22 great Tampere moments
by Lucas Aykroyd|13 MAY 2022
Teppo Numminen is one of Tampere's great hockey legends.
photo: Jukka Rautio / Europhoto
It’s Tampere’s time to shine. For the first time since the IIHF instituted the playoff system in 1992, a Finnish city other than Helsinki will host the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal game (29 May), and that city is Tampere.

However, this 1779-founded city with a current metro population of 350,000 has been making hockey history for decades. From domestic club exploits to NHL records by Tampere players to Olympic and World Championship medals won by both men and women, Tampere has always had reasons to be proud. It’s a genuine Finnish hockey hotbed.

Let’s check out 22 great Tampere moments.

1) Ilves wins first Finnish championship (1936)

International sports fans remember 1936 as the year of Jesse Owens’ four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin. Hockey historians harken back to Great Britain’s stunning, historic gold medal victory at the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Yet if you’re a Tampere hockey fan who proudly sports a jersey with a lynx’s head, 1936 means the first title ever for Ilves in the SM-Sarja (a forerunner of today’s Liiga). The team was led by brothers Jussi and Risto Tiitola. They were forebears of Antti-Jussi Tiitola, the founder of the now-defunct Titan hockey stick company, whose sticks were used by Wayne Gretzky.

2) Tappara wins first Finnish championship (1959)

When you get a trophy named after you, you’re probably doing something right. At age 19, Kalevi Numminen had no idea that Liiga’s Coach of the Year award would one day bear his name. But the Tappara defenceman – later to become a two-time Olympian, the Finnish national team coach (1973-74, 1977-82), and the father of Teppo Numminen – was an important contributor as his club earned its first national title in 1959.

3) Tampere hosts IIHF World Championship for first time (1965)

Expectations were far lower for Finland when the IIHF World Championship came to this small Nordic country for the first time. Under co-coaches Joe Wirkkunen and Aarne Honkavaara, the Finns only secured points in a 2-2 tie with Sweden and a 4-1 win over Norway and settled for seventh place. 

Nonetheless, the key games attracted close to 10,000 enthusiastic fans. Led by all-stars like Konstantin Loktev and Alexander Ragulin, the Soviet Union handily won the gold medal with a 7-0 record and 51-13 goal difference, while Czechoslovakia took silver and Sweden bronze.

4) Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame debuts in Tampere (1979)

Finland’s answer to the Hockey Hall of Fame showcases such treasures as the original Kanada-malja trophy and the Aurora Borealis Cup, the championship trophies for top-level Finnish men’s and women’s hockey respectively. It’s inducted more than 260 members.

The Hall’s founders include long-time IIHF Vice-President Kalervo Kummola and former IIHF PR and Marketing Director Kimmo Leinonen. Today, it’s housed in the Vapriiki Museum Centre, a brick-walled, restored former factory overlooking the Tammerkoski rapids.

5) Leinonen sets NHL playoff assists record (1982)

Sorry, Mario Lemieux. Sorry, Peter Forsberg. It wasn’t a legendary NHL playmaker like these big names who became the first NHLer ever to register six assists in one playoff game. Instead, it was former Tappara centre Mikko Leinonen. The Tampere native was a 26-year-old NHL rookie when his New York Rangers topped the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 in Game Two of their first-round series on 8 April 1982.

Leinonen’s single-game record was equalled by (guess who?) Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers when the “Great One” had a goal and six assists in a 13-3 romp over the Los Angeles Kings on 9 April 1987. But no one has gotten seven assists – yet.

6) Tampere-born talents help Finland win first Olympic medal (1988)

Even a bronze medal would have been pretty nice, but for Finland to make history with an Olympic silver medal was truly sweet in Calgary. Tampere boys were a big part of that team.

For instance, the blueline featured a 19-year-old Teppo Numminen and a 21-year-old Jyrki Lumme, who become the highest and third-highest scoring Finnish NHL defencemen of all time. Numminen’s Tappara teammate Janne Ojanen also made his Olympic debut at age 19.

In the historic, tournament-closing 2-1 win over the Soviet Union, Erkki Lehtonen, Finland’s leading scorer with 10 points, got the winning goal. Goalie Jukka Tammi sealed the deal with his 31-save performance.

7) First time for Women’s Worlds in Tampere (1992)

Two years after the inaugural IIHF Women’s World Championship in Ottawa saw host Canada win gold in pink jerseys, the eight-team tournament made its European debut.

For the second straight time, Finland took the bronze medal. Tampere women’s hockey fans had reason to cheer when future IIHF Hall of Famer Riikka Nieminen (later Valila and Sallinen today) scored the penalty shootout winner in a 5-4 victory over archrival Sweden. The Canadians defended their title with an 8-0 romp over the Americans in the final.

8) Jutila captains Finland to historic Worlds gold (1995)

If you’re a Finn who loves to sing Nick Borgen’s “Den Glider In,” you can thank the 1995 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm. The bouncy, ABBA-esque tournament theme song was adopted by Finnish fans as they won their first world title ever – on Swedish ice, which made it that much more fun.

