16 years is a long time to wait. In that 16 years a small nation has come close several times. There has been the World Cup Of Hockey, Olympic games, several world championships, all accompanied by bitter disappointment. But on one fine Sunday in May, that all changed.
If you haven’t guessed what I’m talking about, I’m talking about the Finnish victory in the World Championships over Sweden. I have to admit that when I first saw the roster for the games, I was not willing to bet any money on Finland. The past few years had been weak performance wise and it had been somewhat painful to watch the Finns play. I had, however, always agreed with the game plan that the coach Jukka Jalonen had drawn up, but I did think that if he didn’t get into the medal games, his days would be numbered.
I remember watching in frustration when the Finns took on Latvia, then Czechs and even later on Germans. After the Germany game, I was ready to write an article titled, “Finnish ice hockey on life support” and had planned to follow that up with an article, should the Finns have been knocked out early, titled “Finnish ice hockey: An obituary.” I’m happy that I haven’t had to write those articles… yet.
But after the Germany game, something changed. The players wearing the Lion emblem on their shirts became a team. There was something that was good to watch and there was some real guts in the play that I felt had been missing since the start. As we played the Russians in the semi finals, I was first captivated by the performance put on by a ‘no-frills’ Finnish team (not to take anything away from the Finns, but Ovechkin, Kovalchuck and co are bigger names). It was particularly amusing watching that game how the Finns completely shut down the big Russian forwards. And then of course, there was THE goal.
I’m not going to mull over Mikael Granlund’s Lacrosse move, but I will say this: The news coverage I’ve seen has been kids talking about and practising the move. It’s all well and good kids. Be creative with the game, but do not forget to pay more attention to your shot selection and play. Chances are you will not ever get a chance to score a goal like Granlund did in a proper game.
The final was a thing of beauty and to watch it in a Bar in London (Thanks to the owner of the Pipeline Bar for putting on the game and acting as a brilliant host). I lost my voice cheering the Finns on and along with many fellow countrymen, we all felt relieved as Mikko Koivu hoisted the trophy. The long wait was over. I was 13 when Finland last won the title, so it has been a long time coming.
The celebrations have caused somewhat of a stir, due to various members appearing drunk in live interviews, falling off the plane and not showing up for the public celebration. I have no problem with celebrating the win with alcohol, hell I’ve been there, done it and got the T-shirt for winning competitions on a much lower scale than the World Championship.
The truth is, it mattered to the players and rightly so, they have deserved their party. But I do have a problem with the rush of organising the celebrations. Less than 24 hours after winning the title, the players were rushed in front of the adoring public still in the best party mode from the night before. We all have seen coach Pasi Nurminen being helped off the plane and then falling on the red carpet. Sure people think “he’s just celebrating it”, but when you take a step back, it does look embarrassing.
The teams’ management had no control over the team in the events leading to the public celebration. If I was in charge, I would’ve made sure that I had a handful of people that were allowed to speak to the media and I would have left Nurminen on the plane until everyone else had gotten off and whisked him to sleep it off while no-one was watching. I would have stuck someone to tail Anssi Salmela to make sure he didn’t say anything moronic and I would’ve sent Timo Jutila to sleep it off as well. If there were questions (like there has been) about the whereabouts of the personnel, I would’ve been honest and said that “they are resting for the benefit of the team.”
However, there were members of the team that conducted themselves well, despite the amount of alcohol they had consumed. Mikko Koivu was exemplary, yes he had been drinking, but he was not slurring his words (much) and spoke like a true captain. Also coach Jukka Jalonen handled himself respectfully. Other players such as Niko Kapanen, Janne Pesonen and Mikael Granlund acted like real professionals. Should the party have been delayed by 24 hours and let the team return in peace, we might have seen a different team on stage.
But that’s enough about that. Main thing is that we have captured a world championship title once more and it is great to see what the sport of hockey and the success on an international stage means to our nation. I guess you could say that about any other sport and it’s importance to us Finns. However, I’m going to say this and I don’t mean to take anything away from the team who won the title. This does not reflect on the true state of Finnish hockey.
We are on the right path with developing young players, but we are still a couple of years off the pace of the Canadians and so on. We have a pool of talented players and proven veterans, but we are not in a position where we can take our eye off the ball, like we have done, and say everything is OK, we are champions.
What I also hope that this championship will do to hockey in Finland is that it will encourage kids to take up hockey and for parents to actively support their kids hobby. It can lead to great things and hockey can teach kids many values and make them better people. Any sports will, not just hockey.
People will also need to be realistic moving forwards. It is unlikely that we will win the title two years running, but I do hope that we won’t have to wait for another 16 years for the trophy to be in Finnish possession. For now, let’s be happy that we have won and we can call ourselves world champions once again.