Kuopio Steelers aiming beyond runner up spot as Finland’s Maple League opens “post COVID-19 lockdown” season

The Kuopio Steelers enter the “post- COVID-19 lockdown” season on July 31 with the aim of winning the Finnish championship when they face their title game opponents from the last two years, the Helsinki Roosters.

The Steelers lost to Helsinki in the 2019 Maple Bowl, when they were trounced 50-6 and were beaten in the 2018 title game also by the Roosters, 44-14.

Still, despite the strange and uncertain offseason and prospect of an extremely short season, head coach Pekka Utriainen is comfortable:

“This will be an interesting season to be sure, the offseason certainly was long enough. Everything seems pretty normal in terms of preparation and the anticipation of the opening kickoff, but the games will tell how the season will actually look like. We feel we are ready to compete again. The goal before the Covid hit was to win the Maple Bowl and nothing has changed in terms of that. “

As the only football league in the world, Finland’s Maple League will kick off the season with six teams. In fact, teams in Finland’s top league have been practicing in pads with full contact since the beginning of June.

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.

Kuopio has undergone a number of roster changes as Utriainen admits:

“We have had a lot of change in our roster, total of 15 new guys and we feel like we got a fresh new start after two straight silver medals.”

Nevertheless, at the quarterback position, nothing has changed as 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 led his team to back-to-back Finnish championship finals. He has a young and talented receiving corps which includes Jaakko Paananen.

Utriainen likes his young receiver:

“Young WR Jaakko Paananen had a breakthrough season last summer. I am confident he will continue his rise to the elite.”

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 added British linebacker Kadel King, who starred for the Frankfurt Universe in the German Football League in 2019. He led his team with 75 tackles and 20 tackles for loss.  Defensive back Tommy Kaczocha returns as well and he is important. He led the entire league in interceptions in 2019. Also returning is defensive lineman Semmie Radji who Utriainen describes as a “true weapon”.

Utriainen has more or less the same coaching staff as in previous seasons and likes the composition of his team:

“The coaching staff has remained pretty much the same, with a few great additions to previous years and I am very proud of the group I have around me. Local players are again more experienced, plenty of fresh new faces and a staff that wants to get better is a very good combination.”

With so much turmoil throughout the world, the fact that football will again be played and that it starts in Finland is a fact not lost on the Steelers‘ head coach:

“Just the chance to play this year, we truly feel blessed here. Even though it will be a shortened season, I am absolutely sure that all the players and coaches will remember this one for the rest of their lives, so we want to make sure we play accordingly.”

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