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The day after the day after

April 16, 2019

After the Olympics and every world championships it feels the same: Empty. Like, “What on earth do I do now?”

I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to be able to get my hands on tickets for five days of women’s hockey at the World Championships here in Espoo. (So great to not have to travel and be able to come home at night!) A hats off to the organizing committee for making the ticket prices accessible to virtually anyone who wanted to go – a day pass for EUR 20 (and up to five games access) was a real deal! We saw history made and it was wonderful!

I guess it’s best to start at the beginning, eh?

Espoo Blues Naiset won the Naistenliiga championship last month in front of a home crowd, and the finals were televised. This was the perfect promotion of the game ahead of the World Championships.

We had tickets for the opening day and what a day it was! Canada played Switzerland (6-0 win for Canada) and Finland played the US, which they lost 6-2, but made a helluva game out of it for the first two periods. For me that was a sign of things to come…

My kid told me the next day that when the US took the lead some boys who were sitting behind her said, “This is why women’s hockey sucks, Finland always loses…” She turned around and gave them a look and I guess they didn’t say anything else.

How disheartening.

I wrote this on social media the same day: “Here’s the point: All you naysayers on women’s hockey get out there and do the work that they do to get to this level! You wouldn’t be able to keep up. I reminded my kid that ALL of those women on the ice were probably better hockey players than 99,9% of the people in that arena last night.

The US has had a longer time to get their women’s program to where it is today… They also have a LOT more money. I will stand by my prediction of a few years ago. Parity is coming in women’s hockey. In 5+ years Finland will be giving the US and Canada a run for their money. The first two periods of last night’s game proved that.

All you naysayers can go sit down now – or go out there and do better, I dare you.”

<eye roll emoji>

My assessment of Team Finland ahead of the tournament was “Everything to prove and nothing to lose.” And boy, was I right (in the end).

The season ending Mini Aurora Cup for all of Finland’s U12 and under girls’ teams was going on the same weekend in Helsinki as the opening weekend of the tournament, so it was a couple of long days at the arena. We had fun.

In addition to seeing a lot of the A pool games, we ducked into the other arena to see bits of the B pool games (Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, France and Japan). Ah and yes, this tournament is the first time that 10 teams have been on the slate. The B pool teams played good, hard, fast hockey and it was really, really nice to see. The teams in this pool were pretty evenly matched and the pleasant surprise of the tournament was the Czech Republic, Japan and Germany. Sweden being relegated was also a huge surprise, they have some rebuilding to do by the looks of things.

Fast forward to the semi-finals of last Saturday and I already had the prediction in my head: Finland is going to beat Canada – because they can. My loyalties to both countries are strong, and no joke – I am not disappointed = it is not the end of the world anymore, if Canada loses to Finland. And what a game it was on Saturday, the 4-2 win by Finland was absolutely sensational!

I was also prepared. 😀 (In fact, the Mr. told me I was not allowed to leave the house without a Team Finland shirt on.) And you know I don’t normally show my face here, but….

And then on to the finals against the US! WOOHOO! You can imagine that the last tickets that were available were snapped up pretty quickly. And my thoughts on the game – the US was scared, with good reason. Finland was in it to win – and all BS aside, they did.

The goal that wasn’t

Petra Nieminen scored in overtime and then the video judges got involved… It was an unbelievable 10 minutes of waiting.

Yesterday the IIHF issued this statement.

And the caption under the picture says this, “During overtime Finnish player Jenni Hiirikoski interfered U.S. goaltender Alex Rigsby. Petra Nieminen scored on the rebound with Rigsby prevented from making a save. The goal was therefore disallowed after a video review.

So why on earth didn’t Hiirikoski get a penalty? Rigsby and Hiirikoski made contact, but I wouldn’t call it interference, because Rigsby was also going for the puck.

I seriously cannot understand how the IIHF video judge could call the goal off on the blending of several rules. At the end of the day it just feels like someone in the room wanted to make sure that Finland didn’t win… I could sit here and go on and on about it, but the media have done a really good job of analyzing the whole thing. Social media exploded after the no goal call came and with good reason.

I am not going to lie, I was crying when I thought it was a goal. World Champions, can you imagine?! And then our Naisleijonat got robbed… The whole fiasco has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Goal or no goal? We waited 10 minutes to find out…

Summing up

Venla Hovi announced her retirement from international play yesterday, and I am so sad to hear that. Riikka Sallinen is also expected to call it a game at some point, but we haven’t heard an official announcement yet. She’s my new hero BTW.

