January 05, 2014
MALMO, Sweden —There is a word in Finnish, "sisu" has no direct translation in the English language. It means, on a very generic level, the strength of will and perseverance inherent to the Finnish people.
On Sunday, Finland's Young Lions showed that most ingrained attitude by stunning host Sweden 3-2 in overtime to win their first world junior championship gold medal in 16 years. It was Finnish defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen who scored the golden goal at 9:42 of the extra frame.
"That's what we have here," said an elated Ristolainen. "We have a sisu team."
After the game, many of the Finnish players said they were still in shock over winning the championship - their first since 1998, which they won at home in Helsinki.
"I'm feeling pretty empty at the moment," said Finnish goalie Juuse Saros, who was named as a tournament all-star. "I don't even (understand) it right now."
Ristolainen, the eighth-overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres last June, slid the puck past Sweden's Oscar Dansk with a great solo effort. Once he realized he had scored, he threw off his gloves and spiked his helmet onto the ice. He said he remembers absolutely nothing that happened after the goal.
"I don't remember what I did," said Ristolainen. "Hopefully it's not stupid."
Well... you did put on a Pipi Longstocking wig a fan thew on the ice, but whatever - you won world junior gold.
On a personal level, this win was particularity sweet for Ristolainen. This was his third tournament and he had been disappointed in the past. Last year, the Finns were expected to challenge for the title, but ended up finishing a disappointing seventh. Earlier in the round-robin, the 19-year-old talked about how important it was for him to lead the team and learn from last year's mistakes.
"My first year (2012) we lost in Calgary in the semifinals to Sweden," said Ristolainen. "Before today I had thought about that a lot. It hurt me a lot. Everyone who was on the team last year, we had one of the best teams in the last 10 years in Finland, but we played badly. This was the perfect tournament for us."
Finland has always had a very proud hockey tradition and winning the world junior tournament bodes well for the future of their program.
"I think (Finland) is one of the top hockey countries in the world and we showed that it's true," said Ristolainen. "We have a good team and good players."
The game was broadcast live on national TV in Finland and media outlets sent additional reporters to cover the team once they had made the final. It's probably the biggest national win for Finland since their men's team won gold at the 2011 world championships.
That tournament featured the amazing Mikael Granlund lacrosse goal against Russia. That goal, which helped Finland beat Russia in the semifinals was immortalized in song - a dance remix of announcer Anterio Mertaranta's call - which topped the Finnish charts and on a stamp.
How will Finland react after this?
"I think lots of people are going crazy right now," said Saros, after an impressive 35-save night. "It's a huge, huge win. I have no words right now.
"This is a very big thing in Finland. It's not every day like this - it's amazing."