Keinonen one of Finland’s greatest
by Andrew Podnieks|29 NOV 2021
Matti Keinonen with René Fasel at the IIHF Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2002.
photo: City-Press
Matti “Molli” Keinonen, one of Finland’s greatest hockey players from the 1960s and early ‘70s, died Saturday, 27 November, in Uusikaupunki, Finland, after a battle with lymph-node cancer. He was 80 years old, and died peacefully, surrounded by family. He had also been battling Alzheimer’s. 

Keinonen played in two Olympic Winter Games (1968, 1972) and nine World Championships between 1962 and 1973 and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2002. He was also inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 as Lion #50, and his number 7 was retired by his club team Lukko Rauma, for whom he won the league championship in 1963. Four years later, he won another Finnish title, with RU-38.

One of the reasons Keinonen was so popular was because he often played his best against the nation’s greatest rivals, Sweden. Indeed, he was nicknamed “Swedish killer” by Finnish media, but he was also known for his friendly demeanour, love of the game, and charismatic personality, both on and off the ice.

Born in Tampere, Keinonen first played for his country at the 1962 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Colorado Springs, USA, but he rose to prominence a year later when the tournament was played in Stockholm. He scored four goals in an 11-3 win over the United States and also scored against both Canada and the Soviets, leading the team with six goals and nine points. 

At the 1965 Worlds, he scored only two goals, but both came in a 2-2 tie against the Swedes, only the second time ever the Finns had managed as much as a tie against their bitter rivals. In 1969, he scored three goals, all against the top nations – Sweden, Canada, Czechoslovakia. 

Keinonen scored the opening goal against Canada at the 1968 Olympics in a 5-2 win, Suomi’s first ever win against the superpower. Later, he scored the winning goal against East Germany. Four years later, in Sapporo, he scored the tying goal in a 4-3 win over Sweden, the first time Tre Kronor had lost at the Olympics to Finland. 

Although Keinonen was known for his Finnish league play with Lukko Rauma, starting in 1960, he also skated for RU-38, HJK, TPS, and Jokerit. He wasn’t the biggest player or the fastest, but he was an inspiration and leader who brought a professional approach to every game he played. After retiring as a player in 1978, he turned to coaching, standing behind the bench of several teams in the SM-Liiga for a decade.