Joensuu on the way up

A once thriving girls’ hockey town is gearing up again

12.10.2014
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Joensuu wants to get back on the Finnish women's hockey map after a successful World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend event.

JOENSUU – Maybe it’s the fact that the Joensuu club’s nickname is Jokipojat, “hockey boys” that makes it difficult for girls to approach the sport. Or maybe it’s just tough to compete with other sports in a famous sports town, but for some reason, women’s hockey has had a hard time to root itself in Joensuu, in eastern Finland.

And yet, it is the town that has given the world several famous male players, from Hannu Kapanen and Lauri Mononen – both Finnish Hall of Famers – to Markku Kyllönen and Miro Aaltonen, and the local rink is a hub of activity every weekend.

Now, the Girls Hockey Weekend was no exception to that rule.

On Sunday morning, as the rink was getting ready for another busy day, among the first ones to hit the ice were nine small girls, getting a taste of hockey.

“Unfortunately, this is the fall break week for the school children here, and many who had wanted to be here were on vacation somewhere else, but I was really happy to see so many show up, and that they all could skate and had fun,” says Jenni Oinonen, who organized the event for Jokipojat.

The Joensuu native represented Finland in the U18 Women's World Championship in 2010 and 2011, and after a sting in Duluth, Minnesota as a high school coach, is now back in Joensuu, and plays for Jokipojat’s women’s team. A few years ago, Jokipojat had two girls’ teams and the women’s team, but for the time being, the women’s team, vying for a spot in the second division, is the only female team in town.

But even the women’s team made a comeback now, after a break.

“I truly wish we can get a girls’ team up and running again. With no girls’ team it’s tough to attract more, and if there aren’t women’s team, there aren’t any role models for the girls,” Oinonen says.

“Another concern is the fact that girls – and boys – don’t skate at school anymore, so their chances to try out skating are very limited,” she adds.

Oinonen, who’s attended the GHW in Joensuu previously, as the star attraction, was now the one pulling the strings, marketing the event at schools and making sure everything ran smoothly. She had also invited Eve Savander, also a Joensuu defenceman who’s played in the U18 women's national team, back to Joensuu from Kuortane where she now plays for the Finnish girls hockey powerhouse, Team Kuortane.

If half of the nine that came to the Mehtimäki rink this Sunday go on to the hockey schools, like they said, Oinonen will be more than pleased.

“We will have a girls’ team in Joensuu. And while money plays a big part even on the girls’ side, we’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible. A season with the team will cost a hundred euros, with one weekly practice on the ice, and another off it,” she says.

“Out women’s didn’t even have trainers, we’ve done everything ourselves. The club’s input to GHD was great, they paid for the ads and jerseys, but the women’s team is always looking for sponsors or events to work at to raise money,” says Oinonen.

Surprising as it may sound, it’s young women like Oinonen and Savander who are the driving force, and still pioneers, behind women’s hockey in Joensuu and elsewhere.

If it’s up to them – and it is – it will rise again.

RISTO PAKARINEN

Click here for the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend tracker with events from all over the world.

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