This week I got to experience one of the world’s most infamous rivalries: Finland versus Russia. Finland and Russia have a tumultuous history together, and hockey is no exception.
I was lucky enough to attend the opening match between the Men’s National teams from Russia and Finland for the Karjala Cup. In short, this was the Finnish-hosted first round of the Euro Hockey Tour annual ice hockey championships, held since 1996. Finland’s Men’s National ice hockey team has dominated this tournament, winning nine times since 1996 (1996, 1998-2005). The Finnish hockey team won bronze in the 2010, and silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Finland is considered a member of the “Big Seven” in hockey, which consists of: Canada, Russia, the USA, Slovakia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. The Russian men’s national ice hockey team is currently rated number one in the IIHF World Ranking (see figure to the left). The team follows a long tradition of Soviet teams, which are mostly composed of Russian players.
The atmosphere and attitude of European hockey is much different that American hockey, though many European players play in the NHL. The first major difference I noticed was that while fighting, checking, and violence in general is applauded in the US, it is looked down upon by most Finns. The game was quite clean with very few penalties, no fights, and barely any checking. There were a surprising amount of Russian fans attending this game, with Russian flags and the “Россия” (Russia) chant dominating the evening.The game was actually quite uneventful, with no goals scored until the end of the third period; with just two minutes left, the Russians scored an extremely lucky goal, and ended up winning the game 1 to 0. The crowd went wild! Horns were blowing, people were screaming, and someone even unveiled a giant Russian flag that covered an entire seating section of the arena!
Nine other international students went to the game as well. We had great tickets located center ice, in the first row of the upper deck. For some of the students, this was the first hockey game they had ever attended – very exciting indeed! One of the students with us was Russian; we were good friends and celebrated the Russian win, though most of us were routing for Finland.
For those not familiar with Finnish and Russian history, there have been countless territorial disputes, battles, and even wars between these to bordering countries. This rivalry has been described to me by Finns as boldly as: “David and Golliath, good and evil, democracy and totalitarianism, freedom and slavery.” I would highly suggest doing some personal research about the history of Finland and Russia, and forming your own opinions. I will say that it is very interesting from a historical perspective. Click here for video clips from the documentary aired on PBS entitled: Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia.