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Getting into the Finnish hockey groove

By Anna Ruohonen, May 2013

Photo: Susanna Alatalo
Ice Hockey World Championship, Multicultural Hockey Night, Kallio-liike, Liikkukaa, Moniheli, Helsinki, FinlandCanadian Pia Grochowski believes that you can learn a lot about Finnish culture by watching hockey with the Finns.

We attend a pub in the Finnish capital for Multicultural Hockey Night. The recurring event helps foreigners figure out how to follow hockey like a Finn during world championships and Olympic Games.

Three guys in black and white traditional African costumes are playing drums and percussion in a small bar. Only a few people are listening and it’s difficult to believe that in 15 minutes this place is going to become packed with sports enthusiasts.

It’s Multicultural Hockey Night at Club Liberté in Helsinki. This means, besides the game itself, live music and DJ sets before and after – and what may be more important for those who didn’t grow up watching the national sport of Finland, there’s an English-speaking commentator explaining the game during the breaks and after the final whistle. Tonight features Beninese-Finnish Vodou Land Band, DJ Super Mazembe and of course the game, in this case Finland against France.

Canada’s game – and Finland’s

Photo: Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva
Ice Hockey World Championship, Multicultural Hockey Night, Kallio-liike, Liikkukaa, Moniheli, Helsinki, Finland
Championship action: Finland’s Ville Viitaluoma (39, lower right) has just put the puck past French goalie Florian Hardy with 11 minutes left in the game.

You might be a newcomer to Finland, or just a newcomer to hockey – either way, you can learn something about Finnish society by watching the game with the Finns. The hockey night is organised by Kallio-liike (local activists in the Kallio neighbourhood) multicultural umbrella organisation Moniheli and Liikkukaa (a group that uses sports to promote tolerance).

One of the organisers, Pia Grochowski of Moniheli, explains how it all got started: “I’m originally from Canada, and in Canada hockey has been broadcast in at least eight different languages, including Russian, Mandarin and Punjabi. This actually has a great effect on making hockey Canada’s national sport, irrespective of language or people’s ethnic background.

“Hockey can get boring if you don’t know what’s happening or don’t understand what the commentator is saying. So we’re trying to open it up a little. Sports can be a very good ice breaker, something people can share and be a part of. I think hockey is very much a cultural sport in both Finland and Canada, and knowing what’s going on culturally can help you participate in society.”

The mixture of music and hockey seems to be working. By the second period the house is packed.

Key commentary

Photo: Susanna Alatalo
Ice Hockey World Championship, Multicultural Hockey Night, Kallio-liike, Liikkukaa, Moniheli, Helsinki, Finland
Living room away from home: An international audience made themselves at home for the big game at Club Liberté in Helsinki.

“I was mainly interested in the band from Benin, but then decided to stay for the game as well – after all, it is France playing,” says Claire Saint-Germain from France, a translator and University of Helsinki student.

Nayeem Rahman from Bangladesh was more interested in hockey than music: “I came for the game, although I’m not really a big fan of hockey. But it was a good game, and actually I didn’t even know France plays hockey.”

Although Grochowski claims she’s never been a huge hockey fan, she makes a great commentator, explaining the game in her own words: “In the first period Finland was asleep and France was kicking some ass.” In the second period, Finland finally woke up and scored twice. By the end of the third and final period, Finland had won, 3–1.

See also on thisisFINLAND

Relive the glory of Finland’s 2011 World Championship triumph:
Carnival crowd greets hockey heroes (slideshow)
Finnish ice hockey reigns supreme (video and slideshow)


Multicultural Hockey Night on Facebook
International Ice Hockey World Federation

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