CALGARY, Canada – February 28, 1988
Finland had been a serious contender in international hockey since the mid-1960s, but the Nordic nation could never win a medal at either the World Championship or the Olympics. For more than 20 years after having hosted the 1965 World Championship in Tampere, the Finns tried to find ways to get their hands on any kind of a medal, but the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Canada, and sometimes the USA always stood between them and the podium.
Going into the Calgary Olympics in 1988, the Soviets again were the favourites, followed by Canada, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and the USA. No one gave the Finns any hope, especially not after the opening day 2-1-loss to lowly Switzerland. But that was – in hindsight – the perfect start for the Finns. Being 'out' of any medal talk, Team Finland was able to fly under the radar. Four days after that fiasco against the Swiss, Finland scored its first major upset, defeating Canada 3-1, in the round robin. This was the first time the Finns had defeated Canada on North American ice in major competition. Two days later, they earned an important 3-3-tie against archrival Sweden. In the medal round, it seemed as though the Finns were back to their old way. As soon as the pressure was on, Finland lost to Czechoslovakia, 5-2. A medal was still possible, but Finland would have defeat the Soviet Union which had already had secured another Olympic gold prior to the last day.
The final game of the 1988 Olympics, on February 28, 1988, will forever be remembered by the Finnish hockey community because that was the first time the national team did not fold under medal pressure. A 19-year old named Janne Ojanen scored a magnificent goal to get the Finns going, and Erkki Lehtonen scored the winner with 1:20 remaining. Not only did the Finns finally get their medal -- a silver, no less -- the dramatic 2-1 win was their first-ever against the Soviet Union in Olympic or World Championship competition..
On that very day, no one could have foreseen that this game was the last one that the Soviet Union played in an Olympic hockey tournament. While this was the beginning of the end for the 'Big Red Machine' under the CCCP flag, the game established Finland as true hockey power, a contender, rather than just a pretender.
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.