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logo of SM-liiga

SM-liiga is the top professional ice hockey league in Finland. It was constituted in 1975 to replace SM-sarja, which was fundementally an amateur league. SM-liiga has an agreement of cooperation with Finnish ice hockey federation Suomen Jääkiekkoliitto. SM is a common abbreviation for suomenmestaruus, "Finnish championship".

At the moment, there are 13 teams. SM-liiga was closed in 2000 so that no team can be relegated to or promoted from the lower leagues without approval of the board of SM-liiga. The board have committed themselves to promote the first winner of Mestis (the second highest competition) that meets certain standards.

In 2004, all of the SM-Liiga's 13 teams were put into an American-based ice hockey video game, NHL 2004, along with Sweden's Elitserien and Germany's DEL.


Currently participating clubs

Team's name is usually the traditional name of the club. All clubs are commonly known by the name of their team. Oy and Ab are short for limited company, Oyj public limited company and Ry association.

team's name club's registered name location home venue, capacity
Blues Blues Hockey Oy Espoo LänsiAuto Areena, 7000
HIFK HIFK Hockey Ab Helsinki Helsingin jäähalli, 8100
HPK HPK-Edustusjääkiekko Ry Hämeenlinna Hämeenlinnan jäähalli, 5000
Ilves Ilves-Hockey Oy Tampere Tampereen jäähalli, 8070
Jokerit Jokerit HC Oyj Helsinki Hartwall Areena, 13665
Jyp Jyp Jyväskylä Oy Jyväskylä Jyväskylän jäähalli, 4812
Kärpät Oulun Kärpät Oy Oulu Raksilan jäähalli, 6614
Lukko Rauman Lukko Oy Rauma Äijänsuo Arena, 5867
Pelicans Lahden Pelicans Oy Lahti Lahden jäähalli, 5098
SaiPa Liiga-SaiPa Oy Lappeenranta Kisapuisto, 5200
Tappara Tamhockey Oy Tampere Tampereen jäähalli, 8070
TPS HC TPS Turku Oy Turku Elysée Arena, 11820
Ässät HC Ässät Pori Oy Pori Porin jäähalli, 6500

Past participants: clubs that have been renamed or relegated

  • FoPS were relegated in 1977 and are today FPS
  • JoKP were relegated in 1992 and are today Jokipojat
  • JyP HT are today Jyp
  • KalPa were relegated in 1999
  • Kiekko-Espoo are today Blues
  • Kiekkoreipas, Hockey-Reipas, Reipas are previous names of Pelicans
  • KooKoo were relegated in 1990
  • Koo-Vee were relegated 1980
  • Sport were relegated in 1976
  • TuTo were relegated in 1996

Current format of competition

Regular season: all teams play 56 matches, a quadruple round robin with extra local double rounds (every team plays four matches against every other team, plus two or four extra matches against defined local opponents). Each match consists of a 60-minute regulation time, and in the event of a tie winner is decided by sudden death by a 5-minute overtime which is succeeded by penalty shots pair at a time.

Scoring: A win by regulation time is worth three points, a win by sudden death two points and loss by sudden death one point. Teams will be ranked by points, and teams tieing by points are ranked by goal differential - teams tieing by goal differential as well are ranked by goals scored for.

Play-offs: Six best teams at the conclusion of regular season proceed directly to quarter-finals. Teams placing between seventh and tenth (inclusive) will play preliminary play-offs best-out-of-three - the two winners take the last two slots to quarter-finals. Quarter-finals are best-out-of-seven, semi-finals and finals best-out-of-five. Losers of semi-finals play a bronze medal match. Teams are coupled up for each round according to regular season results, so that the highest-ranking team will play against the lowest-ranking, second highest against the second lowest, etc. Higher-ranking team play first match at home, then by turns away, home, away, etc. Each playoff match consists of a 60-minute regulation time which in the event of a tie is followed by extra 20-minute periods up to a win by sudden death.

Scheduling: Regular season starts around mid-September. It takes a two-week break around the change of October to November, when Team Finland plays in a European competition. Christmas break is two weeks. During Olympic winters a break is reserved for the Games. Regular season is completed around mid-March and preliminary play-offs ensue almost instantly. Play-offs are completed by mid-April, so that all players are available for World Championships.


Winners of the play-offs receive gold medals and Canada-malja, the trophy of SM-liiga. Winners of the regular season receive a trophy (Harry Lindbladin muistopalkinto) as well, though it is in practice even less valued than bronze medals.

year champions silver bronze regular season
1976 TPS Tappara Ässät TPS
1977 Tappara TPS KooVee Tappara
1978 Ässät Tappara TPS Tappara
1979 Tappara Ässät TPS Ässät
1980 HIFK Ässät Kärpät TPS
1981 Kärpät Tappara TPS Tappara
1982 Tappara TPS HIFK TPS
1983 HIFK Jokerit Ilves Jokerit
1984 Tappara Ässät Kärpät Tappara
1985 Ilves TPS Kärpät TPS
1986 Tappara HIFK Kärpät Tappara
1987 Tappara Kärpät HIFK Kärpät
1988 Tappara Lukko HIFK Ilves
1989 TPS JyP HT Ilves TPS
1990 TPS Ilves Tappara TPS
1991 TPS KalPa HPK TPS
1992 Jokerit JyP HT HIFK JyP HT
1994 Jokerit TPS Lukko TPS
1995 TPS Jokerit Ässät Jokerit
1996 Jokerit TPS Lukko Jokerit
1997 Jokerit TPS HPK Jokerit
1998 HIFK Ilves Jokerit TPS
2000 TPS Jokerit HPK TPS
2001 TPS Tappara Ilves Jokerit
2002 Jokerit Tappara HPK Tappara
2003 Tappara Kärpät HPK HPK
2004 Kärpät TPS HIFK TPS
2005 Kärpät Jokerit HPK Kärpät


