A lot has happened since the last time I wrote.
We won bronze at the European Women’s Club Championships after losing to the Russian team SKIF and Sweden’s Linköping HC, and beating the Swiss HC Lugano. Of course it is always nice to win a medal, but this tournament was not a successful one for us. We wanted to bring home the title and if we had played our best it could have been possible. In addition, I got injured (head) half way through the first game against SKIF and was out of practice and training for almost two whole weeks.
After the disappointing 3-day 3-game tournament we had just one day to rest and recover before the semifinals started in the Finnish League. The playoffs in Finland are best of 5, so we were facing at least three more games in the following six days. Luckily, our opponent was HPK from Hämeenlinna, only an hour and a half drive away. The team showed great strength and we advanced to the Championship series with three straight wins against a hard-working HPK.
In the final we faced JYP from Jyväskylä, a team that went 3-1 against us in the regular season and won the regular season title. Good news for me: I was cleared to play the day before the first game of the final series!
We have a very long, winning history: 12 titles since 1999. Heading in to the finals, people were saying that we wouldn’t want to win as much as JYP, a team that hasn’t won the Championship in 17 years or so. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing we wanted more. We are all competitive, ambitious players, and having felt what winning feels like, we want to feel that way every spring. That’s what this team is about. Still, not many people outside the team and the families believed in our chances. Even one of the national team coaches told the media that he believes JYP will win the title. The pressure was on them. It was a perfect situation for us.
We won the first game, on the road, 1-2 after scoring the game winning goal with only 14 seconds left in the game. In the second game, on home ice, we came from behind two times, and ended up winning the game with a 2-goal third period, 3-2. Third game, our first chance of clinching the title, was all about second period. JYP started off strong and scored the only goal of the first period. They had nothing to lose and were pressuring shift after shift. To be honest, quite a few players including me didn’t believe in our victory until after the first intermission. We started telling each other to just focus on the little things. The more we put the puck deep and kept it in their zone, the more their best players had to work, and the more tired they would get. We started the second period with three goals in 3 minutes, and finished the period off with a fourth. We had all the energy and momentum going of us, and during the second intermission we decided to play simple and put the puck deep whenever possible. Dump and chase. The plan worked perfectly with our goalie Isabella Portnoj, the playoff MVP, taking care of the rest. As the last period was scoreless, our third title in a row was a reality!
As a national team player, the season wasn’t over yet. Of course we had our fair share of Championship celebration but after a few days of rest it was time to turn our thoughts to Malmö, Sweden and the World Championships. Our goal was to win our first medal since 2011. Yes, it has been that long with a couple disappointing losses to Switzerland and Russia in bronze medal games and the heart-breaking loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals in Sochi.
All through our pre-camp in Finland we prepared for the first decisive game we would have: either the quarterfinal or the semifinal. We wanted to be at our best in that game. After beating Russia in the shootout, and losing to USA and Canada, we faced Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Our most important game of the year so far. We were able to execute our systems and played well as a team, and came out with a win. Next up was Canada in the semifinals. After playing well against Canada in round robin, we knew we could beat this team if we have a really good game defensively and score on our chances offensively. We did put up a good fight with them getting a few lucky bounces to score on. It was a tight game all through second period, and the third period started with Canada winning 1-0. Safe to say our goalie Meeri Räisänen helped us a whole lot to stay in the game but I feel like the players were doing a good job keeping up with them as well. It is relatively hard to win a game if you don’t score a single goal, and thus Canada advanced to the final with a 3-0 win.
In the bronze medal game we faced Russia, once again. Our only goal and expectation was to win that game. It didn’t matter how we did it as long as we could raise our hands at the end of the game to celebrate a victory. It was a great team effort with a couple of nice goals, and the last one in the empty net to secure a 4-1 win. We took control of the game right away and stayed that way till the end, even though Russia was pressuring hard and created some scoring chances towards the end of the game. I’m so proud and happy for this team, to finally win a medal at the biggest tournament of the year! All our hard work in the summer and during the season paid off.
Now it is time to rest, and recover from a long, successful season.
Next up: planning off-season training, job search, and grad school interviews. Also need to start thinking about next season, what different options I have. Big things are happening and I’m interested in looking at all options!