Finland back in semi-finals
by Derek O'Brien|12 FEB 2022
Finland's Petra Nieminen (#16) celebrates one of her five points with her teammates. 
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

The Finnish women’s national team has gotten progressively stronger throughout these Winter Olympics, and following a 7-1 win over Japan, has advanced to the semi-finals of the 2022 Winter Olympics, where it will have a rematch with the USA. It is the sixth time in seven women’s Olympic tournaments that Finland will finish in the top four.

Petra Nieminen led the offence for Finland with three goals and two assists, while Michelle Karvinen, Susana Tappani and Nelli Laitinen had three points each. Finland outshot Japan 49-25.

“I think it was a pretty solid game from us,” said Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski. “It was really good to see happy faces on the ice today and I would also like to give congrats to Team Japan. They played a really awesome tournament. They work hard.”

After the game, Hiirikoski exchanged words and an embrace with Japanese captain Chiho Osawa, as the two were teammates in Lulea, Sweden for many years.

“They are really good, they know how to win and in any battles they are very strong,” Osawa said about the Finns. “We are so proud of our team and, of course, we wanted to play more games but we were able to show our Japanese hockey.”

Japan finishes the tournament in sixth place, which equals their best Olympic finishes from 1998 in Nagano – a tournament that only featured six teams and Japan qualified as host – and 2018 in PyeongChang. It also equals their best World Championship finish from last August in Calgary.

“Our goal is to keep going up, get better and better, and every Olympics we’ve been to, we’ve been able to have a better ranking, so that’s a step forward,” said Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada. “We want to keep building off every year. Our goal is to keep going up, get better and better, and every Olympics we’ve been to, we’ve been able to have a better ranking, so that’s a step forward. We want to keep building off every year.”

The Finns got off to a slow start this tournament with losses to the USA, Canada and Switzerland by scores of 5-2, 11-1 and 3-2. Although losses in the first two games were not surprising, the fact that the silver medallists from the 2019 IIHF World Championship were so overmatched by the North American powerhouses was concerning. However, after three straight losses, they finished their Group A schedule with a solid 5-0 win over the ROC.

“What happened at the beginning of the tournament – Pasi (head coach Mustonen) went home, unfortunately – I think that would shock every team, and we played the US and Canada,” said Juuso Toivola, who stepped in to take the coaching reigns. “But this is a really strong team,.I don’t know what will happen but I’m looking forward, I can’t wait.”

Japan won Group B – the only blip on its record being a shootout loss to host China – and finished up strong with a shootout win over Czechia. The Japanese disciplined and relentless style was impressive enough that, coupled with the uncertainty of what to expect from Finland, led many to speculate that an upset could be a strong possibility.

But it didn’t take the Finns long before that started to look unlikely. They dominated right from the opening faceoff, got the game’s first power play in the first minute and used it to open the scoring at 2:08 on Nieminen’s one-time blast from the point with Susanna Tapani providing a screen in front.

“We normally have a really good power play and now it’s going again how we want,” said Nieminen. “I put the puck on the place where I wanted and Tapani was so good in front of the net, so it was an easy goal for us.”

Just over two minutes later it was 2-0. Right off an attacking-zone faceoff win, Laitinen’s wrister from the point was tipped in front by Viivi Vainikka and dipped on Nana Fujimoto.

“It was our plan to come really hard out and I think we did a pretty good job in the first 10 minutes,” said Hiirikoski.

“That’s not how you want to start a game, obviously. They got the power play and they capitalized,” said Hosoyamada. “We definitely tried our best. We were just going to put everything out there and hope for the best but the end result obviously wasn’t what we wanted.”

The Japanese gained a bit of momentum back from a pair of power plays and got their first solid scoring chance in the 13th minute when Haruna Yoneyama got the puck all alone in the slot but hit goaltender Anni Keisala in the chest. They finally scored with five minutes to go off the rush when Akane Shiga, carrying the puck down the right wing, showed pass but then sent a deceptive shot on net that slid along the ice between Keisala’s pads.

“There was a moment when Japan was getting closer but thanks to the players, they took it back. They played really well,” said Toivola. “I was really nervous before the game but it went really well. Our players were awesome.”

The Finns weren’t about to let this one slip away. They thought they had restored their three-goal lead three minutes into the second period when Elisa Holopainen followed up a rush and whacked the puck over the goal line, but the referee ruled that Fujimoto had previously covered the puck to earn a stoppage. Undeterred, they scored two minutes later when Karvinen banged home a loose puck at the side of the net. And then it was 4-1 at 28:29 when Nieminen fired a perfect wrister from the left wing over the near-side shoulder of Fujimoto.

Nieminen completed her hat trick just 18 seconds into the third period, this time coming from the right wing but again firing a perfect shot high to the blocker side.

With the victory secured, the Finns got further goals by Tapani and Sanni Hakala. After the seventh goal, Fujimoto was relieved in the Japanese net – although the loss is anything but an indictment of her – and Akane Konishi mopped up the last 7:31.

“Now we can go and beat the US in the semi-finals,” Nieminen confidently stated. “The first game was really bad from us, but I think we’re now playing the way we want. We need to play as a team and skate hard be sure of our passes.”

“I think we need to focus on our own game, play tight in our defence and when we have the puck, we need to make good decisions,” said Hiirikoski. “It will be a really big challenge for us.”

Finland vs Japan (QF) - 2022 Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Tournament