Maybe it was something in the water. The last time the IIHF World Women’s Championship was held in Canada (2004 in Halifax), Finland’s Karoliina Rantamaki was held pointless in five games even though her country managed to claim the bronze. Considering that the 5-4, 150-pound veteran is one of Finland’s top snipers, this was quite an anomaly.
Finnish fans will hope Rantamaki exhibits the same form she did this year with the champion Espoo Blues of the Finnish League, where she scored a league-best 28 goals. Twenty-eight, incidentally, is the same number of points she’s accumulated in 46 career IIHF tournament games heading into Finland’s April 4 opener against Russia.
Losing 9-0 to Canada in exhibition play wasn’t exactly a confidence boost, but Rantamaki has opted to treat that March 31 debacle as a learning experience. “We know that our first period against Canada was good,” she said, referring to limiting the host team to a one-goal lead. “We know that we can play well if we focus all the time and give it our best effort. Our coach [Hannu Saintula] has told us that each of our lines needs to play together as a unit.”
Rantamaki is also pleased with the incorporation of new players into the roster, like 6-foot Mira Jalosuo, an 18-year-old defenceman, and Jenni Hiirikoski, a diminutive blueliner whose surname translates into English as “Mouse Rapid.”
“We have more young players this time around, and more players who are playing in their first big tournament,” said Rantamaki. “But still, we also have enough older players who have been part of the program for years.”
2006 Olympic captain Sari Fisk and Espoo teammate isn’t in the mix, however, as Rantamaki explains: “She quit after the Olympics, but then around Christmastime, she decided she wanted to play hockey again, and she came back. But I think she just wants to play in Espoo now. There is not as much training required as with the national team.”
The Chinese national team, meanwhile, has made arrangements to play in the Finnish League in recent years to boost its skills. “It’s been quite interesting,” said Rantamaki. “I don’t know why China wants to participate in the Finnish League. Maybe because they don’t have their own league in China. It’s possible they’ll be back next season.”
And as for Finland’s aspirations in Winnipeg? Rantamaki isn’t looking too far ahead.
“We just have to focus on these first two games against Russia and Sweden. Then we’ll see.”