“Winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.”
That’s exactly what Finland did on Tuesday evening, as they claimed the bronze medal against the Swiss at Calgary’s Winsport Arena.
Following a 3-0 loss to the United States in the semifinals, the Finns showed up and left it all out there, scoring three of their own to take the win, 3-1.
Managing to limit Switzerland to a single goal, Team Finland, led by captain Jenni Hiirikoski, ensured their final contest would be one to remember. “I’m really proud how we played today and got this medal home,” she said.
Perhaps easing the challenge with Saskia Maurer in net for Switzerland, Finland made sure to pounce early and often, as Tanja Niskanen lit the fire early, needing only 1:39. Being just the first shot of 12 fired throughout the frame, it set the tone for the contest for the seven-time bronze medal victors.
“I was surprised how well we actually played in the tournament,” said Finnish bench boss Pasi Mustonen. “We had a rising trend all the way.” The last time the Finns competed at the World Championships, they saw a country-best finish, as took home silver medals.
While not playing in the gold medal matchup, they prioritized offence to carry through to the finish line. Much like they did in the first, Finland kicked off the second knowing they needed to do more. Needing just a minute to do so, Ella Viitasuo doubled their lead with the go-ahead goal.
“I just got the puck on the blue line, and I know we have to put the puck in front of the net,” said the alternate captain. “I saw there was a good screen, so I just took a shot and it paid off.”
While that provided the Finns with some comfort, the Swiss, just 2:30 later, found the back of the net. Finding Phoebe Staenz on a cross ice feed, Lara Stalder answered back to bring her country within one.
“It was a nice pass from Phoebe and I saw an opening there, so I shot,” the forward said. “I felt, when it was 2-1, as though we were back in the game.”
A long tenured member of Switzerland’s national program, Stalder has scored three or more goals in each of her last three IIHF tournaments. While struggling to resemble this following a one-year hiatus, she cut the deficit in half and at a time so important.
“Lara is really a goal-scorer, and I think she missed having Alina Muller beside her,” Head Coach Collin Muller said of the captain’s performance. “She tried to adjust and she gave every game the best effort she had. I think we just didn’t create enough scoring chances for her to capitalize on.”
That would be the only puck to get by Anni Keisala, who stood her ground in the net in her third consecutive playoff start. “Really proud! Once again, [goalie Anni] Keisala played a really, really good game,” said captain Jenni Hiirikoski, giving praise to the young backstop.
Maurer, on the other hand, let in one more during the action packed frame, as Finnish forward Petra Nieminen, with just 1:47 left, padded Finland’s lead with her sixth of the tournament. Tipping the puck in to tie Canadian forward Melodie Daoust, it was all they need, claiming a podium finish.
“Obviously we did a good job in our zone. It was really nice to see Tanja and Ella scoring today,” reflected captain Hiirikoski, elated with pride.
Finland added 14 more shots in the middle frame, and with stellar defence in the third, made their case for Beijing, where they’re defending bronze winners from 2018. As for the world championship itself, the third place Finns secured their all-time record 13th bronze medal.
While happy to be taking home a medal, they know they have to be better and will use the world championship as a framework for the Winter Olympics.
“What we lacked in this tournament was power-play goals. Otherwise, everything actually went according to our plan,” Coach Mustonen declared. “Our younger players will be better off, even our more experienced players will get better. Possibly even the opponents will be better. We’ll see what happens. But we will be better in Beijing.”