Women’s hockey in Ilves began in 1971, when an icon from the men’s team, Lasse Oksanen, was asked to aid in the development of the women’s side of the sport.
“I was mainly a figure head. I attended the meetings that were organized for female hockey players. On the first occasion, I met, among others, Anne Haanpää who was 12 years old at the time (her jersey number 10 was retired 28.1.2012). We started training in the Eteläpuisto ice rink”, Oksanen says.
When Oksanen had free time aside from his own career, he trained the women’s team. They rehearsed around once a week.
Shortly after, Esko Peltonen, older brother of legendary Ilves forward Jorma Peltonen, took charge of coaching the women’s team for many years. He worked for local newspaper Aamulehti and therefore was able to gather up sponsors and coverage. These were vital for the team in its early stage.
Training and games took place not only in the Eteläpuisto ice rink, but also in Vehmainen, Kaukajärvi and Sorsapuisto. When the women’s Finnish Championship series began in 1982, the team was already playing in Koulukatu artificial ice rink. In 1989, the Ilves women’s team transferred to the new ice hall built in the Tesoma district.
At first Ilves’ women’s team would play against boy’s teams.
”In 1978 in Espoo we played against another women’s team for the first time. We played outside against the local team Jäähonka and we won 6 to 5”, says Anne Haanpää (née Bäckman).
That was the starting point for the unofficial Finnish Championship series. International connections were also made, when some teams from Canada visited Finland. In 1980, the Ilves women’s team travelled to Sweden and played against the local team MoDo. The end result was a landslide victory for Ilves, with a score of 10–1.
In 1981, Anne Haanpää was coaching the second Ilves women’s team. Among this team 14-year old forward Marianne Ihalainen (her jersey number 16 was retired 4.11.2001) and a long-time Team Finland goaltender Kati Ahonen. Both were chosen for the league team.
Ilves played their first game in the Finnish Championship series on the 27th of November in 1982. They beat Ässät from Pori with the score 14–2. The first few championship titles were won by HJK from Helsinki. After that, Ilves dominated and won 8 championships between1985–94. The title was then claimed in 1989 by EVU from Vantaa, and in 1994 by the Shakers from Kerava
”I still do not know why we had to play a re-match against EVU in -89. We would have won the championship otherwise, but EVU won the re-match and therefore the title”, Haanpää complains.
In the early 1990s, Anne Haanpää and many other national team players began to prioritize training. Head coach Juuso Heimo introduced new influences in to women’s hockey. All in all it was difficult to find male coaches for women’s teams. At worst, teams might have had a proper coach only for a month.
”Juuso Heimo was originally an equipment manager. But his summer training was tough. Markku Hannunkivi was the first proper junior coach. At that time training on the ice began as well as learning game strategies”, Ihalainen explains.
In 1992 Markku Hannunkivi transferred from the boy’s team to consult for the women’s team, and eventually found himself as the head coach.
”I immediately modified the summer training system. Earlier the season started in June, but I transferred it to April. Between seasons the team would have three weeks holiday. Soon the other teams in Finland followed our example”, Hannunkivi says.
In 1993, Ilves won the championship and in the next season they came in second. Meanwhile, game strategy was developed systematically. Hannunkivi re-joined the women’s team later in 2010s. He has experience from both boy’s and women’s hockey.
”When you show the boys what to do next, they will do it. Women will ask ’why’. That is why I try to explain the motives behind the excercises in women’s training”, Hannunkivi describes the differences.
The Blues from Espoo dominated the first decade of the new millennium. They lost the title only once: to llves in 2006. Marianne Ihalainen was the head coach from 2002 to 2006.
Ilves began the decade by winning the championship in 2010. They won the European Championship in 2011, which was the last time that title was played for.
The Finnish National Team won the bronze medal in Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. Seven of the players came from Ilves: Rosa Lindstedt, Jenni Hiirikoski, Heidi Pelttari, Venla Hovi, Annina Rajahuhta, Mari Saarinen and Linda Välimäki.
Women’s hockey in Tampere really took off in 1989, when their ice hall was built in Tesoma. In 2015 severe mold damage was found and the ice hall was demolished. For a few seasons the team was not doing so well, but that changed again when the new Tesoma ice hall was completed in 2017.
In the same, year women’s hockey got a ”facelift,” when the series was re-named Naisten Liiga (”Women’s League”) and The Finnish Ice Hockey Association began investing more into women’s hockey.
For many years Ilves did not have an actual ”path” for new players. Girls would be kicked out of boy’s teams at around 13–14 years old, and then join the women’s team or players would transfer from other women’s teams. Ringette players have also proved to be skillful hockey players.
In mid-2010s, Ilves joined forces with Varala sports academy. This included, among other things, morning rehearsals for women by the academy. At first only school children and students could join, but later on the so-called academy status could be applied by anyone.
The current head coach for the women’s team, Linda Leppänen (née Välimäki), started coaching girls in 2019. Nowadays there are around 60 players in the youngest age groups and hopefully the women’s league team will receive new stars from the juniors.
In 2018, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association began providing financial support to women’s teams in order to hire professional coaches. The corona pandemic forced the teams to play without spectators being present. This meant also losing the income from the entrance tickets. Luckily, Ilves has received financial aid from the government to cover up for some of the losses.
Written by: Lasse Tuorila, manager Ilves women’s team, 2021
Translated by: Mika Vehmas