D1O: #7 Helsinki (#25) Finnishes #10 No Coast (#39), 200-192.

D1O: #7 Helsinki (#25) Finnishes #10 No Coast (#39), 200-192. Photo credit Donna Olmstead

OMAHA, NE – No Coast improved on their #9 seed last year in Salt Lake City by finishing in 7th after their 4-point win over the Oklahoma Victory Dolls, and then taking a 3-point win against Wasatch.

During this, their first game in Omaha, they proved how well they could fight when it counted. But with another heart-stopping finish, it was Helsinki who took the single-digit win, 200-192.

The tournament rookie trailed for most of the game, but kept surging back to keep the Mad Maxines on their toes. They endured a two-minute final jam, complete with their own jammer penalty and a star pass by No Coast, to erase their 2-point deficit and win in the end by just 8 points.

In the first game of the last playoff weekend, Helsinki sang their own National Anthem before taking the track with Taru Saxelin in the star next to Flash Gloria (Megan Harrington) for No Coast. (NCDG have previously gone by their real names but have opted to return their derby names this tournament). Taru was able to pick up the first lead jammer status of the game, but Flash Gloria was right behind her, able to score all 4 points to Taru’s 1.

Slam Anderson (aka Christy Johnson) took the next lead for No Coast, while Helsinki’s Varpu Knuuttila was ping-ponging from line to line, trying to use her footwork to find an exit route. Slam Anderson was able to pick up one grand slam and squeeze in 2 more points after Knuuttila finally tip-toed out of the pack to force the call off. When lead status went to Helsinki again, Anna Maniac (aka Anna Cassube) quickly stashed the star which helped her get out. The star stash or pass quickly became a staple for No Coast to get their jammer out of the pack.

After Maiju Rinne got a quick lead and 4 points for Heslinki, Taru Saxelin took the first jammer penalty of the game with a track cut, but Fancy (Beth Kempf) met her there with a cut of her own, making the jam run a full two minutes. Taru ended up earning 4 points to Fancy’s 9, No Coast continued to lead 20-9.

Helsinki picked up the next 3 lead jammer statuses, and with the help of a power jam they were able to tie up the score. Rinne put up 7 points but then called off the jam to keep Slam Anderson in the box so that Taru could add 8 more. No Coast also picked up 4 points though, because as Slam continued their star pass strategy, Helsinki’s coach took notice and let Taru run the jam longer to try and take advantage of a blocker in the star.

At 24 all, both packs locked in their defense, forcing the initial pass to take 30 seconds, which went to Anna Maniac. After Anna scored a grand slam and then 4  more points, Knuuttila passed the star for Helsinki this time to help force the jam, but Anna picked up 1 more point, putting No Coast back in the lead at 34-24.

Over the next ten minutes, No Coast earned 5 of 8 lead jammer calls which helped them slowly increase their lead to 54-36. With their 4-jammer rotation, they were likely able to completely rest their jammers before they took the track again. Taru earned 2 of Helsinki’s 3 leads in that time, contributing to her 66% lead jammer status overall.

Helsinki began a comeback however, and it started by Rinne not calling off the jam after Ripa (Andrea Tarnick) took the star from her jammer, but also received a backblock after she returned to the pack to score. This allowed Helsinki to first pick up 13 points and then 5 more by Knuuttila in the next jam. No Coast scrambled to get Flash Gloria in the pivot panty that jam, and the star pass was successful in keeping that jam short, but Helsinki was still within 1 point. Taru picked up lead next and let No Coast match points after they star passed yet again, and after a 9-4 jam, Helsinki took the lead 63-59.

Star pass confusion sent both Flash and Ripa to the box a few jams later, and Knuuttila was able to add 13 points before she called it off and kept Flash in the box as jammer. Flash Gloria picked up lead quickly in the next jam however, and now it was No Coast’s turn to surge into the lead. They kept Helsinki at 76 points for the 4 following jams with the added help of a Helsinki jammer penalty. Rinne committed a track cut and had to skate all the way around to the box giving more time to Slam to score. She was nearly unstoppable as Helsinki blockers picked up penalties and she added 24 points to put No Coast in the lead at the half, 91-76.

Photo credit Danforth Johnson.

Photo credit Danforth Johnson.

It seemed like maybe No Coast would run away with the game in the second half as Helsinki’s 3-jammer rotation began to strain, and they were skating 1 short to begin with. Blockers on both teams meant business returning from the break, holding both jammers for 30 seconds until Flash Gloria got lead and added 7 points. Helsinki’s Sara Ekholm, Nina Erwes, and Janica Saxelin worked Slam line to line next, allowing Knuuttila to get lead and pick up some points before she went to the box with a back block. After the full jam, Slam had put up another impressive 19 points, but Knuuttila also added 12 making it just a 7 point jam for NCDG again, but it extended their lead to 117-88.

No Coast’s 6 jammer penalties in the first half helped Helsinki put some of their points on the board, but it was the Finnish defense in the second half that helped keep them from trailing too far behind. Lead status was split almost perfectly even in the second half, and No Coast’s jammers cleaned up their game and only committed 2 fouls, while Helsinki had 3. No Coast had height over most of the Helsinki pack, but their quick recycling helped counteract big hits from the Maxines.

The fancy footwork by Helsinki started to pay off more in the second half, and after a 10 point jam by Taru and 7 more by Knuuttila, they brought it back to just 3 points, 125-122, No Coast still leading.

Since they live only an hour away, the many No Coast fans began to roar in the Ralston Arena as only a quarter of the game remained and the team were in the lead. After Taru got up slowly from a low block however, she started scoring grand slams while Fancy was stuck in the pack behind Tiina Kimari and Jonna Ojala. After Taru’s 14 points, Helsinki took the lead by 2, 136-134.

No Coast went on another scoring run next, picking up 26 points to Helsinki’s 1, and with 8 minutes left they led 160-137. Ripa often led the strong No Coast defense, while Mia Leevastitch and Zooey Bash’emAll did most of the damage. With lead again though, Knuuttila let the jam run long after a No Coast star pass, and it worked out with an 11-4 jam, but as the time ticked away, they need to put up some larger points.

Both Fancy and Taru picked up penalties while jamming in the next jam, and after a full two minutes, the Mad Maxines won the jam 19-13, pushing the difference to 22 points. As the clock counted down, Helsinki picked up 3 vital lead statuses, starting with 15 points by Rinne after No Coast passed the star to Brook N Hearts (Elizabeth Cain), but she got held up in the pack and managed to match 4 of Helsinki’s points.

In the second to last jam and down by 9 points, Taru got lead and was able to shortened their deficit to 2 points. In the final jam, Rinne scrambled to get out of the pack and did so without lead status. As it had become automatic for No Coast to stash the star, Flash Gloria removed it, meaning she would not get lead either. Then Rinne came into the pack too hot with a back block and had to sit for 30 seconds. Since this jam would go for 2 minutes, she was able to return and complete a few grand slams, giving Helsinki 15 and No Coast 5 as the clock ran out, and the win went to Helsinki with a narrow margin and a score of 200-192.

Photo credit Danforth Johnson.

Photo credit Danforth Johnson.

Squeaking by for the win, Helsinki will face #2 seed Angel City at 4pm CDT, while No Coast enters the consolation bracket tomorrow at noon. Hit up our Omaha Central for all the scores and recaps as the weekend progresses.

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