LUGANO, Switzerland – After many years in Swedish and Russian hands, a team from Finland won the European Women’s Champions Cup. Ilves Tampere swept the final tournament in Lugano and became Euro champs for the first time.
The Finns clinched the win by defeating Aisulu Almaty from Kazakhstan 1-0 in their last game on Sunday. They had earlier defeated Russian SKIF Nizhni Novgorod 5-3 (on Friday) and host HC Lugano, 5-4 in overtime on Saturday.
“It is such a big thing for us to be the best team in Europe,” said assistant coach Severi Lehtonen.
Lehtonen, 20, and head coach Samuli Marjeta, 23, were the young guys behind the bench of the Ilves women’s team. They were named coaches for this season.
“It’s special for us to be younger than some of the players. We are all friends and we have a great team spirit,” he said.
“We were so happy that we made it to the final four and I’m almost a bit shocked that we won the tournament. The EWCC is a competition we have focused on since September and it was so tough because the teams here were so professional.”
Ilves had a tremendous start in the EWCC event with a 4-0 lead against Russian champion SKIF Nizhni Novgorod on Friday, and the Finns remained strong throughout the whole tournament. Ilves beat the Russians 5-3 before taking on host HC Lugano for a clash between the two undefeated teams after Day 1. Lugano edged Aisulu Almaty in a 2-1 shootout win in their opener.
The game began in Lugano’s favour. Latvian forward Iveta Koka made the 550 fans cheer after succeeding on a breakaway at 3:18 of the second period, but Ilves turned the game around a few minutes later.
Sari Karna tied the score on a power play at 9:57 and two more goals from Venla Kotkaslahti (following a two-on-one rush) and Tawni Mattila during another power play made it 3-1 less than three minutes later.
The teams exchanged a couple of more goals before the Swiss staged a comeback. With goalkeeper Jessica Müller pulled, Lugano captain Kira Misikowetz tied the game in the last minute of regulation. But the game ended with the Finnish team gaining a two-point advantage with Karna’s second marker of the day at 3:51 of the overtime period. It was her third goal of the tournament.
Ilves just needed one more point against winless Aisulu Almaty on Sunday to win the tournament, but the Kazakhs left no doubt that they were motivated to spoil the Finnish party – and to go home with a medal.
The teams did well in neutralizing each other for most of the game, but the Finns increased the pressure on excellent netminder Daria Obydennova in the middle stanza. Ilves had a 7-4 shot advantage in the first period while it was 19-7 in the second.
The Kazakhs got into penalty trouble – and just had their biggest chance of the game with a Zarina Tukhtieva breakaway – when the Finns eventually broke through. Defenceman Heidi Pelttari hit the crossbar with a shot from the blueline, but a few seconds later Saara Tuominen capitalized on the ensuing chance.
“It was really tough to play Almaty. They have a good defence and it was also hard for us because we had such an intense game the day before with the overtime win against Lugano,” said Tuominen, who was second in scoring with six points (2+4), one behind Lugano’s Kira Misikowetz.
Her 1-0 goal at 9:32 of the second period stayed for the rest of the game and Ilves could loudly celebrate their big triumph on the ice and with Finnish music in the dressing room.
“It’s my first year here, but we have many other players with international experience too, including the younger ones, who came home with bronze from the World Women’s U18 Championship recently,” Tuominen said.
While Aisulu had to settle with fourth place after the loss, SKIF Nizhni Novgorod earned the silver medals by defeating HC Lugano, 3-1.
Evelina Raselli opened the scoring for Lugano on a power play at 14:56, but SKIF’s Finnish forward Karoliina Rantamäki tied the game just 24 seconds later. Rantamäki executed on the penalty shot she was awarded after Nicole Bullo had blocked the puck with her hands in front of her net.
SKIF gained the lead 48 seconds into the middle period on a breakaway goal from Yekaterina Smolentseva, and later she missed with another penalty shot for the Russians. Alyona Khomich made it 3-1 at 16:07 when she scored on her own rebound.
After one more goal from each side in the third period it was 4-2 for SKIF midway through the period before Lugano pulled the goalie three times – and scored twice in the last two minutes. SKIF eventually won the game and the silver medals when Alexandra Kapustina’s distance shot during a power play in overtime went in.Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate
Best Goalkeeper: Daria Obydennova (Aisulu Almaty)
Best Defenceman: Nicole Bullo (HC Lugano)
Best Forward: Saara Tuominen (Ilves Tampere)
More: Scores & Statistics
, Photo Gallery