2023 Worlds Preview: Team Finland

Look for the Lady Lions to come roaring back.

2023 Worlds Preview: Team Finland
Photo by Joakim Honkasalo / Unsplash


Forwards: Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko, Oona Havana, Julia Liikala, Anni Montonen, Petra Nieminen, Jenniina Nylund, Emmi Rakkolainen, Sofianna Sundelin, Noora Tulus, Viivi Vainikka, Emilia Vesa, Sanni Vanhanen, Kiira Yrjänen

Defenders: Jenni Hiirikoski, Sini Karjalainen, Aino Karppinen (named later as replacement for an ill Siiri Yrjölä), Nelli Laitinen, Rosa Lindstedt, Krista Parkkonen, Sanni Rantala, Ronja Savolainen

Goaltenders: Sanni Ahola, Anni Keisala, Emilia Kyrkkö

At First Glance

Immediately two things pop out about this roster: the absence of some big names all over the ice — particularly up front — and the presence of some young players who might just form the next generation's bedrock.

Forwards Susanna Tapani, Michelle Karvinen, and Elisa Holopainen are missing. Tapani and Karvinen are explosive forwards and longstanding weapons in Finland's arsenal, while 21-year-old Holopainen is part of the next offensive wave. Tapani took the year off from hockey to focus on ringette. Karvinen, though, ran absolutely wild in Sweden's second-tier Division One with Frölunda HC in the team's debut season, putting up a staggering 114 points on Frölunda's way to SDHL promotion. Holopainen suffered a season-ending lower body injury in January that required surgery.

Meanwhile, five players make their world championship debut: forwards Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko, Oona Havana, and Anni Montonen, and goalies Sanni Ahola and Emilia Kyrkkö.

The Netminders

Goaltending has long been one of Finland's most fascinating positions. Anni Keisala was something of a surprise nomination to the 2022 Olympic roster and while she put up a solid performance to backstop the Naisleijonat to bronze, she has yet to emerge as the definitive starter. That's by no means a knock on her performances; rather it's indicative of bench boss Juuso Toivola exploring his roster options in his first full season as head coach. Seeing Olympians Meeri Räisänen and Eveliina Mäkinen both left off the roster is a surprise: Räisänen's exclusion in particular raises eyebrows, and although she never got a real fair chance to prove herself and take the Connecticut Whale's crease this season, she is a far better goaltender than her 2022-23 numbers suggest.

Will Jenni Hiirikoski Be At Her Best?

Wait. Hold the phone. The Jenni Hiirikoski, Naisleijonat captain, bedrock of her team and seven-time IIHF Defender of the Year? The best defender of any gender to ever play the game? Possibly anything less than top level?

Hiirikoski had a nightmare moment on March 19 during the SDHL playoffs, getting cut in the neck with a skate. As her club team, Luleå Hockey/MSSK reported, she underwent successful emergency surgery and was able to return home that night. Thank the various gods all went well, but that's some scary, scary stuff right there. She's on the roster, but we won't know until the games start whether or not she'll be able to play at her highest level.  Hiirikoski eats up big minutes, puts up offense without shirking her defensive responsibilities, and is bound to be gunning for a rematch after Finland last year failed to medal for the first time since 2016. Never count her out.

What Does Success Look Like?

Success for the Naisleijonat comes in two forms: getting back to the podium after a crushing 6th-place finish in 2022, and finishing above bronze. They won a historic (and controversial) silver medal in 2019 at home in Espoo; the team has been on the edge of glory since the tournament's inception, and this young roster will doubtless be hungry to take the next step.


April 5 - FRA v. FIN, 11 a.m.
April 7 - FIN v. GER, 3 p.m.
April 9 - FIN v. SWE, 11 a.m.
April 10 - HUN v. FIN, 11 a.m.