HELSINKI — Canada could leave Helsinki, Finland, with not one, but three world titles.
Although most of the attention has been lavished on Canada’s men’s junior hockey team, the Canadian senior and junior ringette teams are also competing in Finland at their respective world championships.
"Our expectations are to win, to succeed," said Jackie Gaudet, the captain of Canada’s senior ringette team, which has lost to Finland in the Sam Jacks Cup final at the past four tournaments. "It’s always been Canada-Finland and they’ve been close for the most part in the past. You look back and you think of things you could’ve done better, big differences in the team.
"This year I feel we’re ready to do it."
Ringette was invented in northern Ontario in 1963. It’s played by women on a hockey rink with a centre, two wingers, two defenders and a goalie. Sticks are about the same length of a hockey stick, only with no blade. Instead of a puck, a ring is used.
The sticks have tapered ends, with tips designed to increase the lift and velocity of a wrist shot. Ringette sticks are reinforced to withstand the body weight of a player because a ring carrier leans heavily on their stick to prevent opposing players from stripping them of the ring. The sticks are flexible and lightweight to bend without breaking.
Finland has won the senior world title six times, always beating a Canadian team. Canada has won the world championship twice, with Canada West and Alberta claiming the crown once each.
"I wouldn’t see it as an upset or the underdogs winning. I don’t see it that way at all," said Gaudet. "They’re going to be tight games. It will be a good game for fans to watch if you’ve never seen ringette or only seen it at the lower levels.
"People are going to be shocked at what they see, especially hockey fans."
Canada’s senior team begins the international tournament on Friday against Finland. That lines up perfectly with the junior hockey team’s schedule for fans visiting from Canada, as the Canadian men have the day off before their quarter-final match with Finland.
The Canadian under-21 women have already begun the tournament for the President’s Trophy with four wins in a row. They face their first real test on Friday, also against Finland.
"We came for the tournament but we also have come to see the Finns," said Lorrie Horne, head coach of the junior team. "We came to battle them."
Although there’s a deep rivalry between Canada and Finland on the ice, Horne is quick to point out how respectful both teams are of each other outside the rink.
A recent example is that Canadian junior player Annie Debaji lost her equipment on the way to Helsinki. Horne called Jari Lindstrom, who is on the board of directors for the Tuusula Blue Rings ringette club and the father of a player on the junior Finnish team, and he sprang to action.
"He found equipment for the young athlete," said Horne. "There was athletes from the U.S. team that gave us helmets and masks. A young Finnish woman that’s playing in Canada that brought a helmet and a pair of skates for the young athlete. There was a company that donated contact lenses to the athlete."
Although the world junior hockey championship is dominating the news in Helsinki and across Canada, the ringette community doesn’t see itself in competition with hockey.
"I don’t compare it to hockey in terms of that type of exposure," said Gaudet. "I’m doing the sport I love and I get to travel and see places and meet people and it’s just amazing to get that kind of experience."