Are you experienced?
by Lucas Aykroyd|06 JUN 2021
Jere Sallinen (#76, left) and Jussi Olkinuora (#45, right) are two of the eight returning Finnish players from the team that won the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
If Jukka Jalonen coaches Finland to the gold medal versus Canada in Riga on Sunday, the 58-year-old Finnish Hockey Hall of Famer will cement his status as his nation’s most successful bench boss ever. It would be his third gold medal after earning two titles in Bratislava (2011, 2019) – not to mention the 2016 World Junior triumph on home ice in Helsinki.

However, Jalonen is far from the only experienced member of Finland’s 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship entry. Without eight returning players from 2019, Suomi might not have earned points in every group stage game and edged the Czech Republic 1-0 in the quarter-finals and Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals. These guys know how to compete in and win big games under the bright lights.

“For Finnish hockey, it’s great because we’re in the top two again,” Jalonen said. “It shows we have lots of great players in our country.”

Here’s a quick sketch of each of those returning players.

Marko Anttila

The 203-cm, 104-kg right wing continues to cast a long shadow in his second stint as national team captain. Anttila, 36, hasn’t registered a goal in Riga, unlike in 2019, when he scored the late equalizer in the 5-4 quarter-final win over Sweden in overtime, the winner in the 1-0 semi-final upset of Russia, and two more goals, including the winner, in the 3-1 gold medal game win over Canada. However, the Jokerit veteran has three assists, including setting up Hannes Bjorninen’s go-ahead goal as Finland edged Germany 2-1 on Saturday.

Beyond this tournament, Anttila’s presence in Finnish pop culture isn’t limited to his “Morko” nickname, which references an ominous creature in Tove Jansson’s Moomin books for children. In January 2022, he’s slated to perform in an on-ice adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen at the new Tampere Deck Arena, the main venue for the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (co-hosted by Helsinki). Antilla’s co-stars will include Finnish women’s national team captain Jenni Hiirikoski, five-time Finnish figure skating champion Kiira Korpi (daughter of former national team coach Rauno Korpi), and former Leijonat stalwarts Niklas Hagman and Pekka Saravo.

Oliwer Kaski

Still just 25, Oliwer Kaski keeps on piling up the honours. The affable puck-moving defenceman, known for his big shot, set up Avangard Omsk’s Sergei Tolchinski for the 1-0 winner against CSKA Moscow in the sixth and deciding game of April’s Gagarin Cup final.

Kaski was named the 2018/19 Finnish regular-season MVP after leading all Liiga blueliners with 50 points for Lahti Pelicans. He started 2019/20 with the AHL’s Grand Rapid Griffins before Detroit traded his rights to Carolina and he finished the campaign with the Charlotte Checkers.

At these Worlds, Kaski has matched the two assists he registered in Bratislava two years ago, including one on Iiro Pakarinen’s opening goal in Saturday’s win over Germany. 

Miikka Koivisto

You won’t confuse him with the late Finnish president Mauno Koivisto, but Miikka Koivisto has certainly distinguished himself on the international stage. Koivisto anchored the blue line of Karpat Oulu in their last championship run in 2017/18, leading all Liiga D-men with 39 points that season. In his lone season with Dynamo Moscow in 2018/19, the Vaasa native was selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game, although he was unable to take part. And this year, Koivisto, 30, earned his first SHL title with Vaxjo Lakers. He’s chipped in a pair of assists at this tournament.

Petteri Lindbohm

Lindbohm, who played 40 games with the St. Louis Blues between 2014/15 and 2016/17, is poised to suit up for Jokerit in 2021/22. The strapping 27-year-old defenceman spent the last three seasons with Lausanne HC and EHC Biel in Switzerland. Winning a second gold medal would be a testament to Lindbohm’s persistence. Lindbohm’s NHL career was hampered by season-ending shoulder surgery in 2017-18.

Jussi Olkinuora

Named Juho at birth in Helsinki in 1990, Olkinuora informed his parents at age 5 that he no longer wished to be called Juho. So he’s been Jussi ever since.

After backing up Kevin Lankinen at the 2019 Worlds, where he posted 12 saves in a 5-0 shutout versus Great Britain, Olkinuora is truly making a name for himself in Riga. The 30-year-old Metallurg Magnitogorsk goalie leads all starters with a 1.15 GAA and 95.2 save percentage in six games. His mask is a replica of the one worn by Jarmo Myllys, who helped Finland win its first world title in 1995 in Stockholm.

Atte Ohtamaa

Atte Ohtamaa is never afraid to sacrifice his body for the team, whether it’s blocking a big shot or (controversially) clipping himself with his own stick in the dying stages of Saturday’s win over Germany. Notably, the hard-rock 33-year-old defenceman has now made the final in four of his six Worlds appearances, including silver medals in 2014 and 2016.

Ohtamaa, who wore the “C” with Karpat Oulu in 2018/19, will return to his original club next year after spending the last two seasons with HC Lugano, Barys Nur-Sultan, and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

Niko Ojamaki

Drawing an assist on Marko Antilla’s 1-1 power-play equalizer against Canada in the 2019 final was an individual highlight for Niko Ojamaki, who totalled a goal and three assists in Slovakia. The 25-year-old Pori-born forward, who came up through the Assat system before jumping to Tappara, is testing his fortunes abroad nowadays. After one season with the SHL’s Linkoping HC, he’s moving to Vityaz Podolsk next year.

So far in Riga, Ojamaki sits at two assists, providing energy on the top line with leading scorer Anton Lundell and Arttu Ruotsalainen. Interestingly, Ojamaki’s average ice time per game of 16:38 is tops among the eight returning players, reflecting how evenly Jalonen likes to spread out the minutes.

Jere Sallinen

Jere Sallinen’s willingness to focus on his defensive responsibilities on a line with Mikael Ruohomaa and Teemu Turunen speaks to the identity Jalonen has built for this team in Riga. The HIFK Helsinki captain has one assist thus far.

The big 32-year-old forward, who also earned a silver medal in Minsk in 2014, said that Finland’s confidence heading into the gold medal game is based more on current events than fond Bratislava memories: “This is a different tournament. We’ve played once against Canada already and we won, so I think that gives us more confidence than [winning in] 2019.”