HELSINKI – The first new-millennium World Championship that Finland hosted was back in 2003. What’s different about this year’s tournament and what’s the same?
Real estate agents say the most important thing is “location, location, and location.” That certainly held true in 2003 when Finland boasted three host cities: Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere. But that was the last time any IIHF World Championship took place in more than two host venues – the IIHF decided afterwards that it would make more sense logistically to limit the number. So this time, all the action in Finland is taking place in the capital city. (Of course, this is the second straight year that Finland is co-hosting with Sweden.)
In 2003, the Finns debuted a quirky fight song for their team, and that’s no different this year. 2003’s anthem was “Kaikki peliin” by Fintelligens, and the video featured shaven-headed rappers performing as referees, broadcasters, and players as the Lions took down Sweden. (Perhaps that was unwise in retrospective.)
This year, Samppa Linna, a comic caricature of a Turku man, is behind “Ny rillataan viimeinen asti”, a techno-flavoured pop number featuring Team Finland Timo Jutila and verbal jabs at such well-known international rivals as Tommy Salo, Mats Sundin, Yevgeni Malkin, and Jaromir Jagr.
Coverage of the tournament has also ramped up. The amount of TV, radio, and Internet exposure today dwarfs what was available in 2003. Facebook and Twitter supplement the coverage on IIHF.com now – those two social media platforms didn’t even exist in 2003.
How about what everyone’s really here for, the players on the ice? A glance at the 2003 scoring leaders reveals a couple of returning faces for 2013. Jozef Stümpel tied teammate Zigmund Palffy for the overall points lead (15), and Miroslav Satan wasn’t far behind with 10 as the Slovaks claimed the bronze medal. But Ilya Kovalchuk, who made his Worlds debut with Russia in 2003 with four goals, is more likely to win the scoring title this time around.
Two of the 2003 goalies are participating again this year: Slovakia’s Rastislav Stana and Slovenia’s Robert Kristan.
Competitively, the landscape has certainly changed. Look at the big teams in both Helsinki and Stockholm.
In 2003, Canada was riding high on confidence from its Olympic gold medal victory the year before in Salt Lake City. The Canadians would defeat Sweden in the final in Helsinki that year and go on to participate in five of the following six finals, winning twice. But coming into this tournament, Canada has fallen short of the finals for three straight years.
The Russians hadn’t won a title in 10 years when they came to Helsinki in 2003. Now, they’re the defending champions and have played in four of the last five finals, winning three times.
In 2003, the Finns had just one world title to their credit, coming from the ‘95 tournament in Stockholm where Ville Peltonen’s hat trick lifted his nation to a 4-1 victory over Tre Kronor. But at this tournament, memories of their 2011 conquest in Slovakia are still fresh, and although head coach Jukka Jalonen doesn’t have Finland’s most star-studded roster ever, he can still call upon six members of that 2011 squad this year.
Much like in 2003, the Swedes and Czechs remain potential contenders, although neither squad looks as potent as they did ten years ago. The Americans had to play in the Relegation Round in 2003, but the Relegation Round is no longer part of the format, and the U.S. should be capable of a better finish.
While the Swiss squeezed into a quarter-final berth in 2003 and were ousted 3-1 by Slovakia, their three straight wins over Sweden, Canada, and the Czechs to open the 2013 tournament indicate that they might be ready to take that big step on to the medal podium.
One thing never changes from year to year: the excitement and passion that hockey fans bring to the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, the world’s biggest annual winter sports event.