HELSINKI – About a month ago, the Finnish “Hall of Fame”, the Hockey Museum, announced its new crop of “Hockey Lions”, the equivalent of being inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame, or the IIHF Hall of Fame. A big honour, in other words, and a recognition of a job well done for Finnish hockey.
Finland got its Hall of Fame in 1985, and since then, 135 players have got the highest honour in Finland, ranging from goaltender legends Urpo Ylönen and Jorma Valtonen to Juhani Wahlsten and Jari Kurri.
The latest additions included Raimo Helminen, Erik Hämäläinen, Sari Krooks, Tero Lehterä, Jyrki Lumme, Jarmo Myllys, and Juha Ylönen.
Only Jyrki Lumme and Sari Krooks (who, on the other hand, is only the third woman to be inducted) were not on the 1995 World Championship team that won the nation’s first, and only, gold. The first 1995 world champions to get inducted were Timo Jutila, Esa Keskinen, Jukka Tammi, and Hannu Virta in 2003, and it’s safe to say that few non-world-champions will get in between now and 2015.
Helminen, Hämäläinen, Lehterä, Myllys, and Ylönen are the five latest members of the team inducted, and the rest will get their turn as soon as their careers end. It’s fascinating to look back at the team, here in 2009 when so much has changed in the world. It’s fascinating to think that Helminen and Hämäläinen retired last season, and were the oldtimers already in 1995. To see that so many of the team are still playing.
Of the 23 players on the roster, 13 have retired. Ari Sulander, Marko Kiprusoff, Petteri Nummelin, Janne Niinimaa, Mika Strömberg, Janne Ojanen, Saku Koivu, Ville Peltonen, Jere Lehtinen, and Sami Kapanen still play, and play well, in various top leagues around the world.
The entire “Huey-Dewey-Louie” line – Koivu-Lehtinen-Peltonen – is in the NHL.
Every country has their heroes.
Canada has Paul Henderson and the rest of the 1972 Summit Series heroes, their 1987 Canada Cup team (and so many more), Sweden has the 1994 and 2006 Olympic gold teams and the 1987 World Championship team, the Americans the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”, the Czechs the World Championship team in 1972, Slovaks the 2002 World Championship team, and the Soviets/Russians their 1981 Canada Cup team, the 1972 Summit Series team (that shocked the world, even if they lost), and their KLM line and the Firsov-Konovalenko-Tretyak-Mikhailov-Harlamov era teams that won nine golds in a row.
In Finland, the team is the 1995 team.
The core of the team, twenty players or so, pushed Canada in the 1994 Olympic semi-final, they lost the 1994 World Championship final in a penalty shootout, and then went all the way in 1995, sending the entire country in a frenzy that lasted a few years.
This is the foundation of Finnish hockey for years to come, perhaps even more so after they hang up their skates and gloves. Timo Jutila, the team captain, is the national team’s manager, Raimo Summanen was the head coach before getting sidetracked, Hannu Virta started the season as the head coach of TPS Turku, but is now in Switzerland.
Erik Hämäläinen is an assistant coach with Lukko Rauma. Esa Keskinen spent a year as the TPS Turku team manager, and is now MTV3’s analyst. Tero Lehterä, Antti Törmänen, Mika Nieminen, and Marko Palo are coaching in the juniors, Raimo Helminen assists the coaches of the U20 national team.
Of the active players, Sami Kapanen is the owner of KalPa Kuopio, and Saku Koivu has already been suggested as the next president of the Finnish hockey association.
In the next five years, as the career of the remaining ten players come to the end and get inducted to the Finnish Hall of Fame, they’ll surely also find a place to keep giving back to Finnish hockey.
They’re the future national team coaches, SM-liiga coaches, the GMs, owners, analysts, commentators that make things happen.
Because as Erik Hämäläinen put it in a tenth anniversary book about the team: “There’s something special about that team. It’s hard to say what it is, but there’s a feeling of, ‘we’re those guys’”.
They’re still Finland’s go-to guys. Notebook:
- While outdoor games are all the craze in the world, Finnish SM-liiga teams Ässät Pori and Lukko Rauma are taking it one step further, by staging an exhibition game in Helsinki in June, as part of an effort to market their regions to the rest of the country. The game may be played on plastic surface.
- Head coach Pekka Virta has signed a contract extension with KalPa Kuopio. The new contract covers the 2010-11 season. The club also announced their signing of Mika Strömberg to a new one-year contract.
- According to a recent survey of 4,000 Finns aged 15-79, hockey is the sport with a best overall image in the country. People were asked to rate different sports by using a 4-10 scale where 10 is the best and 4 the worst – as in Finnish schools – and hockey’s 7.89 topped the list before Formula 1 racing, ski jumping, athletics, downhill skiing, football, and figure skating.
- Ilves Tampere announced its head coach for next season. Heikki Mälkiä, who coached Ilves in 2000-01, signed a one-year contract with the club with an option for an extension.