Game preview: Nordmen vs. Northern Lights

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With playoff implications on the line, Saturday’s matchup will see the top two teams from group one in the second division square off for first position heading into the second half of the season.

It’s been a tale of growth and dominance for the Rovaniemi Nordmen, through the first three games of the regular season. The great skill and depth of this lineup has been on full display in every game thus far. With the visiting Oulu Northern Lights coming to town, the Warriors of the Four Winds have a legitimate shot at claiming sole ownership of group 1 and establishing their path into the playoffs. No other team has been as dominant as Rovaniemi this season and this will be the last true test at home for the Nordmen, before the playoffs.

How will this game unfold and play out at Susivouti? Let’s take a deeper look and analyze both sides.

What to expect from the Northern Lights

Oulu has had an up-and-down season to this point. Home wins over the Steelers Veljmiehet and the Jaguars last week, have them sitting with a record of 2 – 1. If it weren’t for a road loss at the hands of the Falcons in Hyvinkää, this team could very well have the same record as the Nordmen. Oulu’s wins have been nail-biters and their offense has yet to find the rhythm they were hoping for at the beginning of the season. Saddled with a variety of injuries the team has still been able to manage a winning record, but will face their toughest challenge of the season when they head north to face the Nordmen.

Only a season removed from playing 7 on 7, Oulu has shown grit and determination in the second division this year; but will this be enough to overcome the strength, skill and experience of Rovaniemi’s lineup come Saturday? Not a long journey for the Northern Lights, the best that they can hope for is to have a solid roster upon their arrival on Saturday.

What to expect from the Nordmen

The Nordmen offense and defense are clicking on all cylinders this season. Their offseason training regimen and coaching has shone through in every one of their games. They have yet to be truly challenged at all this season and they will look to continue that as they have home-field advantage against the Northern Lights in this matchup for bragging rights in the North. It has seemed like every week a new player has stepped up to be the star and help carry the team. Quarterback Rafael Piñeda had an outstanding performance against Hyvinkää in some of the worst conditions imaginable two weeks ago. Defensive standouts Roni Laine, Tomi Väänänen and Petri Korhonen proved too much for the Falcons en route to to a 35 – 13 victory. With the return of David Kreuzhuber to the secondary, the Nordmen easily boast the best defensive backfield in their group. The biggest question come Saturday will be whether or not Oulu will be able to move the ball against the outstanding defense of the Nordmen.

Unlike the last home game, weather should not play a factor in this match-up at all. Torrential rains and strong winds stalled the Rovaniemi offense, with all of their points coming during breaks in the weather. A strong aspect of their first two contests, expect to see a return to the running game as the Warriors of the Four Winds will seek to pound and punish the Oulu defensive front seven, as much as possible. Piñeda has not had to carry the ball nearly as much as last year, but that doesn’t mean that he and the Nordmen backfield of Axl Isaksson, Kaarle Silander and Grace “G” Bavula will not be prepared to open up the passing game for the talented receiving corps comprised of Alfonso Ikäheimo, Eino Kalliomäki, Elias Id and Hannes Harju. We have yet to see the true dominance that this offense is capable of. Perhaps we will all be treated to a nice surprise, come Saturday.

Players to watch: Oulu

Aleksi Statsevich, Tommi Puranen and Joonas Kotajärvi.

Statsevich and Puranen will be experiencing a homecoming of sorts after they helped contribute to the Nordmen’s third division championship last year. Will they be prepared to be on the opposite side of the field when gameday comes? Only time will tell, but I’m going to bet that the Nordmen will not take it easy on them. Sorry guys, but welcome back to Rovaniemi.

Kotajärvi has had an inconsistent season to this point. As has been the case in all three games for the Nordmen this year, the success of the opposing offense will be entirely dependent upon the quarterback’s ability to stay cool under pressure.

Players to watch: Rovaniemi

Juhana Pelkonen, Rafael Piñeda and Tomi Väänänen.

It’s been a revolving door of stars for the Warriors of the Four Winds this season. Pelkonen expressed frustration last game, as he was held sackless for the first time in I can’t remember how long. He’s angry and thirsty for pain. Look for him to bring it.

Piñeda has been getting progressively better every game this year. His coaching and depth of the lineup has shone through as he has not had to carry the load for the Nordmen, as he did last season. I expect a big game from him on both sides of the ball, as he will be looking to bring home his first game MVP of the season.

Väänänen has somewhat quietly put together an outstanding season for himself, on both defense and special teams. He has been near perfect on PATs and hasn’t given up any big plays in the defensive secondary. Hard as nails and with a nose for the ball, look for him to have a big game on Saturday.

Prediction

Although these may be the top two teams in group 1, don’t let this trick you into thinking it’s going to be very close. Rovaniemi is riding a 12-game win streak and has outscored their opponents by 98 points this year. Their roster is healthy, well-rested and will be ready to show their worth.

Final score: 44-6. Nordmen win.

Important info

Kick-off is at 5pm, Saturday July 13th at Susivouti. Additional information can be found in our Facebook event. The forecast for the day is expected to be in the mid-teens and partly cloudy, so consider. Admission is 5€ for adults and everyone under 18 is free of charge. Food and refreshments will be available at the snack bar, as well.

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