HELSINKI – Just before the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship final between Finland and Sweden got under way, Twitter was filled with both Finnish and Swedish hopeful messages.
One of them wished good luck for the Finns, and ended in a hashtag that only a chosen few can use: “#beentheredonethat”. The user handle was @NiklasHagman, and it was indeed one Niklas Hagman who re-directed Olli Jokinens shot into Russia’s net, an OT goal that clinched the Finnish gold in 1998.
The veteran player then congratulated the 2013 champions on Twitter, adding a piece of advice to the youngsters: “Remember, boys, no swearing during interviews.”
Something he had forgot to do in 1998.
But when team captain Teuvo Teräväinen took the stage in downtown Helsinki, nobody needed to worry about anything. Just as perfectly as the team performed throughout the tournament, they also charmed the audience after the tournament. According to the police, about 3,000 fans gathered to celebrate the kids.
And for those nostalgic about Finnish celebratory traditions, Rasmus Ristolainen – who scored the OT winner this time around – played his air guitar on stage, channeling goaltender Jukka Tammi from the 1995 IIHF World Championship.
Another tradition was also followed, one that never seizes to tickle the Finnish funny bone, the one in which the Finns “steal” a Swedish celebration. The Swedes, in anticipation, had had golden helmets made up for the the champions, a tradition in Sweden. So when the Finnish junior stepped out of the plane in Helsinki, they came out wearing golden helmets.
“These [ad stickers] have been glued on them, and we didn’t want to take out to see what’s underneath. They handed these out to us when we left the rink, but I bet they were made for the Swedes,” said Artturi Lehkonen, who also said he had got five pain killing shots to be able to play in the final, and will be sidelined for a while now.
The final had about a million viewers in Finland, and the broadcast peaked at 1,3 million, which is about 25 per cent of the country’s population. The media went wild.
“Small lions made Sweden weep,” wrote Iltasanomat. The newspaper also reported on people bathing in fountains in Helsinki – something that’s much more enjoyable in to do in May, after the Worlds – and passed on congratulations from Finnish NHLers, such as Tuukka Rask and Jussi Jokinen, and reported from the empty market square in Malmö – where the Swedish party was supposed to have been.
“Captain Teräväinen’s mission accomplished,” wrote Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest morning paper.
“A fantastic night”, said Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö.
“I owed it to the team,” told Rasmus Ristolainen to Iltalehti.
And then, of course, Finnish media eagerly recapped the Swedish newspapers’ disappointment to their readers.
And it was huge.
“Gold thiefs”, “Silver tears”, but also, “Revenge plans”, wrote Expressen. “This loss has scarred my heart for life,” wrote Magnus Nyström of Expressen.
Aftonbladet wrote about how the Swedish management group was preparing to support the disappointed players – which also made news in Finland, only not as supportive as the original reporting.
But by the time the players met their fans in Helsinki, Finns had got the spite out of their system, and it was replaced by love. Love for Teräväinen, love for Ristolainen, love for coach Karri Kivi, love for them all.
The question everybody wanted answered was: “How was it possible?”
And the answer Kivi gave them was:
“Every team needs its cornerstones, and ever since May when we first met, Teräväinen and Lehkonen have taken the leadership roles and have been fantastic. They’re two artists, but they bought in, and their admirable attitude was infectious,” he said.
During the tournament, Kivi had written his notes to the team on a flip chart, but before the final, he had simply left the page empty, and told the players that it was up to them to write the final chapter of the story.
After the final, he made his final note on the flip chart. He simply wrote “1” on it, before the players carried him to the shower, a Finnish championship ritual.
The tournament’s over, the celebration’s done, and it’s back to the grind for the players. But for no-one as much as for Topi Nättinen who couldn’t even make it to the public celebration in Helsinki.
He had to report to military service at 7.30 the next morning. His service for his country wasn’t over just yet.