I am moved to tears reading stories about the women on the Finnish National Women’s Hockey team… I noticed before – but now they really have my attention – and there it will stay. To read that captain Jenni Hiirikoski and her teammates posed nude for a JYP (Jyväskylä) team calendar back in 2010 in order to help raise money for the team seems other worldly at the moment. Every single Finnish women’s national team player who continues to play thru to Beijing in 2022 deserves EUR 150 000+ a piece to get them there. The women of this country are producing results. It is time to start awarding them accordingly. NOW.

I also heard that the Finnish women receive a substantially smaller bonus than their male counterparts for winning medals – the women will get EUR 5000 for their silver medal performance, but the men will get EUR 12 000 for a similar finish in the upcoming World Championships in Slovakia. Come on, and we talk about equality? My snide remark here is of course – why do most of the men on the team even need a bonus, especially since they’re making millions in the NHL?

The refrain keeps coming that we need to get our butts in the seats and support our female athletes… Yes, we do. The problem is I and my kid are those athletes (albeit I am well past my prime), and she is honing her skills in arenas around the country every weekend like the best of the best are. I hope all of you women in sport out there understand that! We haven’t found a way to clone ourselves yet. We will do our best to get our butts in the seats (for ringette, hockey, handball, basketball and so on…)

Finland’s national women’s hockey team has made a stand – well, they continue to do it actually…

My kid put this up on her wall this morning. The story is not over.

Finland’s U18 women’s team that won bronze in Japan in January

P.S. I interviewed the head coach of the Finnish Women’s Rugby 7s team just before Christmas and that is entry that is in the pipe. Coach Bam, if you are reading this – I haven’t forgotten about you and your team!

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Cool snowshoes!

March 29, 2019

Disclaimer: I am not being paid to write this blog entry. But I will be sharing it with the company who makes what I just bought. Read on…

I was kind of hoping that winter would hold on a little longer in southern Finland and that Easter was not so late this year, because it seems I won’t get to really try out my new snowshoes.

I bought these ones about 4-5 years ago at Budget Sport for about EUR 229 and they have served me well. They are still in great shape and I still use them when I have the chance.

A few weeks ago, with some help from one of the guys who works in one of our satellite offices in France, I was able to get a hold of a pair of these.

Snowshoes by EVVO SNOW

Behold EVVO snowshoes made with Michelin tire technology.

I found out about these snowshoes at the GoExpo Winter exhibition last November at Messukeskus in Helsinki. I didn’t really want to buy a pair on the spot right then and there, so I took their brochure. The idea of getting these was always at the back of my mind as winter progressed, so I decided to bite the bullet a few weeks back and got a pair. My timing was impeccable it seems because the fellow who helped me out said they were actually on sale. <score!>

EVVO snowshoes retail for about EUR 200, but I got mine for about EUR 169 (on sale). They come in a few colours and in sizes M (European shoe size 39-42) and L (size 43-46). It appears that they have not gotten around to making smaller models yet. In any case, pulling on a pair of EVVO snowshoes is like pulling on an oversized shoe. And walking with them on the snow is like wearing an oversized shoe! 🙂 I am unsure how they would be in fresh, deep snow, but that is for next winter.

The one thing that sold me was that you can virtually walk anywhere with these snowshoes because of the tire-tread sole. So if there is a bare patch devoid of snow or full of sand and gravel, just keep on trucking. Snowshoeing conditions are not always ideal at the beginning and end of the season in Finland, so EVVO snowshoes help solve that dilemma.

I am looking forward to giving these a go again next winter.

Spring is well on its way, so it’s time to think of other things, like dusting off my bike.

Picture of the Day

March 14, 2019

HELLO!

It has been awhile… I am now coming out my winter hibernation and hopefully have a lot to talk about in the coming weeks… Well, I do with an election coming up – and the Women’s World Hockey Championships in Espoo… Watch this space.

In the meantime, winter is still here. 🙂 I just got a new pair of snowshoes a few days ago (worthy of an entry on its own!) and last night I went out near my home.

This is the super night setting on my phone – man, it was nice outside.

