HELSINKI – Finland's women's team may feature an unexpected, but a familiar face, in Sochi. Riikka Välilä (née Nieminen) has decided to un-retire, and will play for her former hometown team, JYP Jyväskylä, in the Finnish league this season.
“She has been training with us since the spring. As she now makes a comeback to hockey, her goal is to play in the Winter Olympics in Sochi," JYP's team manager Jussi Kinnunen told Finnish YLE.
Välilä retired from hockey in 2003, having missed almost three seasons prior to the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. She was inducted to the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, and to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009. Välilä has represented Finland in 118 national team games in which she's scored 109 goals, and collected 204 points with only 24 minutes in penalties.
She won the scoring title in the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 when Finland won bronze. She also won four IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship bronze medals between 1990 and 1997, and three European Championship titles between 1989 and 1995.
She also has over 20 different Finnish championship medals in different sports, and while inducted into the Hall of Fame in hockey, she could also be inducted into at least two other sports' halls of fame: bandy, in which she won four Finnish titles, and Finland's national sport, pesäpallo, a baseball-like sport in which she was voted Player of the Year three times.
“I started playing hockey when I was seven or eight, and played with boys until I was 12. Jyväskylä, my hometown, didn’t have a women’s team then, so I switched to bandy,” she told IIHF.com at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cologne, Germany, in 2010.
“In the winters, I’d sometimes have games with my bandy, rink bandy, and hockey team at the same time, so I would have to choose which of the teams had the most important game," she added.
That's one problem she won't have this season, and in Jyväskylä, JYP's faith in the 40-year-old is unwavering.
"When she hits the ice, you won't be able to tell she hasn't played hockey in ten years," Kinnunen said.
RISTO PAKARINENRiikka Välilä (née Nieminen) was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2010 by IIHF President René Fasel and IIHF Council Member Tony Rossi. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images