BRATISLAVA – When the Finnish Ice Hockey Association announced its roster for the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship, defenceman Sami Markkanen was compared to former ice hockey star Petteri Nummelin.
That’s because he’s playing his 15th World Championship in Bratislava. That’s the same number Nummelin had at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship where only one player, Switzerland’s Mathias Seger, participated more often, 16 times. And tomorrow he will play his 100th national team game, a big number considering that in inline hockey players play about six international games in a season.
“Petteri is also a very experienced player who played in many championships, as did I. I very much honour him and I’m grateful for the chance to be here at this age,” Markkanen said.
Markkanen is 42 years old now. The native of Kuopio went through the junior ranks with the local ice hockey club KalPa Kuopio and later played minor-league ice hockey and top-level inline hockey in his country.
In ice hockey he was the centre and captain for third-tier team for JHT in Kalajoki for many years. Last winter he played for fourth-tier team YJK from Ylivieska. Two years he also played abroad in Norway. He was the second-best scorer of the second-tier league with Furuset in 2004/2005 and one year later played in the top league for Manglerud before returning to Finland.
In the Finnish inline hockey league, where currently plays for the Koovee Rollers, he was the scoring leader five times, voted onto the all-star team six times and as inline hockey player of the year three times, most recently in 2012. In the recent years he has switched to defenceman and was named Best Defenceman of the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Hockey is a sport all year around for Markkanen.
“What I like most about inline hockey is that you have more time so you can do much more with the puck and you can really use your skills in inline hockey,” Markkanen said while in ice hockey he appreciates the speed and physicality.
In ice hockey he calls the 2004/2005 season his best experience. “I was in the Norwegian league and it was the NHL lockout so we got to have some NHL players there,” he said.
In inline hockey that question is a no-brainer. Markkanen was part of the golden teams that won the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship in 2001, 2003 and 2014. He also won other medals including silver at the last Worlds at home in Tampere in 2015.
“I played in 15 World Championships and there have been many great moments, and many funny moments with the team although these are more moments to share with the team than talking about,” he said.
The venue he has most memories is the one he played his first Worlds, Anaheim in California in 1998. “Finland won the bronze medal. It was my first World Championship so it’s probably the most memorable moment for me even if it was a long time ago,” he said.
With 15 World Championships under his belt, his role has changed. On the first sight from forward to defence. He’s also by far the oldest player at 42 years. The second-oldest, Janne Laakkonen, is 35. 21-year-old Eemeli Suomi is the youngest.
“In the locker room I’m more the quiet sort of guys but there are of course little things I can help the guys who are not so experienced,” Markkanen described himself. “On the field my role is to give good passes, calm down the situation, create space and good situations for my teammates.”
The Finnish team had a good start with three wins. After beating Germany 5-2, the Finns had two nail-biters in a 7-6 shootout win against the Czech Republic and a 6-5 victory against archrival Sweden yesterday.
“It was an emotional game as we knew it would be for us Finns as always against Sweden. It turned out okay since we won it,” Markkanen said and hopes to improve here from last time’s silver-medal finish. “Of course gold is our only goal here and I firmly believe that we’re able to win because we’re a good team.”
The win against Sweden gave the Finns first place and a quarter-final clash against Croatia rather than facing defending champion Canada in the first playoff round. But Markkanen warns to stay cautious.
“It might seem quite easy on the paper but we should not let fool us because Croatia will do everything they can to get into the semi-finals so we have to score the goals in the beginning so we will hopefully have less pressure toward the end of the game,” Markkanen said.
Finland will play its quarter-final game at 16:00 and the winner will face the winner of the Slovakia-Sweden game in the semi-finals. The Czech Republic against Canada and Team USA against Germany play the other semi-finals. All these games from the main rink at the Ondrej Nepela Arena will be streamed live and for free on IIHF.com
The Division I tournament also continues with the quarter-finals tomorrow: Great Britain vs. Argentina, Hungary vs. Australia, Latvia vs. New Zealand and Slovenia vs. Brazil. Fanseat
streams all games from the secondary rink exclusively and shows all 46 games of the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship.