People watch the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships final match between Canada and Finland during the European Parliament elections in Helsinki, Finland May 26, 2019. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen/via REUTERS
HELSINKI (Reuters) – It started as a typical election night. But by the time The Groke scored the goal that claimed the lead in the World Cup final, the ice hockey-mad people of Finland had pretty much forgotten about politics.
For the record, the center-right, pro-EU National Coalition Party placed first in the election for the European Parliament with 20.8% of the vote.
But even at their own election watch party at a bar in central Helsinki, its members had switched channels well before the vote count had finished to cheer for the Lions, the national ice hockey team.
“The Groke scored, let’s shout out aloud!” a commentator celebrated during a live election results show on state broadcaster YLE when the lumbering team captain, Marko Anttila, scored the goal that took a 2-1 lead in the third period.
The Lions went on to defeat the heavy favorites Canada 3-1 to claim the cup in Slovakia. The match hero was Anttila, 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) tall, who borrows his nickname from an awkward lump-shaped giant in the Moomin series of Nordic children’s books.
“The Groke is the next president!” his teammate Veli-Matti Saavinainen said in an interview after the match. To which the actual President, Sauli Niinisto, replied on Twitter: “Wouldn’t make it much worse than this goblin,” referring to himself.
Crowds chanted “Groke! Groke!” in the streets through the night. Police said some 10,000 ice hockey fans gathered on a square in central Helsinki to celebrate, some of them splashing half-naked into a fountain in the cold Finnish spring weather of 7 degrees Celcius (45F). By Monday morning, Helsinki’s flagship department store Stockmann had sold out of Groke mugs.
On the political front, the night was also a big night for the Green Party, which placed second, with its share of the vote rising 6.7 points to 16%.
“Let’s put the puck in the goal!” Ville Niinisto, former Green Party chair and newly-elected member of the European Parliament shouted in his victory speech while the match was still underway.
Reporting by Anne Kauranen