HELSINKI – It had been 70 years since hockey was played in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, and never had two club teams played hockey there, but on Saturday night, the 1952 Summer Olympics venue turned into the most fantastic hockey venue in Finland. Ever.
It was time for Finland’s own Talviklassikko (Finnish for Winter Classic), a Helsinki derby between HIFK and Jokerit. Mikael Granlund scored two, and Ville Peltonen collected three points as HIFK beat Jokerit 4-3, in front of 36,644 spectators, a new Nordic record, and a new European record for club hockey.
“I think we can turn this into an annual tradition,” said Jokerit GM Jarmo Kekäläinen.
“Jokerit and HIFK can fill the Olympic Stadium, like we’ve seen now. The fact is that any other two SM-liiga clubs would have trouble playing here, and sell out the stadium. I think we can return here every year,” he added.
Granlund scored his first of the game just 23 seconds in, setting the tone for the game.
“It’s been a fantastic, unique night. I’ll never forget this,” he said.
“Our fans were unbelievable, and we saw the red sea on the other side of the Olympic Stadium. There’s nothing better than to play in front of such great fans,” he added.
If the Finnish Winter Classic does become an annual event, next year’s game will be hosted by HIFK.
“We’re prepared to do that, we’ve blocked certain dates. I believe Helsinki can support an event like this every year,” said HIFK CEO Jukka Valtanen.
“But first we’ll have to see how we did this year financially. In the end, the public decides if this is something they’d like to see,” he added.
In the 1941 game between Finland and Sweden, only 1,182 spectators witnessed the Swedish 11-0 rout.