When the Seinäjoki Crocodiles and Helsinki Wolverines line up to face each other, Thursday, July 30, in the opening game of Finland’s 2020 Maple League season, they will be making history.
This will mark the first time in the world two men’s football teams play each other in an league football game since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports everywhere in mid March.
These two teams met twice in 2019 splitting the series. Helsinki took the first game, at home, beating the Crocodiles 47-29. Seinäjoki got their revenge though late in the year, whipping the Wolverines 41-13.
The Wolverines finished the 2019 season with a 7-5 record and reached the semifinals where they were knocked off by the Kuopio Steelers. Seinäjoki had a 6-6 regular season record, finishing fourth in the standings, and were eliminated in the semifinals by the eventual champions, the Helsinki Roosters.
This year’s edition of the Helsinki Wolverines under new head coach Michael Mattingly features quarterback Chris Forcier (#5) who arrived in Finland from the Ingolstadt Dukes in Germany. Forcier will have an impressive receiving corps to throw to. Helsinki has managed to snag arguably the best two Finnish receivers in Sebastian Sagne (#2) and Micky Kyei who along with Maple League veterans Ngo Phung Nguyen (#16) and Cedric Johnson (#12) 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.
This year’s Crocodiles under head coach Samu Juppo, will again definitely have a rushing attack with Christian Powell (#15)in the backfield. 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 decision for the new season, converting wide receiver Spencer Cutlan (#88) into a quarterback. The 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 also signed two of the premier wide receivers in Europe, Nate Robitaille (#20), most recently of the German powerhouse, the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns and Tim Thomas, a former Crocodile who spent the 2019 season helping the London Warriors win the British title. The 27 year old Robitaille of Attleboro, Massachusetts has played for the Unicorns for the past three seasons accumulating 3,597 yards in pass receiving scoring 57 touchdowns in the process. He was third in the GFL in pass reception yardage in 2017 and 2019 and fourth overall in All-Purpose yardage in both those years (2,005/2019, 2,171/2017).
On defense, the Crocodiles are led by their Finnish linebacking trio of Jaska Värinen, Saidou Jallow and Veikka Lehtonen. Seinäjoki has added veteran Alex Germany (#3) 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.
Needless to say these two teams come into this game loaded with talent. This will definitely be an exciting matchup. The Wolverines are dressed in yellow with Seinajoki in white.