Next level
by Risto Pakarinen|06 MAR 2019
Isa Rahunen celebrates after winning bronze at the last IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
There are many ways to measure the development of women’s hockey. The number of girls and women playing is up, the speed of the game is up, there are more teams than ever before, the media is paying more attention to domestic leagues, to name a few. 

Also, another sign of the women’s game moving forward is that leagues and national teams now have second-generation players, hockey players’ daughters. 

That is, players whose mothers have played hockey. 

In the Rahunen family, Dad Rauno was the coach and Mom Eija was on the ice so it’s no surprise that their two daughters also became hockey players. Isa, 25, plays for Karpat Oulu while Krista, 29, has spent the season with Vaasan Sport. 

“I do know other second-generation players like us, even though it’s still a bit special,” Isa Rahunen says with a laugh. 

Hockey was so much a part of the family’s life that Isa isn’t even sure if she ever made a conscious decision to play the sport. 

“With Mom playing, Dad coaching her team, and even Krista on a team, I guess I just had to follow them to the rink. The first photo of me on the ice is when I was two years old, even if I officially joined a team at five,” says the Kuopio native, whose first team was the local KalPa. 

Rahunen came up through KalPa’s junior ranks playing on a mixed team that, at best, included four girls, including Rahunen’s current Karpat teammate, goaltender Susanna Airaksinen. Once the players turned fifteen, only one girl was on the team. Isa Rahunen. 

“That seemed like a natural stage for me to join KalPa’s women’s team. I think I played just one game with boys in the under-15 Finnish league. I’ve always practised with boys even after that, though,” she says.

The 25-year-old defender is an experienced Finnish women’s national team player, having made her debut in 2010/11. She also won U18 Women’s World Championship bronze with Finland that same season. She’s also won two Finnish championships, a World Championship bronze and an Olympic bronze. 

On the national team, Rahunen has always been a steady defender but in the last two seasons, she’s found new offensive power in the Finnish league. 

In 2016/17, the 165-centimeter tall Rahunen was voted Finnish league MVP and Best Defender, in 2018 she defended her Best Defender award as she won the defenders’ scoring title. 

“My strengths have always been how I play in our zone and position myself on the ice. I try to steer the game and the opponents in a certain direction, but at the same time, I have focused more on the offensive side of the game, and it’s starting to show in the Finnish league.

“The difference in game tempo between our league and the international game is fairly big, though,” she says. 

So she still leans on her solid game in the defensive zone on the international stage. 

“I’ve never been a roadrunner,” she says, with a laugh. 

Ten years ago, the Rahunens drove from Kuopio to Hameenlinna for the Women’s Worlds when Finland hosted the tournament last time. 

“It was a fantastic experience to see all those great players from up close,” Isa Rahunen says. 

If everything goes according to Rahunen’s wishes, it’ll soon be her turn to take the World Championship ice in front of a home crowd and inspire next generation’s players – and to fight for a medal. However, she’s careful to note that she doesn’t take her spot on the team for granted. 

“It’s a privilege to get to fight for a roster spot. I’m trying not to think of my career too much ahead, and instead, try to move forward step by step. Now my focus is on the spring, I want to help Karpat first and then play my way onto the Worlds team and help my team in the tournament,” she says. 

For Finnish women’s hockey, the tournament couldn’t come at a better time. The Olympic bronze and the men’s World Junior Championship successes have woken up hockey fans. A successful home tournament would certainly help women’s hockey to gain new fans. 

“I don’t dare to expect sold-out arenas but I have a feeling that the Olympic bronze has helped us get more media attention. Naturally I hope that Finns get excited about the tournament.

“Few hockey fans would set up the alarm to get up and watch women’s hockey in the middle of the night for the first time but this is the perfect situation. I’m sure the tournament will be a great event. The home crowd can be a challenge but I’m certain the players will find playing in front of family and friends an important source of energy,” she says. 

One thing is for sure. The Rahunens will be in the stands. According to Isa, her parents watch all their daughters’ games, if not from the stands, then on the internet. 

“They support us and I know they will always help me. They’ve been the most important people in my career, they supported me through the difficult teenage years when I may not have had the energy to continue on my own,” she says. 

When her father is a coach and mother a former player, who would she call if she needed to discuss something about her game?

“My father surely makes more comments than my mother. If I had to ask for hockey advice, I’d probably turn to Dad.”