Kultainen kypärä ("golden helmet") is given to the best player of SM-liiga. It is the most appreciated of the awards, as it is voted for by the players. It has been awarded since 1987.

year Kultainen kypärä
1987 Pekka Järvelä, JyP HT
1988 Jarmo Myllys, Lukko
1989 Jukka Vilander, TPS
1990 Jukka Tammi, Ilves
1991 Teemu Selänne, Jokerit
1992 Mikko Mäkelä, TPS
1993 Juha Riihijärvi, JyP HT
1994 Esa Keskinen, TPS
1995 Saku Koivu, TPS
1996 Juha Riihijärvi, Lukko
1997 Kimmo Rintanen, TPS
1998 Raimo Helminen, Ilves
1999 Brian Rafalski, HIFK
2000 Kai Nurminen, TPS
2001 Kimmo Rintanen, TPS
2002 Janne Ojanen, Tappara
2003 Antti Miettinen, HPK
2004 Timo Pärssinen, HIFK
2005 Tim Thomas, Jokerit

Background as a professional ice hockey league

SM-liiga was constituted in 1975 to concentrate the development of top level Finnish ice hockey, and make way towards professionalism. Its predecessor SM-sarja, being an amateur competition, had its disadvantages, which were seen to slow down the Finland's rise to the highest ranks of ice hockey.

Firstly, the authoritative body of SM-sarja was the annual meeting of Finnish ice hockey federation Suomen Jääkiekkoliitto, where all trend-setting issues were decided by vote. Since all clubs registered under Jääkiekkoliitto had the right to vote, the many amateur clubs reigned over the few business-like clubs. Therefore, the concentrated development of Finnish top level ice hockey had proven arduous or impossible. The new SM-liiga was to be run by a board consisting of its participating clubs only, and have an agreement of cooperation with Jääkiekkoliitto.

SM-sarja was also outdated on its own, as it was run by amateur principles. Clubs were not supposed to pay their players beyond a compensation of lost wages. However, by 1970s many clubs were already run like businesses, and recruited players by a contract of employment, paying their wages secretly often evading taxes. The Finnish 1974 accounting reform extended book-keeping standards to cover sports clubs, and the lackings were exposed in audit raids. SM-liiga was to allow wages for players and clubs were also put under a tighter supervision. They were to establish their own association for SM-liiga ice hockey only, separating their commitments from junior activities and possible other sports. Copies of all contracts were to be sent to SM-liiga to provide players with adequate security, such as insurance and pension.

SM-sarja had other limits for players. According to amateur ideals, no player could represent more than one club within one season. Personal sponsorship was forbidden. To discourage trading, a system of quarantine was in force. SM-liiga stripped the limitations for players, replaced quarantine with a then-modest transfer payment and introduced the transfer list. Players wishing for a transfer were to sign up, and SM-liiga would distribute the right of negotiations to clubs. In practise the list was not successful, as both parties often worked their way around the formalities.

In practice, these changes lead to a transition towards professional ice hockey, probably best called semi-professional. Only a few players would make a livelihood out of ice hockey in Finland in 1970s and many, especially the young, players would settle for a contract in SM-liiga without a wage.

One more major, and in the fans' point of view the most noteworthy enchancement, were the playoffs. Gate receipts and other income from play-offs were pooled, and distributed as a placement bonus. While playoffs were the standard in way of determining the champions in North American professional sports, they weren't as usual in Europe.

SM-liiga was established rather hastily. The required changes were initiated in the 1974 annual meeting, and SM-liiga was launched for the season 1975-1976. It was the first Finnish professional sports league, and its solutions were untried. However, there had been a mounting demand for these changes, as the popularity of ice hockey had taken up a boost in the last ten years.

SM-liiga picked up where SM-sarja left from with its 10 clubs. Four best of the regular season were to proceed to playoffs. The system of promotion and relegation from SM-sarja remained in force: last teams of regular season had to qualify for their position in SM-liiga against best teams of the second highest series.

Combined attendance of the first eleven regular season stuck at about 900 000. In 1986-1987 the number of games for each team was increased from 36 to 44 (and reached 56 in 2000-2001) and SM-liiga was expanded to 12 clubs for the season 1988-1989. The general popularity of ice hockey strengthened through Team Finland's international success, and the combined attendance climbed through the 1990s to about 1,8 million. This motioned an increase in the profitability of ice hockey business and the completion of the transtition to full professionalism. By the mid-1990s, all players were full-time, and by 2000, most clubs had reformed into limited companies.

In the modern Finnish top level ice hockey range of thought there are two types of clubs: those that have the resources to maintain a business-like professional ice hockey club, and deserve participation in SM-liiga - and the others that don't. Since the season 2000-2001, SM-liiga has been closed, meaning that relegations and promotions take place only by the judgement of the board of SM-liiga. The only such promotion took place instantly in 2000. With the "relegation threat" not lurking, the suffering clubs are supposed to be able to recuperate. In practice this has lead to side effects: clubs with a losing record that have lost their hopes of reaching playoffs have disposed of high-salary star players, often letting down their supporters. To counteract this, the playoffs were expanded to the best 10 (out of 13).

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