“It was a goal,” Filppula said after the game about finishing first. “I think every game you want to go in playing well and that was the main focus, so we can be happy about the result.”
Three months ago, Filppula captained Finland to an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, China. Now, he’s one of several returning players looking to do it all again, this time on home ice.
It’s been an interesting season for Filppula. For the first time since 2004/05, he played in Europe. In 50 regular-season and playoff games for Geneve-Servette in Switzerland’s National League, he recorded 19 goals and 48 points.
“I really enjoyed Geneva,” said Filppula. “I thought the Swiss league was really good, which wasn’t really a surprise. I’d heard some good things about it before, but I had a good time playing there and the goal is to go back there and play there at least one more year, and then we’ll see again what happens.”
Although he didn’t know it at the time, choosing to play in Europe meant the opportunity to participate in the Winter Olympics. Filppula previously won a bronze medal in 2010 in Vancouver. This year, he immortalized himself as the captain of Finland’s first Olympic championship ice hockey team.
“For sure that was definitely the highlight of the season,” Filppula said humbly. “A big difference is that there were more games here in the group stage than there were in the entire Olympic tournament. With fewer games at the Olympics, every game was even more important.”
“It was a long time ago,” he smiled. “My second full year of playing in the NHL and I have nothing but good memories from that Red Wings team.
“It’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve won in hockey and obviously the Olympics is an other huge thing. It’s just a little different when it’s a tournament whereas the Stanley Cup is something you play for the whole year.”
While 2008 was Filppula’s only Stanley Cup, he had plenty of team success in the NHL. Over 16 seasons with the Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, he played in three Stanley Cup Finals and advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs nine times.
As a result, he has not been frequently available in May to play in the World Championships. So while Finland has twice won the World Championship during Filppula’s career, the third jewel required for membership in the Triple Gold Club is missing.
As hard as it maybe to believe, this is only the 38-year-old’s third World Championship. In addition to 2012 – a tournament that was shared between Helsinki and Stockholm – he also played in 2017. In both, the Finns finished fourth. If one didn’t know better, they might think he didn’t care much about representing his homeland, but that isn’t the case at all.
“It’s a pretty easy decision when I don’t have any injuries,” said Filppula. “I’m always interested in playing for the national team when I have the opportunity to go.”
The group stage is over and the World Championship is now into the quarter-finals. Finland will face Slovakia, which Filppula and the rest beat twice during the Olympics – once in the group stage and once in the semi-finals.
“I think we feel pretty good about ourselves, but it’s always tough when it’s just one game and either you win and keep playing or you’re out, so hopefully, we keep getting better and we have a couple of games left.”
With a Stanley Cup ring and Olympic gold medal already in his trophy case, Filppula has a rare opportunity on home ice in Tampere. He can become the 30th member – and the first from Finland – to be a member of the Triple Gold Club.
“I’ve heard about that, yeah,” he said, “but I think the bigger thing would be to just win this tournament with the guys.
“At the end of the day, it would be great to have all three but that’s definitely not the main focus. The focus is doing as well as we can with this group and that would be reward enough, I think.”