Finland goes wild at Ice Hockey World Championships victory
Celebrations in the capital last long into the night
On Sunday night, Finland's national ice hockey team came from behind to destroy Sweden 6-1 in the final of the IIHF World Championships in Bratislava, sparking off a wave of celebrations in Helsinki and up and down the country that went on long into the night.
By 1 a.m. on Monday morning, both the Esplanades in downtown Helsinki were packed with jubilant hockey fans, such that the earlier rally of cars hooting their horns and with flags waving from the windows was no longer possible.
The nude statue of Havis Amanda in the Market Square was decorously draped with a Finnish team jersey, and a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands had congregated around the statue in high spirits, some of them stripping down to their underwear and jumping into the chilly water of the fountains.
The national anthem was sung lustily and off-key, people hugged complete strangers, and the crowds turning out to mark only the second-ever win in this competition - after a wait of sixteen years - were a mix of young and old alike. Many had come from bars in the centre of the city, where the match had been watched, first nervously as Sweden edged in front in the second period and then with growing delight and awed disbelief as the Finns drew level and then skated over the horizon.
The Lions scored five goals almost disdainfully in the third period past a shell-shocked Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth, who had hitherto only conceded six goals in six matches, and in so doing they made something of a mockery of the World Championships directorate's decision (reached before the game) to award him the Tournament MVP trophy.
There was mockery too, for the Swedes who had played the psy-war card of labelling the Finns as perennial chokers, as this result - and particularly the crushing margin of victory - laid a lot of local demons to rest.
For the most part, the celebrations last night were good-natured if somewhat alcohol-fuelled, and the police did not report any serious incidents, though there were worries about the number of cars pouring into the already congested centre of town, and a few reports of people letting off firework rockets left over from New Year's Eve.
In the suburbs of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa, most of the celebrating took place indoors, and few convoys of cars were seen cruising the streets as many headed into town instead.
There was late-night skinny-dipping in Tampere, too, as delirious ice hockey fans tested the temperature of the waters of the fountain in the central square, and in Oulu the crowds packed into Torinranta.
In cities across the country, it was like a repeat of the traditional New Year's Eve festivities, though at New Year's there are probably not that many who cross the border from Tornio to scoff at the residents of Haparanda in Sweden.
Roughly one in two of the Finnish population watched the game live on television, with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) reporting a peak audience for TV2 of 2,435,000 during the third period, as the Lions ran wild.
The figure was larger than the 2.3 million recorded for another bumper TV-event, the annual Independence Day Reception at the Presidential Palace.
The crowds in Helsinki are likely to be even bigger this evening, when the team - and the World Championship trophy - are presented to the public at a more organised celebration in the Market Square from 19:00 until 22:00, just as occurred on the previous occasion when Finland won the title in 1995, and after Lordi's Eurovision Song Contest triumph in 2007.
The homecoming event, arranged by the Finnish Ice Hockey Association, will also feature other artists performing, and probably a lot of singing and waving of blue and white flags, as the Finns wash away sixteen years of hurt since the last occasion when they topped the rankings in this sport that is immensely popular hereabouts.
The Finnish team's plane, escorted weather permitting by a pair of Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet fighters, will arrive at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport a bit behind schedule at around 16:30, and well-wishers are expected to gather there, too, before buses carry the players and coaching staff into the capital.
Anyone who is planning to go to the Market Square should be advised that they will be accompanied by around 50,000 others, and that it will be worth wrapping up, since the temperature is not expected to be much over 10-12°C, although the morning rain will probably clear away before the party gets going.
The police have said they will relax the restrictions on public drinking, at least as long as it remains within reasonable limits, but there will be a complete ban on torches or fireworks.
Special arrangements for traffic and public transport (trams and buses) will be in force in the downtown area to cope with the crowds.
More on this subject:
Bratislava win marks a giant stride forwards
Previously in HS International Edition:
SUNDAY NIGHT: After sixteen long years, WORLD CHAMPIONS! (15.5.2011)
2011 IIHF World Championships (Wikipedia)
Information on traffic exceptions in Helsinki should appear here during the day (HSL)