At the beginning of the tournament, Kaapo Kakko scored five of Finland’s first seven goals. After the final, however, “Morko” was the name on all the fans’ lips. After going goalless through the group stage, the Finnish captain scored four goals over the quarter-final, semi-final and final, adding to his name to the short list that includes Timo Jutila and Mikko Koivu as the only men to captain a Finnish World Championship gold-medal team.
“I don’t think I have to score if I’m a captain,” said Anttila, “but I have to show a good work ethic and be an example on the ice. I tried my best and hopefully that gave the other players energy.”
But he did all that and scored when it mattered. First it was the tying goal in the quarter-final against Sweden with 1:29 left in regulation time. If that goal doesn’t get scored, Finland’s championship run is over before it starts. Then it was the only goal of the semi-final win over Russia with 9:42 to play.
“He’s a good leader and a really nice guy to be around," said Finnish goaltender Kevin Lankinen, who himself is also a pretty popular man in Finland right now.
Against Canada in the final, with the team down 1-0 after one period, he tied the game on the power play early in the second period and scored the game-winner, again, early in the third. There was nothing fancy about either of the goals, just a quick release getting the shot on net and finding a hole.
After Anttila scored to make it 2-1 with 17:25 remaining in regulation time, Canadian television colour analyst Ray Ferraro turned to his right and to no one in particular mouthed, “Wow!”
Antilla is an imposing figure, towering over most players on the ice with his 203cm, 104kg frame (6’8”, 229 lbs). He’s never been a big scorer at the professional level, however. The most he ever scored in a Finnish Liiga season was 17 with TPS Turku in 2013/14. In the KHL, last season’s 11 with Jokerit Helsinki is the first time he hit double digits in that league. So where did this magic touch come from all of a sudden?
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “It’s hard to say but I haven’t won that much in my career and I really wanted to win. I knew we had a great chance to do it and I’m so happy we were able to do good things today and win the title.
“The last three games were very difficult. They were all such skilled and dangerous teams, so we didn’t have an easy shift in any of those three games but somehow we just believed and this is the result.”
After each of his goals in the final, the Finnish fans inside Ondrej Napela Arena began chanting his nickname “Morko!” which means “bogeyman” in Finnish.
“Yeah, I heard them,” Anttila admitted. “Of course, when you’re concentrating on the game you don’t pay so much attention to that, but it’s nice.”
After the game was over, Anttila was the obvious choice as Finland’s player of the game, and there were more cheers.
When it was suggested that goalie Lankinen might share that podium, Miika Koivisto quipped: “Yeah, but I think Morko’s a little bit more because he’s so tall that everybody can see him.”
“He’s a big boy,” said Canadian forward Jonathan Marchessault. “He played well, finished some good hits and got some big goals for his team. He was definitely one of the biggest factors for them.”
Said defenceman Shea Theodore: “He’s a good player, he’s got a good shot, he had a couple of nice goals.”
Anttila’s played his whole career in Europe so far, and at 33 years of age, that’s probably where he’ll stay. But it was suggested to him after the game that perhaps his size and style of play would be well-suited to North American rinks.
“Every boy dreams of playing in the NHL but I never got an offer to play over there,” said the Chicago Blackhawks’ ninth-round pick in 2004. “But I’ve had a good career in Europe.”
After a ton of post-game interviews in both Finnish and English, during which he carried around the World Championship trophy for most of the time, Anttila finally sighed and said: “It’s been a long trip for us. Most of the team has been together for eight weeks and now we’re world champions. It was an unbelievable journey.”
Unbelievable to a lot of people who never thought this team almost completely devoid of internationally recognizable names – except for 18-year-old Kakko – could get this far. Now a few more of those names, particularly Anttila’s, might get a bit more recognition.
“I think everybody had fun and it was easy to be in our locker room,” said Anttila. “We have different personalities and everybody accepted each other, which made it easier.”
On his team’s place in Finnish hockey history, Anttila said: “We have three titles now and each one of those is special. They were all good teams. We have a young team now, a little bit of a different story, but I hope the people in Finland enjoy this as much as we do.”
There’s not much doubt about that.