Whenever Finland and the USA face off in some sport, people always ask me which team I support. If it’s skiing, skating, soccer or the like, it’s a tough call. If it’s hockey, there’s no question. I love my country, but I can honestly say that I hate any hockey team that tries to tame the Finnish Lions. Even the USA.
Last night Finland and the USA fought it out for the bronze medal in Sochi. With a final score of 5-0, to say that the US got schooled would be an understatement. But that’s not even important, really.
You see, Finland didn’t just win against the USA, they won for each other. In fact, last night’s game wasn’t even really about hockey. It was about friendship, love, respect and gratitude. For everyone on the team, of course, but most movingly for Teemu Selänne, the great #8.
After a career spanning 26 years, six Olympic games, tens of millions of dollars and as many female…uh… “fans,” Selänne is retiring his Finnish jersey. His teammates are grateful, his country is grateful. And so am I. And not just to Teemu, but to every Lion who has played over the 25 years I’ve been living in Finland.
Like most magical things or the feeling of true love, it’s hard to even describe what makes the Lions’ hockey so special. Maybe it’s the passion shared by the players and the fans. When Finland won the World Championships in 1995 and 2011, I can only compare the feeling here to that on the streets of Harlem after Obama’s win in 2008. Strangers spontaneously hugging on the street, the energy of millions of people feeling invincible at the same moment in time. Pure magic.
Or maybe it’s the amazing feeling of little Finland literally taking on the rest of the world and winning. As Americans we’re used to kicking other countries’ asses (and not just in sports, unfortunately). But here, 2005 and 2011 must come pretty close to how Finns felt after winning the Winter War.
This game had all the amazing emotions that come with victory plus the nostalgia of goodbyes from Teemu, Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo in their post-game interview. I swear to God I don’t think I’ve cried that hard since Elliott had to watch E.T. head back to the Green Planet.
I think I speak for almost every Finn today when I say that the medals around their necks may be bronze, but last night the Lions won gold.