2019 Worlds Recap: Finland
The Naisleijonat’s future is bright
Finland earned silver after a shootout loss to the United States in a controversial and hotly-contested final game.
Finland finished the tournament with a 4-3-0 record.
Team Finland prize money increased for World Championship performance
The Naisleijonat came into the tournament not only with home ice advantage, but also with their confidence at an all-time high.
They opened the tournament’s group stages with a 6-2 loss to the United States. The Finns led 2-1 after two periods and a solid 40 minutes. Team USA woke up, made coffee, and went to work in the third as five different players scored five unanswered goals.
They rebounded with two handy dispatches of Russia and Switzerland with four-goal margins each time. Veteran goaltender Noora Räty blanked Russia in the 4-0 victory for her sixth career World Championship shutout. Up front the youth showed their merit; the oldest Finnish goalscorer in that game, Sanni Hakala, is 21 years old.
Eveliina Suonpää, 24, took her first World Championship victory with 15 saves on 17 shots against the Swiss.
On the scoresheet Finland saw contribution from all over the ice in the 6-2 win. Forwards Michelle Karvinen (2), Susanna Tapani (1) and Linda Välimäki (1) proved why they’re some of Finland’s deadliest and most consistent scorers, while Rosa Lindstedt (1) and Minttu Tuominen (1) chipped in from the blue line.
A day after the Switzerland victory, the Naisleijonat fell 6-1 to Canada. Räty was pulled for Suonpää after three goals, but the wound remained open and Canada drew blood three more times. Finland rebounded two days later, defeating the Czech Republic 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals pitted Finland against Canada once again. With special teams shining and the Espoo crowd firmly behind them, the Naisleijonat took a historic 4-2 victory and punched their ticket to the gold medal game.
History Made: Finland defeats Canada, will play for gold medal
The final’s outcome against Team USA is well-known by now. The 2-1 shootout loss has been discussed, debated, and derided, going down as one of the great “WERE THEY ROBBED?!” sporting events in history.
At this point the IIHF might as well just rename Best Defender to the Jenni Hiirikoski Award. To the shock of absolutely no one, she earned Best Defender honors for the seventh time. In addition to Best Defender and Tournament MVP, Hiirikoski was also named to the Women’s Worlds All-Star team.
The Naisleijonat captain’s two goals and eight assists led all tournament defenders in scoring and tied Canadian forward Natalie Spooner with ten points. She finished third overall in scoring, behind Spooner and Team USA’s Hilary Knight.
At just 17 years old, Vainikka is the youngest player to finish in the Naisleijonat’s top-five scoring. She put on an impressive display in her first senior tournament with one goal and three assists.
Regardless of one’s opinion about the gold medal outcome, one fact is indisputable: Noora Räty played a legendary game. She made 50 saves in front of a packed hometown crowd, stopping barrage after barrage to give Finland their chance to win it all.
I focused on the youth as a storyline when previewing the team, and now, after the tournament, I say with confidence that the Naisleijonat’s future is bright. The historic U18 bronze medal this past January - Finland’s first medal in that competition - showed a strong pipeline with plenty of young talent; that some of those players are already making an impact on the senior team spells nothing but good things to come.
Forward Noora Tulus, 23, showed off her playmaking skills all tournament long. She finished second in assists with six, tied with Canadians Renata Fast, Brianne Jenner, Brigette Lacquette and Sarah Nurse. In particular Tulus was a monster on special teams, earning five of her six assists on the power play, a team best.
The youngest Naisleijonat player, defender Nelli Laitinen, averaged 13:54 minutes of ice time over seven games. At just 16 years old she was paired with blue line stalwarts like Jenni Hiirikoski and Minttu Tuominen, a demonstration not only of head coach Pasi Mustonen’s trust, but also of her ability to hold her own.
All data courtesy of IIHF.com, eliteprospects.com, and Mike Murphy’s tracking.