By Martin Merk – IIHF.com
The Finnish women’s national team cemented its position as top European team when Finland hosted the first tournament of the Euro Hockey Tour in Vierumaki, Kerava and Mikkeli. All games ended with happy faces for the host nation.
“Overall, this was a good week for us,” captain Jenni Hiirikoski told leijonat.fi. “There were many games, there were new girls involved and every game turned out to be a win. It’s tough to achieve.”
The key win came on the last day against its closest follower Russia. Despite being outshot 28-18, Finland won 4-2 with two goals from Petra Nieminen. With five goals and two assists Nieminen was the scoring leader of the tournament. Defender Hiirikoski also had seven points.
“Both of our goaltenders played a really good week,” Hiirikoski said and also praised the fruitful power play. Meeri Raisanen had a 97.4% save percentage, her teammate Eveliina Suonpaa was third with 92.0%, with Japan’s Nana Fujimoto (94.9%) in between.
For Finland it was the first tournament on home ice since the successful hosting of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship where the lionesses came to historic heights with a silver-medal finish. It’s also a season that will see new players making their Women’s Worlds debut at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro, Canada, since Venla Hovi, Riikka Sallinen and Linda Valimaki ended their careers.
Defenders Sini Karjalainen (20), Aino Karppinen (21), Sanni Rantala (17); and forwards Ida Kuoppala (19), Julia Liikala (18), Matilda Nilsson (22), Jenniina Nylund (20) and Emilia Vesa (18) were the eight rookies on the 24-player roster who have never played for the senior team at the Women’s Worlds or Olympics before.
Head coach Pasi Mustonen praised the young team while not hiding that there’s still work ahead as they are just at the beginning of their journey. This was shown in the tight game with Russia.
“We have young players who only know one direction – offence. It is understandable that they are not fully able to read the game yet. 5-on-5 Russia was clearly better than us. We won the game because [our goaltender] Eveliina Suonpaa kept us in the game and our power play, which has been excellent all week, was once again effective,” Mustonen said after the last game.
The tournament needed some reshuffling after Sweden cancelled its participation due to disagreements between the federation and the players about compensations and other issues that are now being discussed. Good news was announced on Friday with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association and the (men’s) Swedish Hockey League to invest SEK 400,000 (€43,000) a year for the compensation for loss of earnings when players join the national team camps with additional money for the development of elite women’s ice hockey coming from the association.
The tournament continued with host Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia as European teams as well as Japan with each team having four games counting to the standings. Finland played against its Russian neighbors twice and had earlier won the first game 3-0 while also beating the Czech Republic (9-2) and Japan (3-1).
Russia finished the tournament in second place. While they couldn’t overcome Finland, they beat both Japan (2-0) and the Czech Republic (6-1) in the other games.
Japan was third with its only two victories against winless Czech Republic, 2-0 and 6-3. Hanae Kubo became the best non-Finnish scorer of the tournament with two goals and two assists.
The Czechs finished the tournament in last place without points and a 6-23 goal record. It was an under performing week for them after the 6th-place finish at the recent Women’s Worlds where the Czechs had beaten Japan 3-1.
Finland’s Meeri Raisanen and Jenni Hiirikoski won the individual awards as best goaltender and defender respectively, Russia’s Olga Sosina was voted best forward.
The next tournaments will happen during the November international break where Sweden is scheduled to host Canada, Finland and the United States for a Four Nations Tournament in Lulea, 5-9 November. The same week Russia will host the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland in Dmitrov in the Moscow Region.