Finland fetes world champion ice hockey team
HELSINKI (AP) - Tens of thousands of flag-waving ice hockey fans gathered in the streets of the capital Monday to welcome home Finland's new world champions.
Finland beat archrival Sweden 6-1 in the final Sunday in Bratislava, Slovakia, to claim the Nordic country's second world championship.
All-night revelers filled city streets nationwide late Sunday after the squad, now dubbed the "Golden Lions,'' beat their fierce rivals in a repeat of its first world victory in 1995.
The team flew to Finland, escorted by a Finnish Air Force Hornet F-18 jet, and made its way to the central market square, where tumultuous roars greeted them as the players stepped off an open-air bus.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who usually attends Finland's international games but didn't make the final, joined the players on the outdoor stage.
"Looks like when mum stays at home the boys play well,'' she said to the cheering crowds.
Hockey fans joined Finnish pop and rock artists in nationalistic songs as helicopters buzzed overhead. The carnival-like festivities were broadcast live on nationwide television and radio. Police estimated crowds of up to 100,000 in Helsinki.
Sunday's game was the fourth worlds final between the nations. Sweden, which was chasing its ninth world title and first since 2006, beat Finland in 1992 and 1998. Finland also lost the Olympic gold medal game against Sweden in 2006.
"We have waited long enough for this moment. It was time we brought the championship back to Finland,'' team coach Jukka Jalonen said.
Winning the world championship after a break of 16 years was the country's top news. A record 2.4 million TV viewers watched the final, almost half the country's 5 million population.
"Finland is ice hockey. That's what it's all about, period,'' said Kimi Brugger, a 15-year-old schoolboy. "And it won't be another 16 years before we win again.''
Even Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who lived in Finland 30 years ago and came for talks in Helsinki on Monday, got caught up in the atmosphere. He described the victory as "an extraordinary win.''
"I know something from personal experience how much ice hockey is drilled into the Finnish soul,'' he said. "So, when I arrived here last night I could sense the jubilation from 30,000 feet that was occurring down here in the streets of Helsinki.''