When speaking about the most improved ball hockey programs around the world in the past few years, it is difficult to skip Finland. Their 2019 ISBHF World Championships silver medal success came as a surprise, and a signal that a new ball hockey superpower is on the horizon.
In this interview, the Chairman of SBHL (Suomen Ballhockeyliitto = Finnish Ball Hockey Association) Johannes Pukema talks not only about the 2019 Worlds success, but also the developments of the Association and the planned Arctic Circle Cup.
Finland won a historic silver medal at the 2019 ISBHF World Championships in Košice – looking back, how do you value that achievement?
Of course it was big achievement for us. Now we have showed that we can battle for the World Championship, and this kind of achievement gives us hope for the future, for our great players.
Some ball hockey fans predicted Finland to be a ‘dark horse’ of the 2019 Worlds, but what do you believe was key in your successful campaign?
We had a great team and the team spirit was something special from the training camp to Košice. It was also the first time that we selected players from several club teams, and the result was almost perfect.
In 2020, you held an 8-team National Championship in Ylitornio. In July 2021, the Nationals will take place in Somero for the first time. What do you expect from this tournament?
We had a great National Championship in Ylitornio despite COVID. Our livestream had more than 4,200 views in two days and we also had 200 spectators in the arena for the finals. We expect that we can improve our tournament level and hope that in July we can play ball hockey without the special arrangement of COVID.
We expect to have 8-10 teams in the Nationals, and we already have 7 teams signed up at this moment.
An important moment of Finnish ball hockey was also the first U16 game played during the 2020 National Championships. What are your plans in developing your junior program?
Yeah! That was a great kick-off to start developing the junior program. Players loved playing ball hockey. We hope that in future we also have women’s and juniors’ tournaments in our program.
In 2020, the Finnish Ball Hockey Association achieved a milestone – being recognised by the Finnish Olympic Committee. How important is this and what were the steps towards being accepted?
We are very proud that Finnish Olympic Committee have recognised our sport in Finland. This has been a help for us to get our specific ball hockey insurance to players and now we have good systems to follow how many registered players we have in the Association. In Finland we needed to have 3 registered teams so that we could establish the Finnish Ball Hockey Association. The Finnish Ball Hockey Association was founded and registered in May 2017.
The Finnish Olympic Committee has two level of membership; full membership and supporting membership. To get supporting membership, the Association must be at least 3 years old to be eligible for membership. Our application was accepted by the Finnish Olympic Committee at the meeting in June 2020.
Arctic Circle Cup
The Finnish Ball Hockey Association plans to host a major club team event – the 2021 Arctic Circle Cup. How did you develop the idea of hosting an international event and what do you hope this tournament will achieve?
When the Men’s World Championships were moved to 2022, we thought that the ISBHF needed a good Cup for 2021 and this was a good chance for us. We really hope that we can arrange the event and get teams from all over the world to compete for the title. We think this would get ball hockey more promotion in Finland and get more players join us.
Assuming that the event will go ahead, what can players and fans expect from Ylitornio and the Arctic Circle Cup?
Players can expect a Cup that is well organized and played on a great surface. Ylitornio is a small place with beautiful nature.