Finns console Japan captain after Olympic quarter-final win |

BEIJING (AP) — As players gathered at their respective blue lines to honor their opponents after the game, Michelle Karvinen of Finland immediately noticed Japan captain Chiho Osawa growing increasingly emotional.

Karvinen momentarily put aside the joy of seeing Finland advance to the Olympic women’s hockey semifinals after a 7-1 win on Saturday that eliminated Japan. She led a group of teammates through the neutral zone to console Osawa, who the Finns have come to know and respect playing with her for Swedish league Lulea for the past three years.

“Seeing her like that on the blue line really took my heart,” Karvinen said. “So as soon as I saw him, as soon as we said thank you for the game, I wanted to go over there and give him a big hug.”

One by one, six Finns skated off before forming a group hug, which nearly suffocated Osawa along the boards near the penalty box. Some patted the captain on the head, Ronja Savolainen wrapped her arm around Osawa’s neck and everyone made sure to offer words of encouragement before leaving the ice.

What struck Karvinen was knowing the pain of being knocked out at the Olympics.

“Those are probably my worst moments of my career,” she said. “So to be able to go in there right away and show her comfort was really important to all of us who know her.”

The Finns have not forgotten that the Beijing Games could be the third and last for Osawa, who turned 30 on Thursday and has captained Japan since 2013.

“It was truly an honor to get to know her,” Finland captain Jenni Hiirokoski said. “She’s a really good teammate and a nice person, and we’re proud of the way she led the Japan team here.”

Japan equaled the top nation by finishing sixth for the third time in four Olympic appearances, while Finland qualified to face the United States in the semi-finals on Monday.

For the many rivalries that exist in hockey between countries – Canada and the United States, Finland and the Russians or the Swedes – there are also bonds that form between players in a sport with limited places for players. women.

Besides the Swedish league, Russia has a women’s league, and then there is the first hockey federation in North America, made up mainly of North Americans, but trying to attract more international female players.

The pandemic has also upended schedules and limited the number of times competing countries could meet in recent years.

“I think it’s one of the best things about sport. These are the bonds that you build both with your teammates but also with your opponents over the years,” Karvinen said.

“She’s probably the most humble player I’ve played with, she always works hard and treats people with a lot of respect,” she added. “I really admire him as a person.”

His eyes still visibly red with tears, Osawa spent a long time conducting post-match media interviews.

“They say to be proud of it and proud of the team,” Osawa said in English of what the Finns told him. “I’m happy, but I really wanted to win and play more games.”

She then turned to a team official for translation, when asked how meaningful it was to be consoled by opponents.

“I’m so happy and proud of them,” Osawa said through the performer. “I wish they win the next game.”

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