The Ice Hockey Women’s League started just over a week ago in the opening tournament played in Hämeenlinna.
Many of last season’s top players were gone. Anni Keisala, Ella Viitasuo and Kiira Yrjänen joined HV-71, Minttu Tuominen and Nelli Laitinen Stateside.
The name of one top player could not be found on the lists of any Women’s League team, but not on the top foreign clubs either.
All fall, hockey circles have been wondering where the best goal scorer of last season is Matilda Nilsson. Nilsson scored no less than 37 goals in the regular season in Helsinki IFK’s shirt last season.
The attacker from Kirkkonummi answers the phone in a good mood. Nilsson, 25, has had to answer the same question several times recently.
– I’ve had a pretty hard training summer behind me, I’ve trained with boys and even with men’s league and NHL players. I have been training hard and I came to the decision that I want to play with the boys, Nilsson begins.
– I have kept the doors open to Sweden and other foreign countries. I’ll probably find out within a few weeks whether I’ll leave Finland or stay to play with the boys.
One thing is certain: she will not be seen in the Women’s League this season.
The level of the series is worrying
The problems of the Ice Hockey Women’s League have been one of the constant topics of discussion in women’s hockey: the best players go abroad in search of better games and compensation, the level differences in the series are huge and there is room for improvement in terms of recognition and conditions.
The head coaches of the league teams interviewed by Urheilu also brought up their concerns about the state of the series.
Nilsson says he was looking for new things, and that’s why he doesn’t want to play in the Women’s League this season.
– Of course, it saddens me that we have come to this situation, that the Women’s League does not have the flavor of an international level. It is certainly due to the fact that many players have gone to university or Sweden.
Finnish players are happy to go to the other side of the Baltic Sea to play, because in the western neighbor women can get paid for playing. According to a recent report by Urheilu, playing in only two clubs in the domestic Women’s League is free this season: HIFK and HPK. Both operate under men’s league teams and also have the biggest budgets in the league.
Elsewhere, players pay monthly or seasonal fees, totaling around 585–2,900 euros per season. However, within the team, there can be differences in terms of payments depending on the player, which upsets Nilsson.
– Certain players get more benefits, sponsors or small rewards. Everyone should have the same starting line in the same team. A salary is paid for playing in Sweden, no matter what level the player is. There is not that much inequality. There is also more cooperation with the men’s league team, Nilsson sees.
Games with boys
Recently, Nilsson has been training with HIFK’s B-boys Mestis team and Kirkkonummi Salamoide’s under-17 boys in the Finland Series. On Saturday, Nilsson celebrated a 6–2 victory over Kiekko-Espoo with Salamoide and got an assist in the match.
– It was really nice to play. It’s a bit different, you have to focus on the fact that a bigger guy might come and put it on the walls. But it was really fun. They are quite tough physically, they have had a hard training there. I’m really grateful that I got to train with them.
Nilsson’s preferred place to play would be in Sweden at the moment, in which direction he is currently negotiating.
– The keys are in my hands, so to speak, but things are still a little open. I have applied to the school, but it would be a multi-modal education. You should come to Finland to write the entrance exam, Nilsson opens.
Games with boys are also made in Sweden. In the SDHL, the country’s main series, an experiment has been introduced this season, where Tackles are also allowed in women’s league games. Usually, tackling is prohibited in women’s ice hockey.
– Of course, I’ve thought that this will give you an initial boost, so to speak. There is a lot of fighting and physicality.
The national team is interested
Matilda Nilsson was with the Women’s Lions in the World Championships played in August 2021. The power forward was also selected for the team for the twice canceled tournaments due to the corona virus, then as a KalPa player.
However, Nilsson’s name was no longer found on the Olympic team. He was not part of this year’s World Cup team either.
– Of course I have goals in the national team, I want to represent Finland. I look forward to the opportunity to do so again. I haven’t talked to Juuso (head coach Toivola) since the Games. I hope that he will give me a chance, when at no point have I properly received it. Juuso knows that I am available.
In Sweden, female ice hockey players are paid – in Finland, ice hockey at the major league level is still an expensive hobby for many
The state of the Women’s League raises concerns among head coaches – “Are we getting players to grow into this league?”