Team Finland’s All-Time Starting Six
Naisleijonat’s greatest and fiercest lions.
Finland has a rich history in women’s hockey, dating back to the 1970s. Finland’s pro league, the Naisten Liiga, was established in 1983 and Finland’s national team stepped onto the world stage for the first time in the 1988-89 season. The Finns took gold in the 1989 IIHF European Women's Championship and took bronze at the first-ever IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990.
All told, the Finns have won 13 medals in IIHF World Championship competition — 12 bronze and one silver — and three Olympic bronze medals. Today, they are a true superpower, on par with Team Canada and Team USA as the top-tier teams in women’s hockey.
Center | Hanna-Riikka Sallinen (Välilä)
Riikka Sallinen is a living legend. She’s already in the IIHF Hall of Fame and will soon be in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. She’s the highest-scoring European-born player in Olympics (25 points in 23 games) and World Championship (60 points in 45 games) history. But her greatness goes beyond her production and longevity — she means so much than the sum of her goals, assists, and records.
She’s a lion among the Naisleijonat.
A natural center, Sallinen was 24 when she led all skaters in scoring at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 with 12 points in six games. She was 45 when she picked up four assists in seven games and won silver with Finland at the 2019 Worlds. She overcame serious injuries. She was one of the best players in the world in at least three different decades. Sallinen did it all.
Sallinen is, undoubtedly, the most influential and important hockey player in the history of Finnish women’s hockey.
Making the case that Riikka Sallinen is the GOAT
Wing | Michelle Karvinen
Karvinen is one of the best forwards in the game.
In 63 games of World Championship and Olympic competition, Michelle Karvinen has 63 points, which puts her in the same neighborhood as Meghan Agosta, Julie Chu, and Rebecca Johnston. Karvinen is second all-time in scoring among Europeans (and Finns) in Worlds and Olympic scoring, behind only Sallinen. Furthermore, she earned honors as the Best Forward at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and was an All-Star at the 2009, 2011, and 2019 World Championships.
Karvinen has asserted her dominance in Finland, Denmark, the NCAA, the SDHL, in international competition, and, most recently, in the SWHL. Now 31, the Danish-born winger has a nearly supernatural ability to create and finish scoring chances. Karvinen is still in her prime, as evidenced by her production at the 2019 Worlds and a scoring rate of 1.64 Pts/GP in the SDHL in the 2019-20 season before piling up 49 points in 16 games in her first season in the SWHL.
Wing | Karoliina Rantamäki
Rantamäki. The ageless one. No player has played in more games of top division World Champion and Olympic hockey than Rantamäki (96). All told, she has represented Finland in 256 international games. Her first appearance in a major international tournament came at the 1997 IIHF World Championship — the fourth-ever Worlds — where she won one of her eight bronze medals with Team Finland. She also won three Olympic bronze medals and appeared in two other Olympics.
That means she made five Olympic rosters. Five.
To this day, the MVP of the Naisten Liiga postseason is awarded the Karoliina Rantamäki Award, which is an award she won three times before the league named it after her. In her prime, Rantamäki was an absolutely dominant player in the Naisten Liiga for over a decade. She was the Naisten Liiga’s top scorer, Marianne Ihalainen Award, six times (1998, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). She also won a league title in Russia in 2014, where she piled up 130 points in 47 games.
Rantamäki has played every position spare goalie during her lengthy career. She just finished her 17th season of pro hockey in Finland at the age of 43. We simply don’t see players in the women’s game with careers that span decades. It’s extremely uncommon, but that Rantamäki was (and is) an uncommonly brilliant player. It’s safe to say that she has established herself as an icon of the ice in Europe and, of course, in her home country of Finland.
She’ll be in the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, the IIHF Hall of Fame, and, hopefully, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto just a few years after she hangs up her skates — whenever that happens.
Defender | Jenni Hiirikoski
Where do we start? Hiirikoski is the best defender on the planet. Scratch that, the best defender in the solar system. The defenders from Saturn’s moon Titan are overrated. There, I’ve said it.
