Hiirikoski honoured
by Andrew Podnieks|31 AUG 2022
Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski with IIHF Council Member and IIHF Women's Committee Chairperson Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Yesterday was like any other day at the office for 35-year-old Finnish defender Jenni Hiirikoski. She led her team to a convincing 4-0 win over Switzerland and a third-place finish in Group A. She logged a team high 25:47 of ice time and had eight of the team’s 44 shots. It was also her 79th Women’s Worlds game, a record she improves on every time she steps on the ice. All typical numbers from the best defender in the game. 

But before puck drop, the IIHF honoured Suomi’s long-time captain for playing in her record 14th IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. She received a plaque and commemorative sweater with the number 14 on it.

“It was really nice. I don’t know what else to say. It was just very nice,” the humble and humbled Hiirikoski said after the game.
She has played every game of every IIHF tournament since 2004, excepting the 2006 Olympics which she missed because of injury. In addition to her 14 WW’s she has played in four Olympics and won every medal Finland has won during that time – a silver and seven bronze medals in Women’s Worlds play and two bronze at the Games. 

Hiirikoski has been team captain since 2012 and has also been named Best Defender by the directorate on nine occasions and named to the All-Star Team six times, both honours more than any other player. She is a surefire Hall of Famer when she retires, but she’s not ready to slip away into the sunset just yet. 

She has also gone from being a teenager who looked up to veteran players to being a legend whom others on the current team look up to. In her early years, this was an important part of her development.

“I need to say that there have been really many, good leaders, great teammates throughout the years but I must say Emma Laaksonen [now Terho] was special for me. I played with her on the same team for many years, and she has always been someone who has helped me. But it's really hard to say. There have been so many around me for many, many years.”
And today? Hiirikoski won’t say, exactly. She’s not big on naming names and being in the spotlight or putting others there. “We have a young and talented team. I hope I can be part of their journey and help them their careers.”

Over the years, Hiirikoski has played many important games and stared down the best of the best, and a few stand out for memorable battles.

“I think it has always been really fun to play against the North Americans,” she continued. “They have so many good players, and they're all so skilled, good skaters. There have been a lot who make it tough to play against them, but there has been Jayna Hefford, Hayley Wickenheiser, Hilary Knight, Coyne, Decker, Poulin, so many good players. You need to be focused on those situations when you see them out there.”

Although she still has that fire and desire to continue playing, Hiirikoski used yesterday’s ceremony to wax nostalgic about a career highlight as well. “I think my first Worlds, obviously, was a highlight, to see what it means to win a medal for your country. I was young, but you see what it means for the girls and the country. That was a great moment, and great motivation. But, of course, our home Worlds in 2019. It was so awesome to play in our home country with all the fans behind us. It was an honour to play a World Championship final in Espoo. That was a huge moment.”

As consistently as she has been on the blue line for the past 18 years, she has just as consistently been wearing the number 6, which has special meaning for her. “When I was coming into my first Worlds,” Hiirikoski explained, “I got the number 6 from an old player and she gave it to me and told me to take care of it. Since then, I have worn it. Her name was Anna Aaltomaa.”

And so Hiirikoski will enjoy today’s off day and prepare for her 14th final round tomorrow, against Czechia. She will be playing in her new-record 80th game and gunning for her ninth World Women’s medal. Fans will continue to admire her powerful but effortless skating, and she will keep doing what she does best. And in due course, there will be another ceremony to honour another aspect of her great career. That's just how it goes when you're a legend who keeps on playing at the highest level.