BRATISLAVA – In 1995, a team of young Finnish players was ready to play in the World Championship final against Sweden. They won the game, and the country went wild. Ten years later, IIHF.com’s Risto Pakarinen pieced together their story by interviewing all the players and coaches into a book called Joukkue vailla vertaa (“A team like no other”). This is an excerpt of their recount of the final game.
Curt Lindström, head coach:
In 1994, our goal difference in the last three games against Austria, the U.S. and Canada was 19-1. We didn’t lose one period, but we did lose the shootout, and the gold medal. That motivated us.
The night before the game, I wrote a letter to the team: “This is the day we’ve been waiting for. Everybody has to give everything he’s got... and tonight, you will be world champions.” Assistant coach Esko Nokelainen translated it into Finnish. It was the naked truth about what needed to be done.
The team wasn’t nervous, as a whole.
Ari Sulander, goaltender
“Curre’s” letter was a surprise. At first, it felt a little strange, but in hindsight, maybe it did help us. He just tried to get the team to believe in itself.
Mika Nieminen, forward
When “Curre” took the job as head coach, I remember him asking players what they expected from the next five years. Most players said they wanted to win a medal. That changed in a couple of years, and gold medal became our goal.
Erik Hämäläinen, defenceman
I was focused on that one game, didn’t think about the future or the past. But it was more exciting because we faced Sweden on their home ice.
I was very nervous. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as nervous as then. I remember that Raimo Helminen sat across the room from me, and I saw him yawning before the game so I thought that either Helminen is really tired, or really nervous, as yawning can be a sign of that. I didn’t say anything to him about it, though.
Juha Ylönen, forward
Helminen won’t show you that he’s nervous, but if you’re not a little nervous before a World Championship final, you can’t play hockey.
Jere Lehtinen, forward
I didn’t think we were favourites to win. They were on their home ice, and we had never won gold. How could we have been the favourite?
Of course the game makes you a little nervous and your adrenaline levels are high, but once you step on the ice, I, at least, just play the game, even if I realized how big a game it was. You can’t play if you’re too nervous. But you can still enjoy the big games, that’s what you’re there for.
And, usually, time flies in those games.
Antti Törmänen, forward
The usual routines help. You warm up, fix a stick, and that helps you deal with the situation.
Marko Kiprusoff, defenceman
The only thing on my mind was that I wanted to win. I was fairly confident, and I actually didn’t even think we could lose that game. I had such a focus, that I didn’t think farther than the next shift.
Hannu Aravirta, assistant coach
We knew that anything can happen in one game, so we didn’t get ahead of things. When I saw how balanced the team was, and how ready they were to play, I really believed in our chances.
But during the game, my focus was on individual shifts. The coach very seldom gets to lean back and enjoy the atmosphere, and that game wasn’t one of them, either.
Jarmo Myllys, goaltender
I knew the Swedish players because I played against them in Elitserien. And I’m sure they got discouraged by our goal, of course. They had started the game really well, pushing us to our feels, and then we got the first goal.
I don’t remember the game at all. Maybe I was so focused, but I remember the game against Canada the year before much better.
Esa Keskinen, forward
Sweden didn’t have a chance. Maybe we made things difficult for them, but they just froze. Winning the gold at home must be fantastic, but if I had to choose another way to win it, I would probably pick winning in Sweden, by beating Tre Kronor in the final.
We had a 3-0 lead after two periods, and coach Aravirta told the defencemen not to pinch or join a rush. During the intermission I thought that, “Gee, we’re going to win this game.” If we just stayed focused. When Jutila scored the 4-0 goal, I was sure, even when they got their 4-1.
It was tough to keep my thoughts together during the second intermission. All I kept thinking about was that I shouldn’t make any mistakes. The coaches stressed that we shouldn’t get passive out there, but I know I did. I kept my shifts short and just dumped the puck into their zone.
It was the longest period of my life.
Janne Niinimaa, defenceman
Somebody yelled “careful now” with five seconds remaining in the game. I thought, “not anymore”.
Timo Jutila, defenceman, team captain
The team showed its strengths in the final. It wasn’t a one-man show, or a one-unit show, or our goalie’s show. Even if we did have the best goalie of the tournament. These are the games that legends are made of, but for us, and even for Ville [Peltonen who scored a hat trick], I’m sure, it doesn’t matter who scored the goals. That time it was him, and that was great.
But just as important was Törmänen’s dive to clear a puck when the game was 2-0. Those are the things that I really respect. No paper wrote about it, but the whole team knew how important it was.
The best part was to stand in line with the team. I thought about my childhood when it was always the CCCP men standing there. And all of a sudden, it was me. That was huge.
My only regret is that once I finally got back to the game dressing room, only Törmänen and Raimo Summanen were left, the others had moved on to our other dressing room. I missed that first euphoria with the team.