Friday, May 7, 2010
On this date in 1995, Finland won the IIHF World Championship for the first and only time. The script could hardly have gone any better for Finland, as they defeated arch rivals Sweden in Sweden.
Finland has a long history in the World Championships and Olympics, first appearing in 1939 and being regular participants since 1949, but did not earn their first medal until 1988 with a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union at the Olympics in Canada, a span of nearly 40 years. Their first World Championship success would come in 1992 with a silver medal in Czechoslovakia after a loss in the final game to Sweden.
They followed that with a disappointing 7th place at the World Championships in 1993, their lowest finish since 1983, before rebounding with another silver in 1994 in Italy, after losing in the final in a shootout to Canada, just three months after earning a bronze medal at the Olympics in Norway.
Now having arrived as serious contenders on the international stage, they entered the 1995 World Championships aiming for the top after their previous close calls. The Finns were led by a line known as "Tupu, Hupu and Lupu", Finnish for Huey, Dewey and Louie, the nephews of Disney cartoon character Donald Duck.
Jere Lehtinen (Lupu), made his international debut at age 19 in the 1992 World Championships, Saku Koivu (Tupu) arrived in 1993, at age 19, in the World Championships and Ville Peltonen (Hupu) completed the line when they all played together in Pelotnen's international debut at the 1994 Olympics at age 20.
While Finland's past history was barren of medals and championships, "Tupu, Hupu and Lupu" entered the 1995 World Championships with Lehtonen (two silvers and a bronze in three years of international experience), Koivu (a silver and a bronze in two years) and Peltonen (a silver and a bronze after one year) as winners with high expectations.
Those expectations met with a rude awakening in the form of a 3-0 shutout loss to the Czech Republic in their opening game. They quickly got back on the right track with a decisive 6-3 win over rivals and tournament hosts, Sweden. They took care of business with expected wins over Norway (5-2) and Austria (7-2). They completed their First Round group play with a 4-4 tie with the United States, taking second place in the group.
Finland easily advanced in the quarterfinals with a 5-0 win over France and got revenge for their only loss of the tournament against the Czech Republic in the form of another 3-0 shutout, only this time in favor of Finland, setting up the gold medal final against hosts Sweden.
Peltonen was the star of the show, scoring the first goal to put Finland ahead in the first period after making a drop pass at the blueline and then putting the rebound of a teammate's blast into a wide open goal.
During the second period Peltonen got his second goal after receiving a pass from center ice at the blueline, he simply wound up and fired a slapshot past the Swedish goaltender, launching his water bottle like a celebratory firework into the air to put Finland up 2-0.
Peltonen then completed the natural hat trick after a beautiful play after Peltonen gained the Sweden zone on the right, made a drop pass back to Koivu who made a cross-ice pass to defenseman Mika Stromberg who was streaking in unguarded on the left. Stromberg blew around the flat footed Swedish defense, cut to the net, slammed on the breaks and tried to move the puck from his backhand to his forehand, but lost control of the puck, which slid right across the crease to Peltonen, now stationed on the right side of the goal, for another easy tap in with just four seconds remaining in the second period give Finland a three goal lead heading into the final period.
Not quite finished yet, Peltonen assisted on the fourth Finnish goal when he fed the puck back to the blueline and defenseman Timo Jutila fired the puck through everyone for a back-breaking 4-0 lead and a goal celebration that took him the length of the ice.
Sweden was able to spoil the shutout to make the final score 4-1 after a fluky, high arching deflection was misplayed by Jarmo Myllys, who otherwise stood tall in goal, earning the victory for the new World Champions.
Lehtonen, Koivu and Peltonen were all named to the tournament All-Star Team, with Koivu being named Best Forward. To rub their victory in, the coach of the Finnish team, Swede Curt Lindström, took his team to Sergels torg, the central public square in Stockholm, the site for public recognition of Swedish sporting success, and brought 15,000 wildly celebrating Finnish fans with to share in the joy, which they did by singing the official Swedish song of the 1995 World Championship, "Den Glider In"
Finland received a massive welcome home back in Tampere, Finland, with the celebrations being televised on live TV to a national audience.
Today's featured jersey is a Reebok 1995 Finland National Team Janne Ojanen jersey. This is the same style jersey used in the 1994 Olympic games, and while branded as a Reebok jersey, they were produced by Tackla using the same mesh fabric and dye sublimation process. Visually, the only difference between the Olympic jerseys and the World Championship versions are the additions of the sponsorship patches to each arm.
Here are the highlights from the 1995 World Championship gold medal final between victorious Finland and Sweden.
Here are scenes of the massive celebration on their return home to Finland, as they continue to adopt "Den Glider In" as their own. Don't miss the guy playing air guitar with the then World Championship trophy!
These scenes are proof that while the NHL might not take the World Championships nearly as seriously as they do the Olympics, it clearly still matters to Europeans.