Finland Def. Russia For Bronze In Women's Hockey At Olympics
The battle for the bronze medal in the Olympic women’s hockey tournament was one worthy of the longstanding rivalry between Finland and Russia.
Finland’s ladies roared to a 2-nothing lead just 20 minutes into the contest, which took place late on the evening of February 21, but the Olympic Athletes from Russia made a go of it by tacking on a goal just two minutes later. The Finns got their 2-goal lead back again toward the end of the second period, but the OAR women’s team scored once more in a power play situation with 14 minutes remaining in the contest. With the pressure mounting and the Russians leveling their most aggressive play of the game into the last few moments, it all game down to a defensive last stand – and it was one that the Finnish team made with aplomb, securing the nation’s third Olympic medal in women’s hockey.
"I think we kept it together and were extremely disciplined,” Finland forward Michelle Karvinen told reporters on the scene after the historic win. “We handled the pressure all the way to the end."
The victory was truly a team effort by the Finnish squad. Petra Niemenen scored Finland’s first goal in the crucial game for third place, bringing her PyeongChang 2018 scoring total to three goals throughout the tournament, while her team mate Susanna Tapani added the second goal of Finland’s early lead. However, it was the herculean effort of Linda Valimaki in the second period that put the Finns back on top – and the even more impressive effort of the whole team on defense late in the third period that sealed the deal on the game and the medal that accompanied it. Goal keeper Noora Raty, for instance, stopped 20 shots throughout the course of the game, but most came in the final heated minutes of the contest.
Russia’s goals in the game were scored by OAR ace Olga Sosina and her team mate Lyudmila Belyakova. The team’s coach, Alexei Chistyakov, told reporters that the success of the relatively young squad under his command could help to shift some of the the negative perceptions many Russians feel toward women’s hockey. The sport remains one of Russia’s strongest in international competition, but only the men’s team has enjoyed much major success – or support – or support, he said, though that could be changing.
"I think that the games [the OAR women’s hockey team] played here as they fought for their country will nudge this male mentality and turn it upside down, at least among part of the population," Chistyakov said after the game.
Finland has won two medals – both bronze – in Winter Olympics past, having gotten on the podium as a deep underdog at Nagano 1998 and Vancouver 2018, when they beat another rival squad, Sweden in an equally tough match. At PyeongChang 2018, the stated goal from the team was to get on the podium, and the chance for that was better than at either of its past medal-winning performances. Bovada.lv, one of the internet sports betting world’s top sportsbooks, had Finland with moneyline odds of -200 to win against Russia at legal betting sites.
Another stated goal of the team is to continue improving through incremental changes in key positions and strengthening its developing roster of younger players, among them Niemenen, one of the up-and-comers that proved so crucial in the win over the OAR team. It’s that new generation that gives the showrunners in Finland’s hockey program reason to believe their women’s team is primed to go from strength the strength in the coming years, hopefully getting the team on the same playing field as frontrunners like the women’s teams from the United States and Canada. It was, in fact, the US and Canada, respectively, that blanked the Finnish and the Russian women’s teams 5-0, setting up their bronze medal meeting.
“We will try to catch up with the USA and Canada,” Karvinen told the press corps representatives on-hand after the showdown. “We're really hungry to become the best."
The US and Canadian ladies’ teams will clash for the gold medal on Thursday, Feb. 22, though the game will not be broadcast until the early morning hours of Friday in North America due to the 14-to-17 hour time difference.
One final positive note on Finland’s bronze medal-winning showing against the OAR team: longtime women’s team member Riikka Valila became the oldest hockey player of either gender to earn a medal at the Winter Olympics. Valila, 44, a forward on the squad, played for Finland when the team won its first medal in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
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