Hiirikoski was named the Best Defender of the 2014 and 2018 Olympics and the Best Defender in seven World Championships (2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019) in addition to being named the MVP of the 2019 Worlds where the Finns won a historic silver medal. Hiirikoski has won the Naisten Liiga’s Päivi Halonen Award as the Top Defenseman five times and has won the SDHL’s Defenseman of the Year Award twice. To be honest, she’s won many more awards during her peerless career but you get the idea. She’s very, very good. She’s fantastic. She’s one of a kind.
Hiirokoski, now 34, is showing no signs of slowing down. She’s the greatest defender of her generation and is all but guaranteed to be the first defender to represent a European country in the Hockey Hall of Fame when she calls it a career. The first European-born defender to enter the HHOF was Team Canada’s Geraldine Heaney, who was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland.
Defender | Emma Terho
Picking the other defender for Team Finland’s all-time starting six wasn’t easy, but after doing the research and taking everything into consideration I went with the seriously underrated Emma Terho (Laaksonen).
Terho was a staple of the Finnish national team and a force in the Naisten Liiga for two decades. She was also an outstanding college hockey player at the Ohio State University — Terho remains the highest-scoring Finnish defender in NCAA history for the 98 points she piled up in 125 games. But her greatest achievements undoubtedly came wearing the Finnish flag and playing pro hockey in her home country.
She won the Naisten Liiga’s Päivi Halonen Award as Finland’s top defender three times (2009, 2010, 2011) and was named to the All-Star squad of the 2008 IIHF World Championship. She represented Finland in 66 games of Olympic and World Championship competitions. The only Finnish defender to play for Naisleijonat in more games of elite international competition is Jenni Hiirikoski. Furthermore, she played 16 seasons of pro hockey in Finland (SM-Sarja/Naisten Liiga).
Today, Terho is the general manager of Kiekko-Espoo. She was inducted into Finland’s Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019.
Goaltender | Noora Räty
Finland has produced several outstanding goaltenders but none greater than Noora Räty.
She was the MVP of the 2008 Worlds, was named the Best Goaltender of five World Championship tournaments( 2007, 2008, 2011, 2017, 2019), and has won championships in Finland (Naisten Liiga), the NCAA, and Russia (ZhHL). She’s also played men’s professional hockey and is the only European-born goaltender to win the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award. The Naisten Liiga’s Rookie of the Year Award is named after her.
In other words, everywhere she’s played Räty has proven herself to be the best of the best.
The list of Räty’s achievements goes on and on and it cements her place as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — goaltender of her generation. She’s won two Olympic bronze medals, four Worlds bronze medals, and was integral to Finland’s historic silver finish at the 2019 Worlds in Espoo. She also finished her collegiate career at the University of Minnesota with the single-season and career records for shutouts. Her 114 career wins in college are second only to Boston College alumna Katie Burt.
Räty has undoubtedly had a career worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame and, at 31, there is still more hockey ahead of her if she can stay healthy. She is as good as it gets.
Honorable Mentions: Päivi Halonen, Sari Krooks, Sari Fisk, Tiia Reima, Marianne Ihalainen, Susanna Tapani, Meeri Räisänen, Anne Haanpää, Liisa-Maria Sneck
Inductees into Finland’s Hockey Hall of Fame
- 2019 | Emma Terho (Laaksonen), D
- 2018 | Kirsi Hänninen, D
- 2017 | Katja Riipi, F
- 2016 | Päivi Virta (Halonen), D
- 2015 | Tiia Reima, F
- 2014 | Sari Marjamäki (Fisk), F
- 2014 | Anne Haanpää, F
- 2009 | Sari Krooks, F
- 2007 | Riikka Sallinen, F
- 2007 | Marianne Ihalainen, F/
All data courtesy of EliteProspects.com, IIHF.com, and TheirHockeyCounts.com.