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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published February 04 2014

UND has two connections on Finland women's hockey team

GRAND FORKS – Things were a bit different seven years ago.

Michelle Karvinen lived in Denmark.

Susanna Tapani did not play hockey.

But this weekend, the two University of North Dakota students are expected to be among the top forwards for Finland at the 2014 Sochi Games.

While their paths to the Olympic Games have been unconventional, both Karvinen and Tapani have reached their sport’s pinnacle and hope that they can lead the country to its best Olympic Games finish ever in Sochi.

“Our goal is still to medal,” said Karvinen, who won a bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games. “Personally, I think we have an even better team this time around. We have a lot more depth, so we’ll see what happens.”

Her mother a Dane, her father a Finn, Karvinen grew up near Copenhagen, Denmark, and started playing hockey at a young age. By her mid-teens, she figured out that she had national team potential and a difficult decision awaited her.

At 16, she had to decide whether she was going to play for Denmark or Finland in world events.

“I knew if I chose Finland, there would be opportunities to go to the Olympics and World Championships,” Karvinen said. “When I made the decision to go to Finland, playing in the Olympics became a little dream of mine.”

In order to play for Finland, Karvinen had to move there for two years. She said it was fun to be able to see the places her father grew up.

The hockey wasn’t bad, either. Her development skyrocketed while playing against top competition, and she was eventually picked to represent Finland in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Karvinen’s first Olympics were eye-opening.

“I kind of thought I knew what I was getting into since I had watched the Games on TV before,” she said. “But I had no idea it was that big and crazy. I have so many good memories from there. There were a lot of things that weren’t even hockey related. Everything was something special and fun to be a part of.”

Tapani started on skates early in life, but not playing hockey.

She started playing ringette, like her mother, who was a national team player. Ringette is like ice hockey, with a few exceptions. Instead of a puck, there’s a ring. And the sticks are straight.

Tapani became one of the world’s best. Just two years ago at a world tournament, Tapani had 11 points in a 13-0 win over Team USA.

When she was 14, Tapani decided to give hockey a try.

“It was so hard,” Tapani said of trying to transition to hockey. “The skating is the same. Other than that, it’s so different than ringette. It was so hard in the beginning. I had a lot of challenges, but it was fun to see my development.”

Only a few years later, Tapani started getting invites to play with the national hockey team. After playing in three World Championships, the Olympics came into sight.

“It became my dream at some point,” she said.

Tapani found out she made the Olympic team by reading a website while she was in Grand Forks.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” she said. “It’s so unique to see your name on an Olympic team. It’s awesome to be there. I don’t know what to expect yet.”

Karvinen has given Tapani an idea of what to expect – on and off the ice.

“The Olympic Village is a very unique experience,” Karvinen said. “Everyone gathers there. You are sitting there eating breakfast and all of the sudden, Arnold Schwarzenegger walks in. You’re like, ‘Ehhh, that’s nothing. Yesterday, I saw the Swedish king.’”

On the ice, the expectations for Finland are high.

The Finns upset Team USA at the Four Nations tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November and finished second. With Noora Raty – the consensus best goalie in the world – and highly skilled forwards like Karvinen and Tapani up front, anything can happen.

“It’s going to be different this year,” Tapani said. “We have some older players on our team. I think that’s good to have some older players.”


Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald