Finnish ice hockey forward Riikka Sallinen has called it a career.
She confirmed the news to Kirsi Teiskonlahti and YLE Urheilu on Friday, June 14, saying:
”I have been training continuously after the season, but it’s been more for the fun of it. I no longer have the burning need to really try my best to become a better player.”
It’s difficult to summarize Sallinen’s career without just shouting superlatives like ‘legendary,’ ‘extraordinary,’ ‘enduring,’ ‘iconic’ or ‘magnificent.’ She leaves the game at age 46 - yes, really - with five SM-Sarja (now Naisten Liiga) titles, three European championships, one IIHF Women’s World Championship silver medal and six bronze medals, and two Olympic bronze medals. Along with defender Marianne Ihalainen, she was among the first two women to be named to the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. She was named to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2010. The Naisten Liiga presents the Riikka Nieminen Award annually in her honor, dedicated to the league’s best player.
To get a sense of Sallinen’s longevity, consider these two facts. She was the top scorer at the inaugural women’s ice hockey Olympic series in Nagano in 1998, beating out players like Canada’s Danielle Goyette and the USA’s Cammi Granato on Finland’s quest to bronze. 20 years later, she finished in the scoring top 10 and won her second Olympic medal. She was Finland’s leading goal scorer in Pyeongchang with four tallies in six games.
A native of Jyväskylä, Sallinen debuted with the Naisleijonat in the 1988-1989 season. She retired from play and national team duty in 2003.
”I was 29 years old, and I had been only studying and playing, so I was thinking, now I have to start to live like a normal person, like normal people do,” she told The Ice Garden in 2018. “Start to work, and if I want to have a family, it was time to do it. It was quite a natural decision.”
It’s often said that the first retirement never sticks. In Sallinen’s case it stuck for ten years, until 2013. A year later, in 2014, she was back at the Olympics with the Naisleijonat in Sochi. It’s rare for sequels to live up to the original, but the unexpected second half of Sallinen’s career saw new highs, new triumph, and new milestones. She joined HV71 of Sweden’s SDHL in 2016 and averaged 1.29 points per game over her three seasons in the league.
At the 2018 Olympics she averaged over 22 minutes of ice time, more than players over a decade younger. Her Naisleijonat teammate Michelle Karvinen designed the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships logo in her honor.
Although the 2019 Worlds in Espoo ended with a controversial silver medal finish, Sallinen played her final game on home ice in front of a packed crowd as the Naisleijonat competed for their first-ever World Championship title. She was a part of history right to the very end.
Quite simply, Riikka Sallinen’s Hall of Fame-worthy career can be summed up as truly one of a kind. The sport is so much better for having had her.
Thanks to Pyry Eedi for translation help.