The first attempt to introduce hockey to Finland was made by professor Leonard Borgstrom at the end of the 19th century. Training sessions were held in the North Harbour area (Pohjoisranta) of Helsinki and were describe by the press as follows: "The new ice sport is called hockey," the Finnish sports newspaper Suomen Urheilulehti
told its readers in 1899. "The players divided into two groups of skaters on the ice and hit the puck with sticks trying to get it into their opponent's goal, two poles over one meter high set one and a half meters from each other. The game is very entertaining and requires strong arms and legs, as well as nerves, determination, and speed."
Interest in the new sport waned, however, and the second coming of hockey to Finland did not occur until 1927 under the direction of the Finnish Skating Union. Skaters had long been unhappy with bandy because the large playing surfaces that this game required was taking ice away from the speed skaters. After seeing 'Canadian' hockey in Sweden and at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920, the Finnish speed skating organization concluded that this game could be played without interfering with their skating competitions. As a result, hockey was added to the program of the Finnish Skating Union. This organization published the first set of rules for hockey in Finland based on the standards of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The first club game was played in Tampere on January 15, 1928. Finland was admitted to the IIHF through the efforts of the Skating Union on February 10, 1928.
A year after the Finnish Skating Union first became involved with hockey, the country's Soccer Union added hockey to its program in 1928 and published its own set of rules based on those of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. The soccer union initially limited its participation to organizing tournaments. The first national championship was held in 1928 and won by Viipurin Reipas. The soccer union also entered the international scene by inviting the Swedish champions (IK Gota of Stockholm) to play in Helsinki on January 29, 1928. The game received widespread publicity and resulted in an 8-1 victory by the Swedish team.
Recognizing the need for cooperation, representatives from both the Skating and the Soccer unions formed the Finnish Ice Hockey Association on January 20, 1929. The new group organized a large scale national championship and found resources to pay visiting Swedish coaches. Still, the lack of coaches in Finland limited the work of the new hockey association to the Helsinki-Tampere-Turku area during the 1930s. On the positive side, this approach made it possible to keep the teams' travelling expenses to a minimum.
Interest in hockey grew rapidly in Finland and even the National Team's 0-5-0 record at its World Championship debut in 1939 was accepted as a required step in the learning process. However, Finland was soon seen to be losing ground on the other European countries due to its inadequate training facilities. While the best players in Europe had long been practicing on artificial ice rinks, Finnish players were still totally dependent on natural rinks and the weather. The first artificial rink in Finland did not open until November 22, 1955 in Tampere. In the meantime the country experienced a hockey boom based on the development of a hockey equipment manufacturing industry. This became a major component of the Finnish export economy. Additionally it contributed to an unprecedented interest in hockey by the Finnish youth.
Finland's National Team became a force at the international levelin the 1960's. The Finns attained their first major success by winning the silver medal at the European Championship in 1962. They also earned the silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 1974 and gold in 1978. A list of Finnish hockey heroes from before the late 1970's would include goalies Urpo Ylonen and Jorma Valtonen, defensemen Ilpo Koskela, Pekka Marja maki and forward Veli-Pekka Ketola. By the 1980's players such as Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen and Reijo Routsalainen were NHL stars while players like Risto Siltanen, Pekka Rautakallio and Christian Ruttuu were playing major roles on NHL teams. The 1988 Calgary Olympics saw the Finns shock the USSR 2-1 to earn the silver medal and four years later they finished second to Sweden at the World Championships. Teemu Selanne arrived in the NHL in 1992-93 and made the greatest individual impact in the league by a Finnish player shattering Mike Bossy's rookie goal scoring record by an amazing 26 goals finishing the year with 76-goals. Selanne also notched 132 points breaking Peter Statsny's rookie point record of 109. As the 1990's ended, Selanne was among the league's best players and Finnish star Saku Koivu was the captain of the NHL's most storied franchise; the Montreal Canadiens. Finland won the bronze medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and reached an all time high at the 1995 World Championships when they shocked host Sweden 4-1 in the gold medal game. Finland also stunned Canada 3-2 in the bronze medal game at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Finland won the silver medal at the 1998 World Championships and returned to the gold medal game the following year before losing in heart-breaking fashion to the Czech Republic in overtime. At the 2000 World Championships they won the bronze mdeal
Domestically, the top clubs in Finland have been Helsinki rivals HIFK and Jokerit, Ilves Tampere, TPS Turku, Tappara Tampere, and Assat Pori. Turku became the first Finnish club to win the European Cup in 1994 while Jokerit triumphed in 1995 and 1996. Turku also won the inaugural European Hockey League championship in 1996-97.
HOCKEY TODAY: The top league in Finland, the SM-Liiga, was founded in 1975. There were 12 teams playing a 48-game schedule in this league in 1997-98. The eight top teams advance to the playoffs, which are played in a best-of-five format (plus a one-game series to decide third place among the two losers in the semifinals).
Finland's Division I comprises 12 teams who play a quadruple round-robin regular season. Six teams advance to the playoffs with the three winners from these best-of-five series moving on to play with the worst team from SM-Liiga in the semi-finals and final.
Division II is made up of seven different groups containing between eight and 10 teams. Each group plays a double-round robin with the best team in each group qualifying for a promotional pool. Winners from this pool are advanced to Division I for the next season. Finland also has regional Divisions III, IV, V, and VI
Junior hockey is very well organized in Finland, with the top junior players (aged 18-21) playing in three leagues: SM-Liiga, Division I, and Division II. Players under 17 play in Junior B competitions with their own SM-Liiga and Division I. Junior C players (under 16) also have their own SM-Liiga and Division I.