In our second installment of What’s Up With Team Not-North-America, we turn our attention to one of the Nordic countries, specifically Finland. Last year, Finland had a good showing at the World Championships, even giving Canada a bit of a scare in the semifinal round before eventually losing 1-0 to Russia in the bronze medal game. Coming so close to a medal has to sting, but since then, Finland had an undefeated showing to win gold at this year’s Nations Cup. After a near miss in 2016, they’re angling to come home from Plymouth with some hardware.
What’s different this year, you might ask? Well. This year, Noora Räty is back on the Finnish national team.
Why You Should Know Her Name
Räty is one of the best female goaltenders in the world right now. A quick peek at Räty’s career stats is eye-popping, especially her NCAA career at the University of Minnesota. In her senior year she posted a 0.956 SV% and 0.96 GAA, leading Minnesota to a championship and the only undefeated season in women’s Division I hockey to date. She still holds the women’s NCAA record for most career wins (114). Like Canada’s Shannon Szabados, Räty’s spent the past few years playing in men’s leagues—after becoming the first woman to play in Mestis, she’s played the past couple seasons in the Suomi-sarja, the third-tier Finnish league. She’s currently with Nokia Pyry when she’s not playing for her country.
Since returning to the Finnish women’s national team for the 2016 Four Nations Cup, Räty’s played fourteen games for Finland and put up good numbers--0.927 SV%, 1.80 GAA. It goes without saying that having her back is huge for Finland; like Florence Schelling, Noora Räty is exactly the sort of goalie you want on your roster for a short international tournament. Finland is in Group A, with Russia, Canada, and the United States. If the US brings a scab roster, Finland has a great chance at finishing second in that group.
You Should Know These Names Too
While Finland’s strength is obviously in goal, Räty’s not the only player to watch. One of their more notable skaters is defender Mira Jalosuo. Currently a member of the Minnesota Whitecaps—an independent women’s professional team that includes several members of the US women’s national team—Jalosuo was also Räty’s teammate on that undefeated University of Minnesota team. Like Switzerland, Finland also has some current NCAA players on their roster. They include Saana Valkama, who put up 24 points in her sophomore season at the University of Vermont, and sophomore defender Anna Kilponen, who’s an assistant captain on the University of North Dakota.
On the off chance anyone has questions about team #leadership, they’re also bringing Riikka Välilä, who has played for Finland since 1988. Välilä is 43 and a member of the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame —she was inducted during her decade long “retirement” from playing hockey between 2003 and 2013. She is still averaging at around a point per game for both her country and her SDHL club, HV71. She scored six points in six games at last year’s Worlds, and only six players in the tournament scored more. And she is fourteen years older than her next oldest teammate. International hockey is awesome, and Välilä should hang out with Jaromir Jagr sometime.
Finland is always a legitimate threat for bronze, and if there’s any good news out of the USWNT strike, it’s that we might see medals for two European teams. The team that just missed the podium in Kamloops has only gotten stronger, and we can expect them to be a medal contender.