Porvoon Butchers ready to challenge as Finland’s Maple League kicks off ‘post COVID-19 lockdown’ season

The Porvoon Butchers will hit the field Saturday, August 1 to take on the Wasa Royals in the final game of the first round in the Finnish Maple League’s historic ‘post COVID-19 lockdown’ season.

This will be the first league in the world to play a season of football since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe.

The Maple League will kick off the season with six teams who have all been practicing in pads with full contact for the past eight weeks. The Finnish top division 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.

The Butchers and Royals faced each twice in 2019 with Wasa coming out on top both times, 33-12 and 62-39.

Porvoon 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. Head coach Mika Ahonen is comfortable with the progress of his team and will continue to build:

“Our team structure is nearly similar than last year. Our team is built around Finnish players. We lost a few players, but we have had transfers from other Finnish teams and we have promoted a few players to the Maple League team from the Butchers Juniors. I am really looking forward to the debut of these new players in the Maple League.”

With a shortened season, every game takes on playoff-like importance so the Butchers have 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.

“Jabari is a great athlete with a strong arm and quick feet. He will definitely create a dual threat for defenses to worry about. He is also a solid leader.”

Harris is excited to be returning to the team he started his overseas career with:

“I’m very excited about returning to Porvoo for the 2020 season. We have a great group of men here who work hard, and really believe in each other. We may not have as many big name players on our roster as some teams have this year, but we are more than ready to compete with who we have. I’m looking forward to putting our best up against anyone to see how we fare. It will be a great opportunity or us to start rebuilding this team around young talent, in hopes to get the Butchers back to where they were during the 2005-2010 championship spree.”

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.

“Mikko is one of the best Finnish receivers in the league while Kristian is a newcomer but has shown outstanding skills and this could be his breakthrough year.”

At running back, Ahonen will rely on Yusufa Lehtinen who played in Finland’s Division 1 last season with the Kotka Eagles:

“I was impressed with Yusufa. He had excellent stats last season with Kotka. He is very agile and will be fun to watch in the Maple League.”

Center Arttu Tennberg is the leader of the offensive line and also the starting center for the Finnish national team.

Defensively, Ahonen will look to hard-nosed Jesse Vuoksenturja to anchor the defensive line with sophomore linebacker Timi Nuikka ready to carry on where he left off in 2019:

“Timi is a product of the Porvoon youth program and had an excellent debut season last year. I am expecting him to be even better this season.”

Devonte Jones is the key to the Butchers secondary after moving over from the Wolverines.

The coaching staff of the Butchers including veteran Antti Martikka as offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator Jimi Roiko are highly experienced according to Ahonen:

“Both of our coordinators and their coaching staffs are very experienced, and they have done an excellent job in preparing their units for the season. It has been a pleasure to work together with my coaches.”

All in all, expect a much improved Butchers team, particularly with Harris behind center.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.