#LoveWinter

Finland’s Athlete of the Year

January 16, 2019

Tomorrow is the annual sports gala (Urheilugaala) in Finland, in which the best of Finland’s athletes in more than 70 sports are honoured in Helsinki. The best athletes in each category are chosen by the Finnish Sports Writers Association (Urheilutoimittajain liitto). They have named every athlete of the year in this country since 1947. Here are the winners (by sport) for 2018, more than 20 women were chosen as the best in their sport – and that is good to see.

Flashback to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Finland won six medals (one gold, one silver, four bronze) – all of them won by women, except for Iivo Niskanen, who won gold in the men’s 50km.

Hands down my choice for Athlete of the Year is Krista Pärmäkoski. I have the feeling, however, she will be usurped by the likes of Lauri Markkanen (basketball) or Iivo Niskanen (cross-country skiing). She won three medals in Pyeongchang: a silver in the women’s 30km classic, bronze in the 15km skiathon and bronze in the 10km freestyle.

And to boot – she just finished third in the recent Tour de Ski.

While I would like to the women’s national hockey team named as Team of the Year (they won bronze in Pyeongchang), I am afraid that won’t be the case. Women’s hockey in this country has seen some big breakthroughs in the past year and will see more this coming year… It is just not getting the attention it deserves.

I will return to this if I feel like I need to rant about it. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Merry Christmas! Hyvää Joulua!

December 24, 2018

Dear friends and followers of Life in Finland…

It has been awhile. I think one of my resolutions for 2019 is to write more often… Like I have said before, there is lots to talk about, I just haven’t gotten around to getting it put “on paper.”

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Stay safe, don’t drink and drive and arrive alive!

I want to share this picture with you. I took this last night with the “super night” setting on my Huawei phone. It takes about 30 seconds to get the right exposure. I was pretty pleased with the result.

Finland is currently covered in snow, a white Christmas, the first one in a long time for the entire country!

Hyvää joulua!

Throwback Thursday – Women’s Para Ice Hockey

October 25, 2018

Flashback to earlier this year and I somehow stumbled into the world of sledge hockey, aka. these days as Para Ice Hockey. Jarno Silvonen (from Turku) has been involved in the sport for a long time as a coach and it is through him I was introduced to the sport. He has taken on the Finnish national junior team (to my understanding) and is working on Finland’s next generation of winter Para athletes.

* I will refer to sledge hockey most of the time in this entry, but sledge hockey = Para Ice Hockey

But you know me, I am all about women in sport, so I was super pumped when I was invited to take part in the inaugural Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Championships held in Ostrava (CZE) from May 1-6.

There were five of us from Finland, myself, Jarno Silvonen and our athletes Annika, Amanda and Sinianne. Annika is a former national level ringette (and hockey, I think) player. She has suffered some bad knee injuries that left her unable to play at a higher level, so she took up sledge hockey about five years ago. As an otherwise able-bodied athlete, she would never classify under the current Paralympic standards for Para Ice Hockey. Amanda is a Para Athletics athlete, former world record holder and has won many medals on the world championship stage in her class (T54). She also took up Para Ice Hockey a couple of years ago, and while she’s tiny, she is mighty! Sinianne took up Para Ice Hockey earlier this year and is very new to the game. I think the week in Ostrava was the best for her, she (and I) learned a ton! We found that if Sinianne were to go through the classification process, she would indeed classify for Para Ice Hockey.

I went to Ostrava not knowing what to expect or who I would meet. Let’s just say this, I made a lot of new friends and learned so much my head was spinning! I brought my gear with me, so I was kitted up to coach on the ice. There were nearly 100 women there to play sledge hockey, it was great!

This tournament was made possible by a generous donation from the Agitos Foundation, which is an arm of the Paralympic movement. We had ice time for five days – and that was five days of practices and games. Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was working with the goalies a lot and by the end of the week I was helping plan practices with the elite coaches, and I was even reffing some games! One of the best practices was when the Canadian coaches came out on the ice to teach how to check properly. Now on the men’s side I have seen some big hits, so watching the women from the development side of the sport was absolutely hilarious! The Great Britain crew were flattening each other and there were plenty of laughs that day. It was great to watch players improve over the course of the week in how they moved, righted themselves on their sledges, and also in shooting and goaltending.

