Finland’s Maple League set to kick off historic ‘post COVID-19 lockdown’ season

Finland’s Maple League (Vaahteraliiga) gets set to kick off its 41st season and although it is a shortened, ‘post COVID-19 lockdown’ season, it will be an “official” season.

The league has pared down to six teams from seven with the Tampere Saints opting not to play. The Helsinki Roosters, Kuopio Steelers, Helsinki Wolverines, Seinäjoki Crocodiles, Wasa Royals and Porvoon Butchers will compete for the Finnish title in 2020.

The Maple League will play a truncated season with only half the number of regular season games, starting July 30 with Maple Bowl XLI scheduled to be played at Lahti stadium on September 12. Each team will play only five games during the regular season.

Teams in Finland’s top league have been practicing in pads with full contact since the beginning of June.

Full 2020 Maple League Schedule

July 30Helsinki WolverinesSeinäjoki Crocodiles
July 31Helsinki RoostersKuopio Steelers
Aug. 1Wasa RoyalsPorvoon Butchers
Aug. 6Seinäjoki CrocodilesHelsinki Roosters
Aug. 7Helsinki WolverinesWasa Royals
Aug. 8Porvoon ButchersKuopio Steelers
Aug. 13Helsinki RoostersPorvoon Butchers
Aug. 14Wasa RoyalsSeinäjoki Crocodiles
Aug. 15Kuopio SteelersHelsinki Wolverines
Aug. 20Porvoon ButchersHelsinki Wolverines
Aug. 21Helsinki RoostersWasa Royals
Aug. 22Seinäjoki CrocodilesKuopio Steelers
Aug. 27Helsinki WolverinesHelsinki Roosters
Aug. 28Kuopio SteelersWasa Royals
Aug. 29Seinäjoki Crocodiles Porvoon Butchers
Sept. 4Semifinal 1Semifinal 1
Sept. 4Semifinal 2Semifinal 2
Sept 12Maple Bowl

Helsinki Roosters – 2019 – 12-2 – Finnish champion

Under head coach Juha Hakala, the defending champion Roosters have taken a totally different approach to every other team in this COVID-19 shortened season. They have not added a single import, choosing to play with an all-Finnish squad. Hakala, who has led the Roosters to six Maple League titles will go with last year’s quarterbck Miro Kadmiry  who will be joined in the backfield by running back Karri Pajarinen. Both are national team starters.  The receiving corps will be led by Alexander Wasiljeff, while the offensive line is anchored by Tony Koskinen. Key to the linebacking crew is Akseli Vartiainen, the team’s third leading tackler in 2019. Behind him in the secondary is defensive back Viljo Lempinen.

Although playing without imports, expect Helsinki to be a contender for the Finnish title in 2020.

Kuopio Steelers – 2019 – 10-4 – Finnish finalist

Head coach Pekka Utriainen has taken his team to two straight Finnish finals and appears to have assembled another title-contending squad in 2020. His quarterback, Seth Peters has returned for his fourth season. In 2019, Peters threw for 2,669 yards and 31 touchdowns, good for fifth in the Maple League. He has a young and talented receiving corps to throw to which includes Jaakko Paananen.

Also returning is offensive lineman and team captain, Roope Korhonen, a key to the offense. One of the most exciting new additions to the lineup is AP All American running back Lamar Carswell. The 5’7″ 180 lb Carswell rushed for  an amazing 2,294 yards and 32 touchdowns in his senior season at Div. III Trine University and attracted NFL attention.

Defensively Kuopio has brought in British linebacker Kadel King, who starred for the Frankfurt Universe in the German Football League in 2019. Defensive back Tommy Kaczocha returns as well and he led the entire league in interceptions in 2019. Also returning is defensive lineman Semmie Radji who Utriainen describes as a “true weapon”.

