It’s not easy to carry on after losing your shot at a medal. But Finland showed mental toughness in its 2-1 win over Germany to open the classification round.
This round determines which teams will finish fifth through eighth. The Finns will take on the winner of the Russia-Japan game on Tuesday in the fifth-place game. Germany will face the other losing side that day for seventh-place.
Captain Jenni Hiirikoski and Michelle Karvinen scored for Finland, while IIHF Hall of Famer Riikka Valila had two assists.
Bettina Evers replied for Germany.
This game wasn’t where the Finns expected to find themselves today. They bowed out in the quarter-finals with a 4-2 loss to Sweden. It was the first time the Finns have been defeated by their archrivals in a major IIHF tournament since falling 1-0 at the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Winnipeg.
"For me, at least, it was the biggest disappointment in my hockey career," said Hiirikoski. "Yesterday, it felt like all the four years were wasted, down the toilet. But we had a good meeting with the team yesterday. We were supporting each other, speaking about how it’s always an honour to put this jersey on, and we still have two games. We have to do our best out there."
This will be Finland's worst Olympic finish ever in five tries. In Nagano 1998 and Vancouver 2010, they earned the bronze medal. They came fourth in Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006.
Germany's previous best was fifth place in 2006.
Poor penalty-killing has been the Finns’ Achilles heel in Sochi. They entered this game with a tournament-worst PK rate of 64.7 percent. They won this one despite surrendering their seventh goal of the Olympics with the man advantage.
Before meeting Germany, star Finnish goalie Noora Raty tweeted: “120 minutes left, better make them good ones. First 60 in few hours against Germany. #noregrets #hakkaapäälle.” The 24-year-old Espoo native, who announced she will retire from women’s hockey after these Games, lived up to her words, as she made 20 saves en route to her second tournament win.
"It was really hard to prepare for the game," said Raty. "Many girls were crying when we came to the locker room. It hurt to see our jerseys hanging there. But then we decided that we’ll show everyone that we never give up and we want to finish this tournament with two wins."
German netminder Jennifer Harss recorded 25 saves.
"I think we made a good game against Finland," said German captain Susann Gotz. "We had a lot of shots on goal. After that, I’m happy. I’m proud for the team. We were aggressive. We fought all the time. Now we’re looking forward to the next game against Russia or Japan."
At 1:15, just 10 seconds into Finland’s first power play, Hiirikoski smoked one from the center point that beat Harss under the crossbar. Hiirikoski, Finland’s top scorer on defence, has been named Best Defenceman at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship three times (2009, 2012, 2013).
At 8:32, the Finns went up 2-0 when Valila glided into the German zone and sent a nice back pass to Karvinen, who teed it up and scored high to the glove side.
Harss was busy in the second period, making great saves on Karvinen, Linda Valimaki, Venla Hovi, and five-time Olympian Karoliina Rantamaki.
Showing tenacity, the Germans cut the deficit to 2-1 at 8:59 of the middle frame on the power play when Evers grabbed the rebound from a big Gotz slapper and whacked it past Raty.
The teams showed their frustration with 3:22 left in the period as Finland’s Emma Nuutinen and Germany’s Monika Bittner wound up in a shoving match next to Harss’s net and both took roughing penalties.
In the third period, the Finns failed to extend their lead with a brief two-man advantage. Rantamaki's backhand attempt on a breakaway with just over two minutes remaining went wide.
The Germans called a timeout with 1:25 left and pulled Harss 20 seconds later. But there were to be no late heroics.
Hiirikoski said afterwards she still hoped to persuade Raty to stay on with the national team: "She’s our superstar, I think. It has been really an honour to play in front of her. I think she really is the best goalie in the world now. I really hope she’ll play a couple years more for the national team."
"I won’t say I’m going to be completely done, but at least for a few years, you won’t see me here," said Raty. "I’m going to try for a men’s pro league, most likely next fall. They won’t have women’s national team breaks when their season is going, so if I play on that team, there is no way I can play on the national team too."