Helsinki’s downtown market square erupted into a deafening roar on Monday night as Finland’s victorious ice hockey team made its triumphal entry, bearing aloft the golden world championship trophy.
“I absolutely had to come down here. I couldn’t possibly stay away!” said Mervi, a 54-year-old grandmother and ice hockey fan, sporting a Finnish Lions jersey and a blue-and-white plastic Viking helmet.
She said she had also come downtown to celebrate in 1995, the only other time Finland has brought home the World Championship title.
The team, fresh from humbling archrivals Sweden 6-1 in the Ice Hockey World Championship finals in Bratislava on Sunday, had their plane escorted to Helsinki with an honor guard of two Hornet fighter jets, courtesy of the Finnish military. The open-topped bus carrying the team from the airport rounded the corner into the square to the thunderous, flag-waving cheers of the crowd, as beaming team captain Mikko Koivu, gold medal glinting on his chest, held up the trophy.
“I don’t even like ice hockey and I’m so...” screamed 19-year-old Minttu, unable to finish her sentence and bursting into cheers.
Around 70,000 people thronged into the city center to greet its hockey heroes, according to newspaper Iltalehti.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen was on hand to congratulate the team on stage, calling them “heroes” and getting her chance to lift the huge trophy in front of the crowd.
Many young people scaled the historic buildings for a better glimpse of the team on stage, while one government building flew a massive banner that read “Wonderful, Lions!” in over meter-high letters.
Some groups popped champagne corks or passed out beers, while others shouted memorable phrases uttered by last night’s ecstatic sports announcer Antero Mertaranta.
“I think she’s going to remember this for the rest of her life,” said 34-year-old Jussi, as his four-year-old pigtailed daughter Aava rode his shoulders for a better view of the revelry.