“We’ve always lost the quarter-finals, but we should be able win now,” she said shortly before her team went out and stunned Sweden, 3-2, in overtime yesterday. “We’re a better team and have more confidence than ever to fight for a medal.”
Indeed, Finland will be playing this weekend, and will be playing for a medal. The colour of that medal is TBD on Saturday when Suomi battles the United States, the winner going to the gold-medal game, the loser fighting for bronze.
For Vesa, it’s been a fun journey, one that began more than a decade ago.
“I was six when I first started skating,” she recalled, “but I wanted to be a figure skater! I started to play ringette and my brother played hockey, so my dad tried to get me to play hockey as well. At first, I didn’t want to go, but then I went and after the first practice I said I wanted only to play hockey. I loved it.”
Nevertheless, she played for fun for years, not thinking anything more than her league and enjoying the pleasure of sliding around on skates. The dreams came later.
“I was old when I really took hockey seriously,” she admitted. “For a long time I just enjoyed it, but when I got to the U16 team, then I started thinking this is what I want to do and started to think of goals like the national team and Olympics.”
She was a strong skater, and what she lacked in size or physical strength she made up for in skills.
“At first I was on the U16 team, and one of the coaches asked me to join Team Kuortane, and now he’s the head coach there,” she recalled. “I thought it was the best decision I could make. Before, I was playing with boys. and I didn’t have such a big body, so it was difficult. In Kuortane the environment is suitable for me and has helped a lot.”
In 2017, Vesa made her debut with the U18 team shortly after her 16thbirthday. “My first U18 everything was new and I was very nervous, but now I can enjoy the game more and focus on the team and our goals,” she said. And this year is even more special because with 12 returning players, the team has skill and experience.
“It helps to have many players back,” she concurred. “We have more consistent lines as well. Every line can score and contribute.”
As she sees her U18 coming to an end this weekend, she looks forward more than back, looks to new challenges and some serious ambitions.
“I’d love to play for the top team,” she enthused. “That’s my goal, to play at the Olympics. I still have some things to learn, but maybe in a year or so I can improve enough to play for the team. I definitely want to get there as quickly as possible. I still need to improve my physique. My skating also has gone to a higher level this season, but I still want to improve that more. I want to work on stick-handling and shooting as well.”
Her to-do list is long, but her heart is big. And if she needs motivation, she can always check in to the senior worlds this April in Espoo, Finland, and watch one of her heroes play.
“From the women’s team, I love Susanna Tapani,” Vesa said. “I love her skating. I want to be like that kind of player, who skates fast and plays so well. I played against her one time when she played with Lukko in the national league, but I’ve never met her.”
Met her? One day soon they could be teammates!