Michelle Karvinen’s hockey journey has taken her from her birthplace in Denmark to Finland, to the United States, and most recently to Sweden, where she’s played with the SDHL’s Luleå HF since 2015. The two-time Olympic bronze medalist sat down with The Ice Garden in Luleå on March 7 after scoring the game-winning shootout goal.
How was this year’s Olympic team different than the 2010 bronze medal team?
Well, I think for me personally, I was one of the youngest ones on the first team. Sweden [was] actually better during that time, if you look over the whole season. So for us winning the bronze there, coming in as like, a bit of the underdogs, was huge.
I think this year we wanted to challenge the US and Canada. We didn’t manage it but we’re not giving up, for sure. We’ll keep working on it and one day we’ll get there. Obviously winning the bronze...it was amazing, but I think it was also huge for us because we played a good tournament and we proved a lot, even for the future. But, winning an Olympic medal, whether it’s 2010 or 2018, is equally amazing.
Are you planning on going for 2022?
Well, you never know. I’ll take it one year at a time; I’m not thinking of quitting at all, but you always have to put down time and effort and everything needs to work with the rest of life, so. But, I hope so.
What do you do off the ice? Do you have a job here in Luleå?
Well, this year I was just playing hockey full-time, but the previous two years I worked as a graphic designer.
Yeah, I work for a communication firm here in town.
Is that what you studied in North Dakota?
Yeah, I have a Bachelors degree in graphic design and communications.
Awesome. Now, you’ve got Jenni Hiirikoski as your captain both here and in Finland. How is it the same, and how is it different?
Well, Jenni, she’s a good leader, and being a good example, but also talking and...but, I think here in the club team you have the benefit of having her here the whole time and she’s obviously kind of like a beast off the ice. I think it’s not really any surprise to anyone.
Luleå HF & Team Finland captain Jenni Hiirikoski
I can learn from her a lot from off the ice and I’ve been able to train with her. It’s been a good experience for me and helped me a lot. I think that’s maybe the biggest difference, you have a longer span of time to learn from her. Yeah, it’s been awesome, because we always talked about we wanted to play together.
That’s great. And because you grew up in Denmark, you never got to play together growing up or anything.
No, never. But we always talked during national teams, that it would be nice to be able to play in the club team together.
Were you part of her decision to come to Luleå?
Yeah, I think definitely. I was at least trying to influence her to come here. [laughs] But obviously she asked me a lot for advice and stuff like that; she wanted to find a good place to prepare for the Olympics and I said, ‘you don’t find a better place in Sweden than Luleå.’ And she was ready to change it up a little bit, and she was a little tired of the Finnish league I think, and wanted to go somewhere where they took women’s hockey seriously.
I’ve only been in Luleå for the day, but that’s one of the things that’s impressed me most about this club, is seeing how dedicated they are to you guys as opposed to just the men. It’s incredible to watch, because in the US you don’t get this level of commitment yet.
Yeah, I think that’s what already impressed me before coming here. I was talking to Fredrik [Glader, Luleå head coach], and he was talking already then, you know, what they want to do in the future, and nobody does that. They just want you to come play, you know, and it was a big factor for why I wanted to come here.
Because I wanted to change it up and do something for women’s hockey, and they’ve been over my expectations every single year. They just keep pushing forward and have really done a lot, not just for Luleå hockey but for all of Sweden in the women’s league. There’s more and more clubs going after, and I think they’re even putting pressure on the Finnish league to do the same, so. It’s awesome to be here and represent Luleå, who is number one when it comes to pushing the limits.
Speaking of the Finnish league, what do you think they need to do to get the men’s club sides more involved with the women’s teams?
It’s tough to say just one thing. I think the easiest way is to have [women’s] clubs where [the men] have teams in the highest league. That’s kind of how it works the best here in Sweden. It’s those teams that have it easiest, who have a men’s team in the highest league. So I think getting them more involved, to help them on the way, because it’s hard if you don’t get the help.
But, I think as Luleå also said, the first couple of years have been not beneficial for them financially. That’s what they want in the future and they’re already now starting to turn around and actually it’s a benefit for the club and the whole when we’re contributing to the income. And that’s where you want to go, but you need somebody to help you. You need somebody to believe in women’s hockey.
You’ve got to get that buy-in.
Yeah, but I also think media has a big factor, but I know a lot’s happening during the Olympics, the team got a lot of exposure. Good exposure. I think the whole image of women’s hockey just needs to change, but it needs to come through the media. I’m pretty hopeful after this Olympics, it’s been really good for the Finnish hockey.
You mentioned changing the image of women’s hockey. What, in your mind, would that image need to be?
That we are equal to the men. We put down the same time and effort, and we need to be treated the same way. It’s that simple.
There’s the differences biologically, there will always be, but I think there’s a charm to each, the men’s and the women’s. Because we don’t have the same physicality...we do play physical, but there’s still a lot of difference. There’s a charm to each side, if you could say it like that. Women’s hockey is very technical, and I think it has its own charm.
What makes this year’s Luleå team so special?
We know we have a group here who really...well, the charm in women’s hockey is we’re all here because we love hockey. None of us are going to go away from here as millionaires, so the motivation is hockey. Because we love hockey, we think it’s fun.
But, I think here we have a group who really have hockey in their heart. They really want to try to get better and push the limit. Not only doing the work on the ice but also off the ice. I think that’s what the character side is. We have a good group who wants to do the work, and I think that’s what makes us special.