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The Nordic News: Turn And Face The Strange

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What can happen in two weeks? A lot, it turns out.

Tampere, Finland
Tiia Monto

Greetings from the icy windswept Midwest, where the Polar Vortex is doing its best impersonation of Hoth and we’re just trying to stay warm.

National Teams

Damkronorna head coach Ylva Martinsen announced her roster for the Euro Hockey Tour finale on January 21. The tournament kicks off in Dmitrov, Russia on Feb. 7.

Once again, youngster Lina Ljungblom, 17, joins the senior team’s offense. She was one of 13 forwards called to the Four Nations Cup in November and most recently competed with Sweden’s U18s at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in Japan.

In net, veteran Sara Grahn is joined by Julia Åberg of Leksands IF. This is a good call-up and another example of Martinsen evaluating the talent pool across the SDHL. Åberg, 22, hasn’t played for Sweden since her U18 days, but she’s had a strong season with Leksand and deserves the nod.

Meanwhile, Team Finland head coach Pasi Mustonen unveiled his squad on Jan. 28. The Naisleijonat roster features several young players fresh off their bronze medal victory at the IIHF U18s, including the tournament’s top scorer Elisa Holopainen. It’s a good solid squad with no surprises; like Martinsen with Sweden, Mustonen is evaluating the Finnish talent pool and offering international experience to those who may very well earn more in the future.

Meeri Räisänen, who has been keeping the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale afloat with her play this season, will also be joining the national team. She is the only Finnish player currently playing in North America who is joining the team.

The Finnish Ice Hockey Association also announced a contract extension for Pasi Mustonen. He’s now slated to head the Naisleijonat through the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. I like this move. Mustonen is a very direct individual as well as a staunch advocate for his players, and under his tenure the Finnish program continues to grow.

The press release also mentioned a noteworthy wrinkle in the coach’s role moving forward: Mustonen will be no longer be coaching full-time and will dedicate 20 percent of his work life to lecturing at Haaga-Helia after the 2019 World Championships in Espoo.

Naisten Liiga

The Naisten Liiga race towards the Aurora Borealis Cup playoffs is on.

With the league’s expansion to 10 teams at the beginning of the season came a new format. The league divided into two sections based on ranking, an Upper Division of the top five, and a Lower Division of the bottom five. All of the teams in the Upper Division are granted access to the playoffs along with whichever team makes it to the top of the Lower Division.

The Naisten Liiga divisions.
Original charts from Elite Prospects. Modified by Meredith Foster.

As of Jan. 29, The Espoo Blues sit neatly at the top of the standings with 68 points. The winningest team in Naisten Liiga and its predecessor Naisten SM-Sarja history hasn’t won a championship since 2015; they’re hungry to get the Cup back but it won’t come easily.

Neither of the league’s two expansion teams, TPS Turku and Vaasan Sport, will qualify for the playoffs.

SDHL

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks around the SDHL, certainly not without controversy, questions, and close calls.

Göteborg HC was involved in an accident en route home from Leksand on January 27. High winds and slippery road conditions sent the bus sliding into a ditch. Fortunately no one was injured and the team is safe.

”We must have had angels,” team captain Matilda Rantanen told Göteborgs-Posten. “There were trees just in front of us that we just missed.”

As mentioned in the last Nordic News, HV71 forward Fanny Rask was dealt a hefty seven-game suspension for a check to the head of Leksand’s Anna Borgqvist.

Rask objected to the ruling and filed an appeal with the National Sports Council (Riksidrottsnämnden in Swedish, or RIN), the supreme arbitrator of Swedish sports. Her appeal was successful and the suspension was overturned. Since she was allowed to play while the appeal was pending, Rask only served two games of the initial seven. Is that enough?

The GIF above clearly shows contact with Borgqvist’s head, but Rask doesn’t jump into the hit or follow it through. She also doesn’t have the same disciplinary record as some of her teammates.

Under those circumstances, seven games can be seen as too much, but two games seems an inadequate punishment. Head shots, concussions, and player safety should never be taken lightly. Rask serving another game or two before the playoffs wouldn’t have been misplaced.

Speaking of the playoffs, Hanna Olsson, one of the league’s brightest young forwards, won’t participate, as she’s no longer in the SDHL. The story behind this one is sort of tangled, for lack of a better term.

Olsson broke her contract with Djurgården on January 18. The next day she took to Twitter, citing displeasure with her development pace, communication issues with both her coach and the front office, and low well-being among her reasons for leaving. She also wrote, “After two weeks of negotiation, I have signed an agreement where Djurgården’s opinion is to ban me in SDHL during the rest of this season...tragic for the sport and for me.”

Djurgården club Vice President K.G. Stoppel responded in the media, disputing Olsson’s version of events. Stoppel called her decision “a total surprise” and disputed Olsson’s claim that she’d tried to alert the front office to her growing discontent. He also claimed to Aftonbladet that “Hanna and her agent have tried to portray themselves as the victim.”

Clearly, them’s fightin’ words on both sides. So what really happened? The only people that know for sure are the ones directly involved. It’s sticky all around and passing judgment on a she-said they-said situation is pointless. Olsson’s only 20 years old and has a bright future ahead of her. She’ll spend the rest of the season with men’s Division 3 Skärgårdens SK and the Damkronorna, and hopefully find a better fit in the SDHL next season.

Meanwhile, Luleå Hockey/MSSK clinched the league’s first place finish for the fourth year in a row. That’s an amazing achievement and a testament to the growth of women’s hockey in Norrbotten. Good things are happening up north.

Nordic Players Abroad

Swedish forward Celine Tedenby was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week on Jan. 28. She’s scored 23 points in 24 games for the University of Maine Black Bears and this is her second ROTW title this season.