Tappara captain Timo Jutila, then the SM-Liiga’s top-scoring defenceman, also wore the “C” with the Lions. Current Finnish GM Jere Lehtinen, who played on Finland’s top line with Saku Koivu and Ville Peltonen, told IIHF.com in 2020 that he still relishes the memory of how Jutila brought young and veteran players together. Peltonen’s hat trick helped Finland beat Sweden 4-1 in the final.

9) Helminen plays record-setting sixth Olympics (2002)

In 1992 in Albertville, Germany’s Udo Kiessling became the first hockey player to appear in five Winter Olympics. However, while Norway’s Petter Thoresen (1994) and Germany’s Dieter Hegen (1998) matched that feat in subsequent years, nobody had ever played in six Olympics – until Raimo Helminen.

The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics saw “Raipe” suit up in four games, registering one assist as Finland came sixth. Only in 2014 did Teemu Selanne join the Ilves legend in the exclusive “six Olympics club.” (Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser also became a six-time Olympian that year, but that includes her participation in the 2000 Summer Olympic softball tournament.)

10) Numminen plays his 1,000th NHL game (2002)

Only eight Finns have ever played 1,000 NHL games. Wayne Gretzky’s legendary winger Jari Kurri got there first: he played his 1,000th NHL game for Los Angeles on 11 February 1995 at Toronto. The second one was Tampere’s own Teppo Numminen.

The Phoenix Coyotes captain reached the milestone on 3 March, 2002 in a 2-1 win over Columbus and told reporters it was a “dream come true.” He was just the 20th player ever to play 1,000 games with the same NHL franchise. Numminen’s wife Ann-Maarit organized a team party for him at a Scottsdale dinner club afterwards.

11) Nieminen, Numminen capture Olympic silver medal (2006)

Heading into the 2006 Olympic final in Turin, Finland was the cream of the competition, sporting a perfect record with a 27-5 goal difference. Unfortunately, the Finns played their best game in a 4-0 semi-final blanking of Russia. They fell short in the gold medal game as Sweden prevailed 3-2 on Nicklas Lidstrom’s early third-period goal.

Nonetheless, Tampere pride was on display as Teppo Numminen manned the blue line in his fourth and final Olympics, while Ville Nieminen of the Colorado Avalanche played his role as an energy forward for coach Erkka Westerlund.

12) Rajala establishes U18 points records (2009)

It didn’t make worldwide headlines when Ilves prospect Toni Rajala racked up seven points (3+4=7) on 13 April 2009 in a 10-1 crushing of Norway for a new single-game record at the U18 Worlds in Moorhead, Minnesota. Even after Rajala finished with a tournament-record 19 points in Finland’s bronze medal run, he was only drafted in the fourth round (101st) overall by the Edmonton Oilers that year.

Rajala’s single-tournament record was eclipsed two years later by Russia’s Nikita Kucherov (21 points), but only the U.S.’s Jack Hughes – who had seven points (4+3=7) in a 12-5 romp over Slovakia in 2019 – has matched his single-game record. That U18 remained the IIHF highlight for Rajala, the current captain of EHC Biel-Bienne, until he captured Worlds gold in 2019 and Olympic gold in 2022.

13) Ojanen becomes all-time leading Liiga scorer (2009)

When Arto Javanainen retired from pro hockey in 1995, the two-time champion with Assat Pori stood alone atop the all-time Finnish league scoring race with 792 points in 668 games. But Janne Ojanen overtook him on 28 November 2009.

In a 4-2 Tappara home win over Lukko, Ojanen fed Kim Stromberg for the 1-1 equalizer in the second period. It took Ojanen 865 games to register his 793rd point. He’d retire in 2010 with 799 points in 876 games. If anyone overtakes Ojanen, it’ll likely be perennial Tappara playoff hero Kristian Kuusela. The 39-year-old, who won Worlds gold in 2019, currently ranks second all-time 723 points in 1,054 Liiga games.

14) Kekalainen becomes first European NHL general manager (2013)

When Tampere native Jarmo Kekalainen made history on 13 February 2013 as the NHL’s first European GM, Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson had high praise: “Hockey is a truly global game and there are very few people whose knowledge of the game in North America and abroad surpasses that of Jarmo Kekalainen. He is intelligent, hard-working and a tremendous evaluator of talent. He is a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets family and will play an important role in our efforts to move our organization forward in the coming years.”

Colourful and intense, Kekalainen, who played 55 NHL games with Boston and Ottawa, recently completed his ninth seasons as Jackets GM. The club’s longest playoff run during his tenure saw them lose to Boston in six games in the second round in 2019.

