A Day With the Finnish Hockey Legend ‘Mörkö’ and How the Legend Was Born
Reading time: 5 minutes
That’s the word that has been on the lips of the Finnish people for a week.
I attempt to explain.
Those who followed the ice hockey world championship know that the Finnish player number 12, whose last name is Anttila, scored the decisive goals in the playoffs in Slovakia between May 23 and 25—against Sweden and Russia—and then sealed the world champion victory with two goals in the final game against Canada on Sunday, May 26.
His name is Marko Anttila. He is 34 years old, from Lempäälä, a small municipality near Tampere in central Finland. He is known as “Mörkö.”
He’s been known by that nickname in hockey circles for the past few years. But hardly anyone has taken notice. (Anttila is a player in Jokerit ice hockey team, which plays in the professional Kontinental Hockey League KHL.)
But that started changing in Slovakia when Anttila scored even with Sweden, and the commentator, Antero Mertaranta, started repeating a rhetorical question on the live TV broadcast: “Löikö Mörko sisään?”
Did the Groke score a goal?
Yes. He did.
Finland defeated Sweden 5-4.
In the following match against Russia, Anttila scored the only goal of the game. 1-0 for the Lions! And so Finland advanced to the finals, to face Canada.
The game against Canada ended 3-1. Anttila tied the game to 1-1 and then scored the lead goal 2-1.
By the time the game was over a song repeating “Löikö Mörkö sisään?” over a monotonous dance beat had been created.
On Sunday night, at the people’s world champion party, they were shouting the phrase all over Helsinki center. The government-owned railway company VR carried revelers to Helsinki in official “Mörkö trains.” The church tweeted a verse from the Bible: “Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.” (Matthew 22:9, Good News Translation)
The following day, Mörkö cakes and cookies were served, T-shirts were printed. At this writing, the score is being painted on golden beer cans by the Finnish beer brand Karjala. This special edition will be served ice cold in stores in the near future.
On Monday, Mörkö and the Lions were late to return from Slovakia by no fault of their own.
The plane was supposed to arrive at Helsinki Airport’s VIP President Terminal at 14:00 but because of a mess of lost bags at the Bratislava airport, the plane took the runway at the time it was scheduled to land in Finland.
The lounge of the VIP terminal was packed with the hockey players’ family members and relatives and the media who had arrived early in the afternoon. The cake was ready. Reporters drank coffee with both hands. When they had had enough, they exited the backdoor that offered a good view over the runway.
“One doesn’t want to stay inside that sauna,” one member of the media uttered.
The time was approaching 16:00. The photographers squeezed together, shoulder to shoulder.
Finally, Finnair AY7512, honoring Anttila’s player number 12, descended from the heavens.
Then, the plane slowly rolling forward, the fire department greeted the flight by gunning water over it. A sight to behold!
The plane stopped. People started strolling down the steps. One of the first was Sampo Terho, the minister for European affairs, sports and culture, who has said to exit politics after the new government has been appointed. He was smiling in all directions.
Coach Jukka Jalonen was the first I recognized from the people who had something to do with ice hockey. Jalonen, 56, is the epitome of Finnish hockey. This was his second world title win. (2011 was his first.)
A tall man holding the trophy (known as ‘poika’ ‘the boy’) above his head appeared at the door. He smiled and screamed.
There was no doubt about it: It was Mörkö!
The team descended the steps. They walked confidently, dressed sharply in dark suits. They all seemed sober.
Anttila said that he hadn’t slept at all after Sunday’s final game.
“We will enjoy this to the maximum,” he said and smiled.
Anttila was asked what he thinks about being the “Mörkö” of the nation.
“I don’t think about it much,” he said with a relaxed tone. “It comes as it comes. Let’s enjoy that.”
There was something similar in Anttila’s appearance. I had witnessed this two-meter tall man’s calm before . . . and then it came to me as a right cross in the face: His demeanor reminded me of the Finnish heavyweight boxer Robert Helenius!
In an interview with Ilta-Sanomat, Anttila’s parents described their son’s nickname as “warm.” In this case, Mörkö is sympathetic, standing next to his own. Others should be afraid.
Anttila described himself to the media as a “humble captain of the team.” “This is only ice hockey,” he said. “There are bigger things in the world. If you start to pretend to be something else, it will go off on the wrong tracks.”
It was time for the team to get ready for the official reception ceremony to be held at Kaisaniemi Park in the evening.
Before leaving for the bus, Anttila disappeared with hurried steps.
I found him at the gates of the terminal where only a few of the most enthusiastic hockey fans had been allowed to navigate through the heavy police presence.
“Would you please sign my shirt?” asked a boy, about five years old.
“Absolutely,” Anttila said.
Anttila took his time to write several autographs for several small hockey fans.
“This will be a memory for their lifetime,” a mother said.
After waving to the fans, Anttila continued back to the bus.
Inside, a magnum bottle of champagne was popped.
Anttila had one more good reason to celebrate.
Today was his 34th birthday.