Helsinki Wolverines – 2019 – 7-6 – (Finished 3rd, lost to Kuopio Steelers in semifinals)

This year’s edition of the Helsinki Wolverines under new head coach Michael Mattingly features quarterback Chris Forcier who arrived in Finland from the Ingolstadt Dukes in Germany. Forcier will have an impressive receiving corps at his disposal. Helsinki has managed to snag arguably the best two Finnish receivers in Sebastian Sagne and Micky Kyei who along with Maple League veterans Ngo Phung Nguyen and Cedric Johnson will give opposing secondaries headaches. On the defensive side of the ball the Wolverines have been reinforced by returning college player defensive end Ville Valasti (Eastern Michigan) who brings four years of college experience and leadership. The secondary has been shored up with the addition of Swedish national team defensive backs Sebastian Gauthier and William James not to mention cornerback Elmeri Laalo.

Seinajoki Crocodiles – 2019 – 6-7 – (Finished 4th, lost to Helsinki Roosters in semifinals)

This year’s edition of the Seinäjoki Crocodiles under head coach Samu Juppo will again definitely have a rushing attack with powerhouse running back Christian Powell returning. In 2019, Powell had an outstanding year rushing the ball leading the league by a good margin with four 200+ yard games, winding up up with 1,620 yards averaging 135 yards a game.

Seinäjoki has made an interesting quarterbacking decision for the new season, converting wide receiver Spencer Cutlan into a quarterback. The versatile, 29-year-old native of Great Britain, hauled in 487 yards in passes in 2019, scoring seven touchdowns. He also kicked five field goals and 46 extra points, scoring 105 points in the process, second best on the team behind Powell.

The Crocodiles receiving corps is impressive with the recent signings of two of Europe’s premier receivers, Nate Robitaille and Tim Thomas.

On defense, the Crocodiles are led by their Finnish linebacking trio of Jaska Värinen, Saidou Jallow and Veikka LehtonenSeinäjoki has added veteran Alex Germany to the secondary. Germany spent  the last three seasons in Italy and with the Bergamo Lions last season, finished as the second leading rusher on the team, the leading receiver and one of the keys to the defense. His speed has not diminished over the years. After the season, he was clocked at a 4.36 laser-timed 40 yard dash. He will definitely have an impact.

Wasa Royals – 2019 – 4-8 –  (Finished 5th)

Wasa finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record, its worst year since entering Finland’s premier division in 2016. With the return of their leading rusher in 2019, Tom Suoste who rushed for 796 yards in nine games last season, the Royals are designing a truly balanced offense.  Head coach Stacey Thomas added Brandon Gwinner at quarterback after his offensive coordinator, John Booker, coached him with the Brisbane Rhinos in Australia in 2019 where he threw for over 30 touchdowns and was named team MVP

Gwinner spent four seasons at Morrisville State before joining the Rhinos. At Morrisville, he threw for 4,215 yards and 34 touchdowns in 26 games. He started the 2020 season with the Yeditepe Eagles of the Turkish League of American Football and managed to play and win one game before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season.

The offensive line, anchored by Swedish national team lineman, Eric Blomgren,

Another Swedish national team player, wideout Nicholas Peterson, will lead the receiving corps.

Defensively, the Royals will rely on Martti Kass to anchor the defensive line and defensive back Viktor Mantry to lead the secondary with young linebacker Lamin Latikka stepping up after playing seven games in 2019:

Porvoon Butchers – 2019 – 4-8 –  (Finished 6th)

Porvoon Butchers head coach Mika Ahonen  finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record, and it has been a decade since the Butchers won their sixth straight and last Finnish title. Still, the Butchers could surprise in 2020.

Ahonen has added experience and athleticism at the quarterback position with the signing of Jabari Harris who played for the Helsinki Wolverines last year and is entering his seventh season playing top level football in Europe. Porvoon’s receiving corps is led by Mikko Seppänen, winner of the Ari Tuuli Trophy in 2019 as the leading Finnish receiver in the league. He also won it in 2016 with Porvoon. He will be joined by young Kristian Natunen. At running back, Ahonen will rely on Yusufa Lehtinen who played in Finland’s Division 1 last season with the Kotka Eagles: Center Arttu Tennberg is the leader of the offensive line and also the starting center for the Finnish national team. Devonte Jones is the key to the Butchers secondary after moving over from the Wolverines.

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