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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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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    April 19, 2019 6:19 pm

    If I can chip in here;… first to say thanks for your commentary about last weekend. It filled in for me what I could barely glean from IIHF and Leijonat articles etc. I didn’t have tv coverage here and you may imagine the frustration of watching the play-by-play feed. As it happened, I found I was all too correct about why the clock was stopped on various occasions 😦

    Earlier, I had a fabulous week in Espoo. I overdosed on women’s hockey, saw all the main stadium group games and quarter finals before having to come home. Having seen those six goal defeats by the big 2, you might excuse me for thinking that the last few games would go a familiar way for Finland in world tournaments, although I reckoned they could spring a few surprises.

    I loved it all. My favourite ‘other’ teams were the Czechs and the Japanese. Japan are so hard to beat! Their game against Sweden was one of the best I saw, you just knew the Swedes were in trouble if they had to play a do-or-die game against Japan. Sweden’s only hope was to score some quick early goals before the Japanese defence got in gear, and they didn’t. The Czechs are a great example of what smart coaching and fantastic team spirit can do for you. They sang their anthem loud and clear and played great hockey; I really hope they can go on and establish themselves in the top group, because at the moment Finland don’t seem to have any natural rivals, with a gap between them and all the rest, and, well, I would have said a gap between them and the US and Canada, but maybe they’ve now taken a stunning step to close it?

    One bee in my bonnet is to do with the quarter final match ups. The usual way is to match 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, and 4v5. But when you start by putting the top 5 seeded teams all in one group, and the rest in the other, I think unfairness comes in to play, because the bottom team in group A, “5”, is naturally always going to be inferior to the top team of the 3 you include from group B. Which is to say, it seemed wrong for the disappointing Russian team to be faced only with the more disappointing Swiss team, while I think the Czechs after their excellent work deserved better than to have to play Finland.

    Never mind. It was a joy for me to be able to see these championships not just in Finland, but at the arena where I see most of my women’s hockey when I come to visit (true, it’s usually in the haroitushalli, but let’s gloss over that!). I thought the arena was a perfect size for the games, not so big as to make the less popular games too uncomfortably empty, and electric when it filled up. I would love to think that last weekend will have a dynamic effect on the attention of potential young players. I suppose it could go the other way, and some might say ‘what’s the point when Finland isn’t allowed to win even when they play so well’, but I’d rather believe that Finland will pick up and make the future very interesting indeed. The women’s game so needs a shakeup at the top, even if the US in particular only really seems interested in big games against Canada.

    That was a sad little detail, Venla Hovi retiring. I must have seen her ages ago, playing for Ilves, and I think I probably also saw her playing for HPK. Always a very good player. My favourite player? Impossible to say at the moment, it’s the whole team, but I thought Jenni Hiirikoski was a giant and it was totally right that she was recognised at the end. I guess I’m biased towards any Blues naiset, past and present, and this time round towards Ronja Savolainen. There was something I noticed, to do with pre game practice: at the end, most teams would leave the pucks scattered in the goalmouth, but Finland was the one team which left them in a tidy group, making collection a little easier; and it was Ronja doing that 🙂
    Can’t wait for my next trip to see hockey in Finland!

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