Finnish Maple Bowl: Kuopio Steelers vs Helsinki Roosters – Last word from the HCs

The Helsinki Roosters and Kuopio Steelers will meet for the third time in four years on Finland’s biggest stage. This year, the city of Lahti will host the 42nd Maple Bowl as both teams are determined to be crowned champions. The Steelers beat the Roosters 35-32 in Helsinki back in July in a thrilling back and forth game. The title preview game left, players, coaches, and fans expecting another hard-fought matchup in the most highly anticipated Maple Bowl in years.

This weekend’s championship game will truly feature the league’s best teams as fans have kept a watchful eye on Finland’s two most talented squads all season. Expect both experienced coaches to have made adjustments as these two powerhouse programs meet again with the national title on the line.

The Helsinki Roosters are led by Juha Hakala who is eager to reclaim the title after helping the Roosters win eight consecutive Maple Bowls from 2012-2019. However, the typically dominant Roosters fell off last season, narrowly missing the playoffs in the shortened season. Fans can anticipate one of Finland’s most decorated coaches to have his team ready to play for another championship.

Pekka Utriainen has led the Kuopio Steelers from the lower leagues on eastern Finland to the pinnacle of the country’s sport. Utriainen has an excellent track record of both finding and developing talent, domestically and abroad. After elevating his Steelers to the Maple League in 2018, Utrriainen didn’t waste any time making three straight Maple Bowl appearances. After two tough losses to the Roosters, Kuopio dominated the rest of the league in 2020, on the way to the team’s first Maple Bowl Championship. This year the Steelers are coming off another fantastic season on a mission to repeat.

You are facing each other in the Maple Bowl for the third time in four years, what can you say about this rivalry?

Utriainen: In a way, I think this will be the first time we are actually going to get a good game in the Maple Bowl between us. Going back to 2018 we really weren’t ready to beat a strong Roosters squad, and in 2019 we were so banged up by various injuries going into the game, the chance of an upset was pretty slim. I feel like both coaching staffs appreciate and value the work done over on the other sideline, not only during the games but also during the offseason. These games are the high points of our seasons for both teams I believe.

Hakala: We have had a really good rivalry against Kuopio Steelers in past years. Steelers is a well-coached team that always has a competitive roster filled with good imports, so it’s nice to play against them, I cant wait to face them again in MapleBowl XLII on Sunday.

What was the major factor for your team’s success this season?

Utriainen: I think we are a well-balanced team. The local players that are in big roles for us are all top-level players, and we have again managed to put together a very impressive group of imports, on and off the field. We can definitely attack in multiple ways and our defense has been extremely strong against different types of offenses, and the main reason for that is an in-the-line play on both sides of the ball. Playcalling is always so much fun when you know your lines can do whatever is asked from them, and it well too.

Hakala: We had a really good offseason this year and overall our roster is very competitive. We have had success in offense, defense, and also in special teams in different games that have helped us clinch some good team wins.

The first time your teams met the game came down to the wire, how have you adjusted for the upcoming Maple Bowl rematch?

Utriainen: It surely wouldn’t be a shocker if this one ends up being a close game too, as both teams are playing very good football at the moment. In terms of adjusting, there really isn’t any different from any other game. We always try to find the right plays and concepts on offense, which should give us the best chance of blocking the other team’s defensive front, which then provides the opportunity for our skill position guys to make plays. On defense, we played a solid game in the first round, but I do believe we will get more pressure from our great D-Line more often and earlier than we did back in July, now going into a more familiar playing surface and being fresher than we were back then.

Hakala: In the regular-season game, our offense played well, but on defense, we allowed too many big plays. On Sunday we can’t afford to give up 75 or 90-yard touchdowns to a team that already has a very dangerous offense in the form of their star running back Anthony Reasonover.

Which opposing players do you need to be prepared for?

Utriainen: Wide Reciever Rashad Still got a huge number of targets in the previous meeting, and the Roosters probably won’t shy away from throwing the ball to him again early and often. Bigger picture, I think this is a game where our best line units in the league will be slugging it out down after down, and the winner of those battles will likely win the game too.

Hakala: On their offense one name that’s written bigger on the scout papers than any other and is Le’Anthony Reasonover. We have to make sure we have enough hats on him every snap so that we can limit his play as much as possible. On their defense, their heart is their defensive line with Ikeem Allen, Semmie Radji, and Jani Lindqvist, but the thump is behind the line in the form of linebacker Maurice Wright Jr.  He can make plays all over the field with his good motor and sideline to sideline hustle. Also in their special teams, their kicker Markus Ojainväli is a difference-maker. He got hurt in the last game of their regular season and if he cant play it will affect their kicking game for sure.

Both coaches know the task their teams face as two very evenly matched teams will hit the field in this championship game. The Roosters are determined to get back to the mountain top while the Steelers aim to keep the trophy in Kuopio. Meanwhile, fans are excited for this one, as experts are predicting another thrilling matchup between these two powerhouse programs.

Watch the Maple Bowl Championship on AFI.tv, Helsinki Roosters @ Kuopio Steelers, September 12, 13:00 CET (1 pm, 7 am ET)

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football