Hockey Heaven in Helsinki

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The stage is set in Helsinki and Stockholm for the annual agony and ecstasy of the IIHF World Championships in Ice Hockey.

The backdrop to this year’s World Championships is exquisite, since Finland enters the tournament as both World Champion and co-host. The fact that the other co-host is arch-rival Sweden, defeated in 2011 by Finland in a final of mythological status (at least on the eastern side of the Baltic), adds a piquancy to the proceedings. The 6-1 score line, crowned by one of the most precocious goals ever scored in a tournament – the legendary “air hook” by the then 19-year-old Mikael Granlund – sent the nation into mass delirium, with tens of thousands flocking to Helsinki’s Market Square to greet the returning heroes.

Home supporters will be optimistic of an unprecedented second consecutive World Championship for Finland. Chief among the other likely candidates are Canada and the USA, both in Finland’s starting group, as well as co-host Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic.

Games are distributed between the two capitals, Helsinki and Stockholm, with the semi-finals and finals in Helsinki. In 2013 the same two cities will share the tournament, with Stockholm hosting the later stages.

It’s no surprise that the game is most popular in countries with proper winters. But ice hockey appears to be  enjoying a rise in international popularity, with registered players as far afield as Australia and Mexico. In terms of percentage of population, however, Finland, with 1.24 per cent or 65,250 registered players, is second only to Canada in the player total rankings.

“Ice hockey is the most-followed sport in Finland, especially among our flying customers, so it’s natural for us to be the proud sponsor of the Finnish national team,” says Jarkko Konttunen, Finnair Vice President, Global Brand & Marketing Communications and himself a big fan.

“The relationship of Finns with ice hockey is highly emotional. At Finnair we are thrilled about the Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm in 2012 and 2013. The eyes of hockey fans around the world will be on Helsinki, and we expect to see a great number of visitors here.”

Skate Dates

The 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships will be held from May 4 to 20. Preliminary rounds will be held in Helsinki at the Hartwall Arena and in Stockholm at the Ericsson Globe. The IIHF has placed 16 teams in two groups – one for each capital city – with teams seeded according to the IIHF World Ranking.

The two groups are as follows:

Finland, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belarus, France and Kazakhstan;
Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Denmark and Italy.

The top four teams, after the initial seven games per team, advance to the quarter finals, and the teams placed five to eight in each group play no further part. Semi-finals and medal games will be played in Helsinki. The two finalists will play nine games to get to the final in Helsinki on May 20.
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Text by Tim Bird
Photos by Denis Heimonen / Finnish Ice Hockey Association and ©iStockphoto.com/Nicole Waring

A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (April 2012).
 

 

Published April 5, 2012

Category: Local features

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