Team Canada and Team USA were the only two teams with full rosters on the elite side. A mix of players from around Europe made up Team Europe, which played on the elite side as well. These three teams played a round robin to determine who would play in the final. Canada and the US are tightly matched on the skill level and it’s fair to say when they meet, the game can go either way. Team Europe still has a little ways to go to on par with Canada and the US, but it was a great chance for the players to play together. The US won gold in a tight 1-0 win over Canada in the final, not the way I wanted it to go, but hey – that’s hockey.

There were also athletes from Great Britain (GB), Scotland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Australia, Croatia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and France. Unfortunately there were no teams from Asia this time around. These countries made up the “Development division” of the tournament. The rules were pretty relaxed, as teams were allowed to borrow players from other teams to fill their roster, for example Team Finland-Sweden didn’t have a goalie. Team Finland-Sweden combined to win gold over Norway and GB1 and GB2 fought it out for bronze. We didn’t do it alone – we borrowed a lot of players to make that win possible! At the end of the day it was super fun to win, what a great feeling!

It was nice to see that there were a lot of female coaches; Canada, the US and Europe all had female head coaches – and in the world of Paralympic sport, that seems to be a rarity. I also met the head coach of the Czech men’s Para Ice Hockey team and a member of the Norwegian men’s national team – great guys! The UK had a fabulous crew and I spent a lot time hanging around with them during the day.

Going forward from that tournament meant coming down from a big high. Developing the sport of sledge hockey for women in Finland is going to take some work. The game cannot develop further on the (sanctioned) Paralympic level until there are six nations able to field full teams for the Paralympics. Women’s sledge hockey will not be on the 2022 Paralympic schedule, so the next goal is 2026. So, in Finland we have a lot of work to do.

On the men’s side, Team Finland will be the host of the upcoming C-Division championships to be held in Vierumäki in early November. I actually got a chance to join one of their practices just last week, so it was good to see them ahead of the tournament. The guys were in Sweden last weekend for a tournament and some practice games against the Swedish national team. While they had a tough go and lost their games, it was a good tune-up for them ahead of Vierumäki. See more here.

And again, watch this space…

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My New Year’s Resolution…

October 1, 2018

… and women in sport, again.

Late last year and earlier this year I ranted about how poorly Finnish women are covered in the sports media. I made a New Year’s resolution to go and see Finland’s elite women in action – and I did – until the summer came and then I was in Canada for a month… Now that most winter and indoor sports are on the go again, I can continue to fulfill this resolution, but I have June, July and August to make up for! September’s order was filled by watching the best ringette players in the country in early September and again just this past weekend.

Now that the Little Miss is back in action at the rink, it is time to remind all of these girls taking part in sport to find themselves a female hero to look up to. In Finland there is no shortage of them, we just need to make them more visible!

A couple weeks ago Hayley Wickenheiser was immortalized in Lego format in our household. We still have to find the hockey stick though. I am really glad that the Little Miss recognizes this – the need to have someone to look up to…

The head coach of her ringette team plays at the national level, and she is definitely a role model for all of the girls who play ringette in Espoo. Ira Merivaara is small, but mighty – and proof that you do not need to be big to be good at a sport where height can be an advantage. (Below is the post game pic from the EKS home opener against Tuusula last weekend. EKS won handily 8-2.)

The discussion about women in sport in this country is still centring on poor coverage and low attendance at women’s sporting events. I have seen it on social media channels. Just GO and watch a game!

An example: you can get a great value for your money by getting a season pass to see the Espoo Blues Naiset hockey team in action for just EUR 50. I promise you will be seeing the best of the best in this country and it’s all driving forward to meet one goal. The next big thing on the women’s sport calendar in this country (and please correct me if I am wrong) are the Women’s World Hockey Championships to be held in Espoo in April 2019.

As for media, I have challenged the publisher of ELMO-lehti to put Riikka Välilä (or any of the current members of the Finnish women’s national hockey team) on the cover, but I am still waiting.

On the coaching front

The head coach of the Finnish Women’s Rugby Sevens got a hold of me earlier this year and we were supposed to meet and discuss the team, but it didn’t materialize. Coach Bam, if you’re reading this – we still need to talk!

The next bit I need to tell you about is a big Throwback Thursday moment from earlier this year, also involving women in sport. I might not necessarily put it out on a Thursday though.

Watch this space.