Finland’s heavy metal WJC inspiration
by Lucas Aykroyd|13 FEB 2021
Before winning bronze, the 2021 Finnish World Junior team got pumped up with the music of Children of Bodom and their late frontman Alexi Laiho.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Bronze isn’t the kind of metal that Finland originally hoped to win at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. However, it’s always better to come home with something rather than nothing, and accordingly, coach Antti Pennanen used metal – of the musical kind – to motivate his players in Edmonton last month.

Coming off a heartbreaking 4-3 semi-final loss to the eventual champion Americans on 4 January, Pennanen was looking to fire up his disconsolate charges. That was no easy task, since the Finns have adopted a gold-or-bust mentality recently, winning the World Juniors in 2014, 2016 and 2019.

Pennanen, a first-time World Junior head coach who captured gold as an assistant at the 2019 Worlds in Slovakia, asked his staff to put together a tournament highlight reel to pump up the players. It was set to Children of Bodom’s “Are You Dead Yet?”

The selection of this hard-hitting 2005 melodic death metal classic was no mere whim. Metal fans worldwide were mourning the untimely 29 December passing of singer-guitarist Alexi Laiho, 41, who co-founded Children of Bodom. The band originated in 1993 in Espoo, the hometown of Finnish national team GM Jere Lehtinen and the site of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

Before facing coach Igor Larionov’s talented Russians in the third-place showdown at Rogers Place, Pennanen played the music video at Finland’s team meeting.

His message to everyone from captain Anton Lundell to goalie Kari Piiroinen was easy to summarize: “Alexi Laiho was one of the most talented and unique guitarists in rock history. Similarly, any chance to play in an IIHF medal game is also a unique opportunity. This team still has a chance to make history – let’s take advantage of it.”

The coach’s words, combined with the emotion around this Finnish musical icon, paid dividends. Lundell scored twice and Piiroinen made 28 saves as the Finns defeated Russia 4-1. It was Suomi’s first bronze medal since the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver.

Yet that wasn’t the end of the story. The remaining members of Children of Bodom learned about the tribute to Laiho from Pennanen’s post-game comments. They decided they wanted to acknowledge the Finnish World Junior team as well.

In late January, drummer Jaska Raatikainen and bass player Henkka Seppälä visited the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation headquarters in Helsinki. The musicians met up with Lehtinen, Pennanen, and Lundell there for a special presentation.
photo: Petteri Hietanen
Recently, Children of Bodom had created special blue, white, and black wool hats (or toques, as Canadians would say) and mittens to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their 2000 studio album Follow the Reaper. These, along with copies of the band’s photo-illustrated book Roadkill about life on tour, were given as a thank-you to the three aforementioned men, and mailed as thank-you gifts to the other World Junior bronze medalists.

This is a quintessentially Finnish story. Metal is ever-popular in this Nordic nation of 5.5 million. According to a widely publicized 2012 story, Finland ranked as the world’s “most metal country” with a whopping 53.5 metal bands per 100,000 people, with Sweden and Norway tied for second place with 27.2.

Lehtinen is famously into headbanging outfits like Slayer and Amorphis. His former Dallas and Olympic teammate, defenceman Janne Niinimaa, once spawned controversy by attending a Metallica concert in Philadelphia on a game day.

For years, Leijonat used Terasbetoni’s triumphant power-metal anthem “Taivas Lyo Tulta” as their goal song. And when you’re talking about bronze-medal years, it’s hard to forget 2006. The Finns blanked favoured Canada 5-0 at the Worlds in Riga the day after Lordi – wearing wild monster costumes – became Finland’s first Eurovision winners with “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” You could go on and on with these stories.

The U20 Finns are already looking forward to going for gold at the 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton, with as many as 11 players eligible to return. As for Laiho, his legacy will continue with the 23 April release of Paint the Sky With Blood (Napalm Records), a three-track EP recorded with a spinoff project entitled Bodom After Midnight.