February 15, 2002 — Salt Lake City, Utah
There may have been better players, players with a harder shot, players who could skate faster or score more often, but no player in hockey history represented his country more often than Finland’s Raimo Helminen. From his debut with the senior team in 1984 to his last hurrah in 2003, Helminen played some 330 times, none more important than in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 2002 Olympics, his sixth Olympics. Helminen became the first hockey player – and only the sixth winter Olympian overall – to record six five-ringed tournaments. It was an achievement which was recognised in virtually all world-wide sports media. The IIHF also made Helminen the cover boy of the official Olympic Media Guide for Salt Lake City.
2002 was truly an amazing year for the Finn, then 38 years old. Only two months after Salt Lake City, Helminen played his 321st national team game for his country at the 2002 World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. With this appearance, he surpassed German stalwart Udo Kiessling’s previous record of 320 games. On that day, prior to the Finland vs. Russia game on May 4, Helminen was presented with a silver plate by IIHF President René Fasel and Kalervo Kummola, the Finnish IIHF Vice-President. Before his international career would be over in 2003, Helminen would extend the record to 330 games for Team Suomi.
Along the way, Helminen won nine medals for his country, two of which in particular stand out. He played for Finland at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, when his country won a silver medal, the first hockey medal for Finland going back to the country’s debut appearance in 1952.
Then, in 1995, Helminen was on the gold-medal team at the World Championship in Sweden, again the first championship for Suomi. He also won four silver medals—1994, 1998, 1999, and 2001 World Championships—and three bronze—1994 and 1998 Olympics and 2000 World Championships-- during his 19 years with the national team. In fact, the only team in Finnish history to win a medal without Helminen up to the day he retired was the 1992 silver-medal team.
Helminen was known as a passer more than a shooter, and he was also known for his sportsmanship. By the time he had hung up his proverbial blades, he was mentioned in the same breath as Kurri and Koivu, perhaps not for individual skill, but certainly for his unparalleled team success.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories