A shock wave blasted through the floorball world when Johan Samuelsson’s missed penalty meant the end of 6 years Swedish dominance. But this story is not about Sweden. It’s about the remarkable journey starring a group of young hawks and tough veterans who delivered from their underdog position after 4 years of preparation.
The journey started long before this WFC. After Finland’s miserable final performance in 2012, losing to Sweden with 5-11, a reboot was needed and the country said goodbye to many of its older players. The new generation was eager and wanted to take back what Sweden had taken from them. The task was immense. Sweden’s coach Jan-Erik Vaara had a big pool of extremely talented players to choose from, Kim Nilsson, Rasmus Sundstedt and Rasmus Enström, just to name a few. The location made it even tougher for the team. It was in Gothenburg, Sweden’s beating floorball heart. Yet, Finland played well and the finals was amazingly tight. To Finland’s grief, Sweden’s 3-2 that fell early in the third period was successfully defended. A continuation of Swedish rule took place and the temporary end to Finnish aspirations.
A new hope
Two years later, safely outside the realms of Sweden, the tournament was now held in Latvia. Despite being the oldest team of the WFC, it was packed with talents such as the infamous Petri Kotilainen, technical mastermind Krister Savonen and game reading talent Sami Johansson. Granted, the teams veterans were a bit older but did that really matter? Mika Kohonen did not play much but peaked in the moments it mattered – the penalty series in the finals where he made a fool of Johan Rehn – and played a crucial role in supporting the team with his leadership qualities. Juha Kivilehto and Tommi Aro supported their forward lines and gave them the necessary backup. Tatu Väänänen took his role as team captain with flying colors and played an excellent tournament. But above all, the veterans excelled in giving the foundation for the young players to thrive.
The early rounds
Finland’s first performance was against Germany. To say the two teams weren’t equal was a gross understatement. Finland won with amazing numbers and it was the first match where Kotilainen showed his class with a goal outplaying the complete German first line. Finland easily won the game with 12-1 but the opponent was simply to weak to make a proper analysis of the squad’s strength. For that a better opponent was needed.
That opponent presented itself on the next day. Thanks to the organization’s improved group phase group A and B both had one meeting between Top 4 teams. For Finland it meant meeting Switzerland to claim the 1st place in the group. Finland started off strong and scored already after 48 seconds and after 10 minutes the score was already 4-1. However, the rest of the match wouldn’t be that easy. Switzerland fought and ploughed and half way the final period the Swiss had equalized to 4-4. But here Finland learned a lesson in resilience that turned out to be crucial in the finals against Sweden. Under the pressure the players managed to keep their heads cool. Finland’s first line scored the 5-4 and the 6-4 followed seconds before the end. Finland had beaten one of the strongest teams in the world.
Estonia brought a big audience to the arena but the Finns didn’t seem impressed. Estonia was a tougher opponent than Germany but the Finns outclassed them in every way. However, in the end, it was a match that one would soon forget.
Skipping the eighth finals and having 3 days of rest, Finland’s next enemy was Denmark. Denmark’s place in the quarter finals was perhaps the biggest surprise of the WFC having beaten home team Latvia in the previous round. For Finland it was a welcome surprise as the team had prepared for meeting a tough team in front of thousands of hostile supporters. Denmark did not manage to score once while their defense was carefully dissected by the Finnish forwards. The match ended in 7-0 and Finland was one step closer to the finals.
Meeting the Czechs
The semifinals went into the books as one of the most marvelous matches of the tournament. Czech Republic had received much criticism prior to the championship, for good reasons. But none of that mattered when the players walked up the rink on December 10th. Finland dominated their opponent completely in the first period but the Czechs struck back. Two of the goals were identical and made Finland’s defenders look like average junior players. The trick was the same, after losing the ball behind the goal, closing in on the defender before he gained overview. After taking the ball move it to the slot for the forward to score. However, Finland’s performance was just enough. After excruciatingly nerve breaking moments it looked like the game would go into overtime. However, with Eemeli Salin’s winning goal 7 seconds before time the team was awarded with a ticket to the finals and one day to analyze and repair the problem that gave away 2 goals to Czech Republic.
In the match versus Sweden Finland’s defense looked amazingly strong. It was only the Swedish ‘powerline’ (Gustaffson, Larsson and Kanebjörk) the defense struggled with. The game was a soap opera by itself. Underdog Finland had a horrible start and suffered 2 goals. But then Finland’s forwards presented themselves, hungry as they were. First, Petri Kotilainen dragged the ball in the net after a free ball. The second goal was even more beautiful when Sammi Johansson trumped Swedish defense with an immaculate pass in a messy situation in front of Sweden’s goal. During the second period the game slowly went into a stalemate after Sweden scored the 3-2. Strangely, Finland seemed content with the score and confidently moved the game towards the final period. The equalizer came sudden when two things happened at the same time. Left to Swedish goalkeeper, Tommi Aro fought for the ball while Petri Kotilainen’s game sense made him turn away from Martin Östholm, his direct opponent. Before Östholm recovered from his mistake, and just when Aro had the ball, the Finnish defender gave the volley assist to Kotilainen who netted the equalizer. Sweden was nailed to the ground and Finland had done the exact thing they didn’t do 2 years ago: making the last period equalizer. Sweden recovered and played for the win but Finland did not retreat. They wanted it more. It was a miracle no more goals fell but this was due to excellent goalkeeping on both sides.
People all over the world had to endure 10 minutes of thrilling overtime. They saw many big chances but no player had the steel nerves to finish with a goal. Ultimately, the game was decided in penalties – for the first time in WFC history. Players from both countries seemed to have calm nerves. The first 5 penalties all found the net but then young veteran Henrik Stenberg missed. A shock went through Sweden but Finland cheered. The gold medal was within arms reach. Miko Kailiaila was next and scored with a simple finish. Finland led with 4-2 and Sweden’s chances had diminished. Everything had to be decided in Sweden’s next penalty but Johan Samuelsson’s excecution was poor and an easy save for Finland. Johan Samuelsson walked back to his squad mates with the tail between the legs but Finland could finally celebrate. The team cheered for more than 5 minutes before they received the cup. Tatu Väänanen received it but was not the first to raise the prestigious object above his head. Instead, in a beautiful moment, he gave it to Miko Kohonen, the legend that meant so much for Finnish floorball. With Mika Kohonen raising the cup, Finland had again made history by defeating their nemesis Sweden.