BEIJING, China — As the final siren sounded, the players charged at full speed to pile on goalkeeper Harri Sateri with such force that they knocked the net off its moorings.
After finally accomplishing what so many Finnish teams have been unable to do before, there was a lot of energy in the air. Finland, known as Suomi in Finnish, is now synonymous with gold.
The Finns defeated the Russian favorites 2-1 on Sunday to win the men’s hockey tournament in the absence of the NHL players in Beijing. They get their hands on an Olympic gold medal for the first time in the country’s history.
“We got what we came here for,” said Finnish defender Sami Vatanen. We fought hard and won the first Olympic gold medal in Finnish ice hockey history. It’s something special, and no one can ever take that away from us.”
Finland had never won gold in the Olympics for either men or women. They reached the final in 2006 and lost to Sweden, tying the 1988 silver.
The Russians, defending champions, had to settle for silver instead of winning a second title in a row.
“Life doesn’t end there,” coach Alexei Zhamnov told Russian television. There are still a lot of competitions ahead of us.”
After winning gold in 2018 as Olympic Athletes from Russia, Russians took part in the Games this time as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). These names are the result of doping sanctions and cover-ups in several Olympic sports.
Their tournament took place in the shadow of another Russian doping saga, this time involving 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva. News of Valieva’s positive test in December came out after winning the gold medal in the team competition. Valieva was cleared to skate in the individual event, finishing a disappointing fourth.
For the ROC hockey players, silver in the men’s tournament was the 32nd medal for the country’s athletes in Beijing. But not the gold they expected.
“Today we are the best country in the world in hockey,” said Finnish forward Harri Pesonen.
While the Russians were new favorites when the NHL decided to skip the Olympic tournament due to pandemic-related postponements in late December, the Finns were the big winners. With players who recently left the NHL such as captain Valtteri Filppula, forward Leo Komarov and defensemen Sami Vatanen and Mikko Lehtonen in the roster, Finland relied on offensive firepower to back up their usual forces. , his defense and a solid goalkeeper.
This combination helped Finland remain undefeated in six games, including a win over rival Sweden in the preliminary tournament after coming from a three-goal deficit. Finland defeated Switzerland, Slovakia and the Russians to go through the tournament effectively with longtime coach Jukka Jalonen behind the bench.
This match ended better for the Finns than in the last final 16 years ago, when national stars Teemu Selanne, Kimmo Timonen, Mikko and Saku Koivu and Jere Lehtinen nearly made it.
Finland’s Olympic heroes this time around are Sateri, top scorer Sakari Makinen, defender Ville Pokka, assistant captain Marko Anttila and winger Hannes Bjorninen.
Bjorninen broke the deadlock early in the third period.
Ville Pokka also moved the ropes for the Finns. Harri Sateri stopped 16 of the 17 pucks he faced.
Mikhail Grigorenko scored the only goal for the Russians, who were reigning Olympic champions. Ivan Fedotov allowed two goals on 31 shots.
Slovakia, which shut out the Swedes 4-0 the day before, completes the podium.
The Russians opened the scoring at 7:17 of the first period. Grigorenko fired a wrist shot from the right flank and the puck found its way past Sateri.
Finland’s defensive play was in the spotlight for the rest of the game and they tied the game in the second period. Pokka fired a seemingly innocuous shot, but the puck went between the legs of two players and between Fedotov’s pads.
The Finns took the lead in the 31st second of the third period. The forecheck in Russian territory allowed Marko Anttila to unleash a shot that hit Bjorninen before flashing the red light.