Finland beats Sweden 3-2 for bronze in women’s hockey on Rantamaki’s overtime goal

By Greg Beacham, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finland beats Sweden 3-2 in OT for hockey bronze

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Finns joined hands in a joyous human chain, skating and singing the national anthem to President Tarja Halonen, happily looking down from a luxury box and proudly sporting her Suomi jersey.

Hail to the chief, indeed — and hail to the feisty Finns who finally won another medal in women’s hockey after a 12-year drought.

Karoliina Rantamaki scored when her pass was deflected into Sweden’s net 2:33 into overtime, and Finland won an Olympic bronze medal with a 3-2 victory Thursday. Heidi Pelttari and Michelle Karvinen also scored for Finland, which hadn’t won a medal since women’s hockey first joined the Olympics in 1998.

Rantamaki ended a tight game with a lucky bounce on her cross-ice pass after skating the puck into the corner. The puck apparently deflected off the stick of Sweden’s Erika Holst while she tried to slow Saara Tuominen’s drive to the net.

“I knew if I got it in front, we would score,” said Rantamaki, one of just two remaining players from Finland’s bronze medalists in Nagano. “It’s really unbelievable, a great feeling right now. I still can’t believe it. It’s been a long time. I waited 12 years. It was so long that I waited.”

The Finns also got a tangible boost from a tall redhead who didn’t play.

Halonen proudly wore her white jersey — she’s No. 10, as in the honorary 10th player on the team in the 2010 Olympics — and waved Finland’s blue-and-white flag. When she got on the public-address system late in the third period to lead a cheer, every player heard it.

“Not many presidents love sports like she does,” said goalie Noora Raty, who stopped 16 shots. “She always supports us, and we wanted to show her what we can do.”

Halonen addressed the team in the locker room after its semifinal loss to Canada on Monday, confidently predicting a bronze-medal victory. After the celebration, Halonen greeted every player, coach and staff member with a hug in the locker room, the grateful players said.

“Oh, it’s huge when your own president is behind your back,” said Karvinen, a 19-year-old Dane with a Finnish father. “She’s awesome. I voted for her because I wanted a female president.”

Sara Grahn made 21 saves in a surprise start ahead of Swedish goalie Kim Martin, a three-time Olympian and the star of Sweden’s upset of the U.S. team four years ago. Martin gave up 19 goals in her last two games against the sport’s North American powers, and Swedish coach Peter Elander went with his 21-year-old backup.

“Obviously it’s sad not to play, but I can understand it, too,” said Martin, who learned the decision Wednesday. “It’s pretty tough, but this just hasn’t been my Olympics. I think our goalie played great, but it just wasn’t our tournament.”

Danijela Rundqvist tied it early in the third period for Sweden, and Maria Rooth also scored. Sweden will head home without a medal after winning bronze in Salt Lake City and silver in Turin.

“We’re a better team now, but all the other teams are also better,” Rooth said. “It’s always a great game against Finland, and they came up with the last break.”

Sweden and Finland clearly were the best of the rest in Vancouver, as they’ve been in most international tournaments in the past 10 years. Sweden beat fifth-place Switzerland 3-0 in the Olympics’ opening match, and Finland survived a tough preliminary-round game against China to reach the medal round.

Yet Finland had scored only seven goals in the Olympics, with none in its last two games, before getting just enough to beat its closest rivals.

It was a strange Olympic sight to see Sweden in a big game without Martin, her hair pulled back in an unfamiliar ponytail, cheering for her teammates and holding open the bench door instead of stopping pucks. Martin appeared upbeat, visibly encouraging Grahn each time they were close together.

“I’m very proud of my own team,” Elander said. “All the girls can really walk out with high heads and straight backs. I thought we had good stride at the end of the game, that we were the stronger team at the end, but unfortunately, you can get a tip that goes one way, and that’s it.”

After 24 scoreless minutes, Finland finally connected on a quick shot by Pelttari, the standout defenseman.

Then it got chippy: Swedish hothead Katarina Timglas, who punched Canada’s Meaghan Mikkelson in the face last week, popped Raty in the shoulder while fighting with Karvinen for a rebound. Raty knocked Timglas back with her glove, but the Swede recovered and punched Raty in the mask before they were separated.

Rooth evened it shortly afterward with an impressive deflection of Isabelle Jordansson’s shot from the point, but Karvinen put the Finns back ahead with an impressive individual play, turning the corner on Jordansson and skating in on Grahn for her first goal of the tournament.

But Rundqvist tied it again during a power play with 14:51 to play, dropping to her knees to swat home a rebound of her own shot.

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