15) Barkov becomes highest-drafted Tampere player ever (2013)

Aleksander Barkov sets the bar high. The boy in a man’s body set a new Liiga record for goals by an 18-year-old (21) with Tappara in 2013. It took until 2019 for TPS’s Kaapo Kakko to break that record (22). So it’s no wonder Barkov became the highest-drafted Tampere player ever when the Florida Panthers grabbed him with the second overall pick in 2013.

Only three other Finns have been drafted second overall, the high-water mark for their nations: Kari Lehtonen (2002, Atlanta Thrashers), Patrik Laine (2016, Winnipeg Jets), and Kakko (2019, New York Rangers).

16) Laine dominates at every level (2016)

If you want proof that money isn’t everything, just look at Patrik Laine’s last season in Europe before coming to the NHL. He’s never enjoyed more success.

At age 17, the Tampere native started the year on an extraordinary high with a World Junior gold medal on home ice in Helsinki, scoring a tournament-best seven goals on coach Jukka Jalonen’s top line with Sebastian Aho and Jesse Puljujarvi. With Tappara, Laine led all Liiga rookies in the regular season with 17 goals and 33 points. Laine took it to another level with a playoff-leading 10 goals as his hometown club defeated HIFK Helsinki in the final. As if that wasn’t enough, he was named the MVP of the 2016 World Championship in St. Petersburg and Moscow when he scored seven goals and 12 points in Finland’s silver medal run.

17) Hiirikoski dazzles with trophies in Finnish women’s league (2016)

Jenni Hiirikoski’s legend as one of the greatest defenders in IIHF women’s hockey history – if not the greatest – is firmly established. To give you just a small taste, the three-time Olympic bronze medalist is also a three-time Olympic all-star and seven-time Women’s Worlds Best Defender. And while she’s captained Lulea to four straight SDHL titles, the smooth-skating veteran born in the Tampere-area town of Lempaala also excelled in her final season in Finland’s Naisten Liiga.

Hiirikoski was named MVP in 2015/16, leading all skaters with 62 assists and 79 points. Unsurprisingly, she won the Paivi Halonen Award as the league’s best defender as she captained JYP Jyvaskyla to the championship.

18) Laine sets single-season Tampere NHL high in goals (2018)

When Patrik Laine entered the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016/17, his lethal shot had hockey observers hailing him as the second coming of Teemu Selanne or Alexander Ovechkin. At 24, he hasn’t quite achieved that potential, but in his sophomore NHL season in the Manitoba capital, he hit heights that no other Tampere-born forward has. With 44 goals, he finished second in the league to Ovechkin (49 goals). It remains the Tappara product’s career peak.

19) Tampere stars earn historic silver at Women’s Worlds (2019)

Petra Nieminen’s disallowed overtime goal against the Americans in the 2019 Women’s Worlds final in Espoo will remain one of the most controversial moments in women’s hockey history. However, Finland’s groundbreaking silver medal performance should be remembered as a stellar achievement in its own right.

Tampere natives like Nieminen, tournament MVP Jenni Hiirikoski, Linda Valimaki (now Leppanen), and Venla Hovi all played important roles in the memorable run, including the Finns’ first playoff win ever versus Canada, 4-2 in the semi-finals.

20) Barkov wins Lady Byng (2019)

Back when Jari Kurri became the first Finn to win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1985) with Edmonton, there was a certain stigma attached to it. Winners were often questioned in terms of being unwilling to engage in physical play or fisticuffs. Yet when Aleksander Barkov racked up a career-high 96 points with just 8 PIM and won the Lady Byng in 2018/19, there was across-the-boards admiration for the Florida Panthers captain. He’s often dubbed hockey’s most underrated superstar.

21) Tappara Tampere wins its 18th Finnish title (2022)

Despite the pressures of the global pandemic, Tappara is enjoying a new golden age with three Liiga titles in the last six years.

IIHF.com’s Risto Pakarinen summed up the latest triumph: “Even if anything is possible in the playoffs, Tappara Tampere’s Finnish title seemed an inevitability. The regular season champions beat TPS Turku in the final games and dropped only three games in the post-season en route to the team’s 18th Finnish championship, and the third since 2016. [Playoff MVP] Joona Luoto scored the championship winning goal after just 35 seconds in Game 5 and goaltender Christian Heljanko recorded a shutout leading to a 1-0 win.”

22) Tampere co-hosts 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (2022)

It’s time to turn up the heat in the city that’s famously home to more than 50 public saunas. Who will win the gold medal at the brand-new, 13,455-capacity Nokia Arena on 29 May? One thing is for sure: Finnish fans are expecting a better outcome than the last time the tournament was played in this city. 2003 infamously saw the host nation bow out in the quarter-finals after blowing a 5-1 lead against Sweden and losing 6-5 in Helsinki.

After winning gold at the 2019 Worlds, taking silver in 2021, and adding the first Olympic gold in Finnish hockey history in 2022, there’s reason for blue-and-white optimism. Yet regardless of which national team you support, we can all look forward to celebrating some epic hockey feats in Tampere.