Game Preview: Steelers Veljmiehet vs. Nordmen

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A home, blow-out win has the Warriors of the Four Winds riding high as they head into their first away game of the 2019 season.

The score may have shown a blow-out, but until the fourth quarter of their first home game against the Jyväskylä Jaguars nothing was for certain for the Rovaniemi Nordmen. A few stand-out players had an off-day, but the depth of the Nordmen roster was on full display against the Jaguars, as the boys from the Great White North came away with a big win to begin the season. Heading this weekend to Kuopio to take on the Steelers Veljmiehet (Kuopio’s development team), will the 10-game winning streak continue? Let’s dig in to find out.

What to expect from Kuopio

The Veljmiehet opened their season in Oulu against the Northern Lights this past Sunday on what was a pretty nasty day to play football. Both teams had difficulties moving the ball through the air and Oulu came away with the victory, 20-0. From what we’ve heard from folks that were at the game, it was a rather sloppy affair and that the weather played a role in how well both of these teams played. With the current forecast for Saturday to be in the low-20’s and sunny in Kuopio, it doesn’t look like either team will be able to use this as an excuse.

Reports from spectators, coach statements and other posts have said that Kuopio fielded a young, somewhat inexperienced team. That doesn’t mean that these guys won’t be able to ball-out come Saturday. It was a road game for them, so they may have been missing some key players from their roster. You also can’t underestimate the quality of their coaching; given that their top team is in the Maple League and is looking to compete for the Maple Bowl again this year. Gossip around Gridiron and social media has been saying that some more seasoned veterans may be making a bit of a “comeback” in this first home game for Kuopio. Their skill-level and how prepared they are physically isn’t know, so there are a lot of questions that don’t seem to have answers at this time. Prior to their game last weekend, many within the Nordmen organization thought that Kuopio would be coming out on top easily; which wasn’t the case at all. That’s thrown a serious wrench into our game predictions for this week.

So what can we expect from the Veljmiehet this week? It’s hard to say, to be honest. Oulu was playing with 11 on the field for the first time since 2017. They came away with a win in bad weather and against an inexperienced team. Did Oulu get lucky or did the Veljmiehet just have such a bad case of the jitters and let their nerves get the best of them? We’ll find out soon enough, but I think that they’ll be better prepared for this game and that them playing at home will be an advantage. The Steelers main team has also done a good job of promoting this game before their own later in the evening, so a big and loud crowd can be expected. This could provide some communication problems for the Nordmen; especially on offense.

What to expect from the Nordmen

One thing was blatantly obvious last Saturday in Saarenkylä: the Nordmen defense picked up right where they left off last year and looked to already be in mid-season form. Juhana Pelkonen‘s move from DE to OLB made a huge impact, as he registered 3,5 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Rookie Elmeri Sillman had an amazing day winning game MVP honors and probably would have ended up with more than 6 sacks for the day if Jyväskylä’s QB hadn’t been as mobile and slippery as he was. The defensive line stayed fresh the whole game and new recruit from the Luleå Eskimos, Patrik Speijer, picked off two passes; taking the second back for about a 70-yard pick-6. Roni Laine looked great on the outside and Tomi Väänänen was able to knock off the rust and played a strong role in the secondary. In short, the Nordmen defense is even scarier than it was last year. Jyväskylä got stopped several times once they got inside the red zone and most of their yards came from one long play that accounted for half of their points on the day. I do not expect a back-slide for the second game at all from the defense. If anything, they’ll be even better against a team that appears to have far less experience than the Jaguars had.

The Nordmen offense had an up and down day to open the season. Last year’s 3rd Division MVP, Alfonso Ikäheimo was held in check most of the game and when he was open it was pretty clear that he and QB Rafael Piñeda weren’t on the same page. It didn’t matter, though, as Eino Kalliomäki picked up the slack, reeling in two TD’s on the day. Hannes Harju also looked amazing both out of the backfield and receiving the ball. I called him out as a player to watch last game, and he absolutely didn’t disappoint. RB Axl Isaksson looked very strong and comfortable in his second season wearing a Nordmen jersey and showed great growth from last season to now. The offense had some kinks to work out over the last week, but I’m betting that they will get themselves together and be a very dangerous team for the Veljmiehet come Saturday.

One thing to note from the last game: Tomi Väänänen went 5 for 5 on his PAT attempts. Some of the snaps that Ikäheimo had to handle were pretty bad, but he got the ball down and Väänänen put it between the uprights every time. This is something that most teams would kill for, because those points can become the difference between a win or a loss against a good team.

Players to watch: Steelers Veljmiehet

No clue.

With limited info about how their game went in Oulu and who may be reinforcing this roster in Kuopio, it’s impossible to make any guesses here. Their QB threw a couple INTs last game and they couldn’t get anything going on the offensive side of the ball. Whoever they put in at QB for this game will be the player to watch and how well he’ll handle the Nordmen’s front seven and whether or not he’ll dare to pass against the Rovaniemi secondary.

Players to watch: Nordmen

Elmeri Sillman, Patrik Speijer, Rafael Piñeda.

I could’ve picked up to six different players for the game MVP against the Jaguars, but Sillman was the standout of the day. He said he was nervous before the game. It didn’t show at all. He applied great pressure, showed superb ability to shed blocks and had great pursuit after the QB. If the Veljmiehet offensive line game plans against Piñeda and Petri Korhonen, like the Jaguars did, then be prepared to see another great day from Sillman.

Patrik Speijer was a beast. We didn’t even know that he would be joining us until about a week before the season began, but damn was he a great addition to the roster. Unsure as to whether or not he would be able to make the trip to Kuopio, he confirmed earlier this week. He creates a huge problem in the secondary for the Veljmiehet offense and is a TD threat every time he gets the ball on kickoff and punt returns. After a two INT game to start his Nordmen career, it will be tricky to top that performance in this game, but if he’s on the field opposing offenses will need to be aware of where he is.

I spoke at length with Piñeda after the Jyväskylä game and he was the first to admit that he had an off-game. His timing was a bit off and you could see that he was frustrated by the Jaguars’ offensive line largely taking him out of the game. Don’t expect that to continue. He was back in the gym and watching film all week. He’ll be prepared to lead the offense and make much more noise on defense. There’s no way he has two off-games in a row.

Prediction

After a big win over Jyväskylä, the Nordmen are looking to keep their momentum going. They got their jitters out and will have worked on the weaker points in their game. Making the trip down will have an impact on them, but a rather full roster will help them immensely.

The Veljmiehet will be looking to improve upon their performance in Oulu and will likely have a better roster suiting up. Who will be making up that roster is still a question, but will the inexperience of this roster be the deciding factor against Rovaniemi? I think so.

Final score prediction: 41-13. Nordmen win.

Important info

Kick-off is at 12pm, Saturday June 15th at Väinölänniemi. Additional information can be found in the Facebook event. The forecast is looking to be around 20 degrees and mostly sunny. Admission is free for all.

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