one being a no point. That allowed the Turku guys to get back on track and win two poins. We shrugged off the change of tide and took the following point to take the match. With the new confidence, we took on Trivoga and kept our focus with them taking the first point and us taking the two following, and repeated the cycle for a 4-2 result. The last prelim game was ahead, and we were at 2 wins and 2 losses – we needed to take the win to be in the top four.
Last season, Urho was consistently with us in the finals all season long, and we were expecting a tough match once again. They had revitalized their team with fresh players, and had struggled during the earlier part of the day. Urho came out swinging and we played a ton of points with two “no points” and each taking a point in the first four starts. Eventually, we got the game rolling and took the game 4-1, so we might have a chance at being in the top 4 after a slow start after all..
It seems that the new format proved its entertainment value, as the prelims were extemely tight and it turned out that every ED point did matter. As three teams were at 9 points (3 of 5 wins) after Takeover – leading the pack with 12 points. RumaQ and Trivoga both had ED 2, and ours was 3 – we got to the final as a true wildcard! To point out how close the situation was, the game between Trivoga and RumaQ could only end 4-2 to Trivoga to take us through. Never has there been more excitement for us on the domestic sidelines. Nice.
The final game was against Takeover, who had pretty much dominated their way through the prelims, only sputtering in their last game against DT, losing it 3-4. We were happy to see the Kuopio guys in the finals, as the previous season was so difficult for them. In the first point of the match, Takeover pushed the other tape (symmetrical field, remember 😉 ) hard and fast, ramming into us like a, well, a ram. 1-0 for them. We made some adjustments to our lanes and decided to pace ourselves differently, and it seemed to work as we took 4 points in a row – leading to victory! Talk about taking the long route..
Looking back at the tournament as a whole, I think the new tournament system is fantastic! Five to Six games in a day is certainly value for the money, and now you get to play each of the top teams in Finland at least once in a tournament. That will be good for the level of play in the long run. Taking notice on how much weight a single ED point can get in the new system, and the vast percentage of games ending 4-2, I’d feel that extending the game time to 12 minutes and playing to 5 points would be really beneficial, as it allows for larger point spreads in matchs. It also allows a team to truly “come back from behind”, as there is more points to change the course of the game. We had a really enjoyable event once again, thansks to all the teams for a great atmosphere, the great EuroRef – led crew providing us fantastic marshalling for the second year in a row, and the organizers for a well-run event. And the local association taking care of the catering at the event, oh those buns were fantastic!
Stay tuned on the weekend for a mindblowing livescore experience with moving images and all!