TAMPERE, Finland – Tampere is the cradle of Finnish hockey. The home of Tappara and Ilves, the team with most Finnish championships, a venue of World Championships – and on Sunday, the venue for Ilves’ Girls’ Hockey Day.
The good old Hakametsä Areena was busy with all kinds of players, old and young, beginners and oldtimers.
“It was a great day, we had 30 girls who hadn’t played hockey before. The youngest ones were four years old, the oldest ones 12,” says Sari Suoniemi, who’s in charge of women’s hockey at Ilves.
“And, we also had 20 girls from our under-12 team, 16 players from our women’s team, Finnish national team goalie Meeri Räisänen, as well as a few men, Ilves’s goaltender Ville Kolppanen and defenceman Atte Pentikäinen,” she adds.
Now, since there are two teams in Tampere, Ilves and Tappara, the two clubs often find themselves engaged in a tug-of-war, in different sorts of venues. There are the derbies on the ice, and in the stands, but also recruitment of players, and allocation of resources in the city.
But on the Girls Hockey Day, none at all.
“Tappara’s [Stanley Cup champion] Ville Nieminen and defenceman Teemu Aalto were also on the ice,” says Suoniemi.
The rink had three different areas in which different skills were practiced. There was skating area, a stickhandling area which the Ilves women’s team players were in charge of, and where the girls got to see if they could beat Kolppanen in the net. In the third area, the under-12 team held their practice before all girls played a game.
There was also a show of girl power, when the girls challenged the men’s league players in a pylon turning competition, in which they’d have to turn a pylon upside down, and Nieminen, Pentikäinen, and the rest did their best to turn then back up.
“The girls won the race 10-2,” Suoniemi says.
And then there was relay, in which they pushed their favorite player around the rink.
“Pentikäinen, Kolppanen and Aalto were tied at the finish line, Nieminen came in last, but then again, he’s getting up there in age,” Suoniemi says of the 36-year-old and chuckles.
All girls received their Girls Hockey Day diplomas, and information on how to enroll for a hockey school, or for the older girls, on how to join the Ilves team.
Yes, Ilves. Because on the women’s side, the teams do work together in an admirable way. In the Tampere region, the girls who play hockey with boys in other teams, like Tappara, play their girls’ league games in an Ilves sweater.
“And, for example, the Ilves under-12 team is the only girls team in the region,” says Suoniemi.
In a couple of weeks, Suoniemi will gather together a meeting with representatives from the other clubs as well as Tampere schools, to see how to put together a concept in which girls aged 13 through 18, who drop out of boys’ hockey, will still be able to combine high-level of hockey with school.
“We have three different clubs here, Kangasala, Ilves, and Tappara, and they all play in different divisions so we can offer the best possible place for each girl,” Suoniemi says.
“Today was such a great day, everybody had a lot of fun, and a smile on their faces the whole time,” she adds.
Here you can watch a video in Finnish on the weekend in Finland.
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