Most Canadian hockey fans have a soft spot for the Finns. After all, they employ a hard-working, physical style that’s reminiscent of Canada’s, and numerous Finnish players have starred in Canadian NHL cities, especially out West.
The Edmonton Oilers might not have five Stanley Cups to their credit if it weren’t for the efforts of Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen. Without Miikka Kiprusoff’s inspired netminding, the Calgary Flames probably wouldn’t have come within one goal of knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 finals. Teemu Selanne’s NHL rookie record of 132 points with the 1992-93 Winnipeg Jets still stands. And since the 1980’s, the Vancouver Canucks have almost always had a prominent Finn on their roster, whether it’s Petri Skriko, Jyrki Lumme, Jarkko Ruutu, or Sami Salo.
But in international competition, things heat up. The 2004 World Cup final, where Canada edged Finland 3-2, offered the most recent high-profile evidence that the world’s original hockey superpower can’t count on easy victories over this Scandinavian nation of 5 million.
When it comes to the IIHF World Junior Championships, Canada has definitely held the upper hand, winning more than twice as many games than the Finns in terms of head-to-head encounters. On the other hand, the Finns have claimed both of their WJC gold medals in tournaments where Canada has fared disastrously.
Here are a few snapshots from this rivalry over the years:
1977: Ron Duguay, Dwight Foster, Joe Contini, Brad Marsh, John Anderson, and Dale McCourt score for Canada in a 6-4 victory over Finland in the first-ever official World Junior meeting between the two nations on December 26 in Zvolen, Czechoslovakia.
1987: Finland captures the gold medal after Canada and the Soviet Union are expelled from the tournament for fighting in the infamous “Piestany Punchup.”
1991: The Canadians beat Finland 5-1 in their Round Robin encounter in Saskatoon, but the Finns do Canada a favour by grabbing a late tie versus the Soviets in a game where a USSR victory would have killed Canada’s gold medal hopes. It’s Jarkko Varvio’s goal on Soviet goalie Sergei Zviagin with 15 seconds left that opens the door for Canadian defenceman John Slaney’s late winner in the classic January 4 clash with the USSR. After that 3-2 victory, someone writes on the blackboard in Canada’s dressing room: “God is a Canadian who goes to Finland for the occasional holiday.”
1998: The host Finns set the tone for Canada’s worst WJC outing in years by beating the red-and-white squad 3-2 in the tournament opener. Niklas Hagman notches the winner with 3:40 remaining, and it’s also Hagman whose overtime tally knocks off Russia in the gold medal game. While Finland rejoices over gold, Canada settles for eighth place.
2005: In Grand Forks, North Dakota, Canada thrashes Finland 8-1 on the strength of a Jeff Carter hat trick. It’s the most lopsided result between these two nations in World Junior history.
2006: A physical Canadian side dominates Finland 5-1 in the tournament opener at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum.