Mikko Rantanen had a career year in Colorado and made Finnish history in the process, but the allure of playing in the World Chamionship, at home in Finland, was appealing to him the minute he got the invitation to play.
Mikko Rantanen, Finland--Making history, then Suomi
If anyone had star power in Tampere, it was Finland's Number 96. Mikko Rantanen was coming off an NHL season with Colorado in which he scored 55 goals, just the third Finn ever to break the 50-goal mark after two lads named Kurri and Selanne. Rantanen won a Stanley Cup with the Avs a year ago and has a long history of international competition, from the U18 to the World Juniors to three IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. He might have made history overseas, but the national colours are always in sight.
"It's my home country, so I'm proud to wear the jersey always," Rantanen said. "Of course, I have a lot of family and friends in Finland, and we keep in touch every day. I try to represent Finland as best I can. Playing at home in front of friends and family is the best thing."
He's 26 now, but when he was a kid, well, he was a fan, just like any kid today watching him play.
"When Finland won in 2011, I was 14, and I remember it very well," he recalled. "I was just a fan back then, so Finland winning was a big thing. They had a lot of good players, so it's nice here now that it's me playing in front of the Finnish people and try to do the best I can."
MacKenzie Weegar--The Canadian Way
Weegar is a tale of two cities, as it were. He's 29, so he's no rookie, but this is also his first time representing Canada and playing on the big ice in Europe, so he's also a newbie of sorts. But he is more of a leader than follower here in Tampere, and his attitude and understanding are the result of hockey's place in Canadian culture--go for gold.
"It's been a great experience," he enthused. "It's my first time here at the World Championships. We have a great team, great coaching staff. It's a privilege to represent Canada. I haven't worn the Team Canada jersey before, so for me it was a no-brainer to come."
It's a tired expression, perhaps, but it rings true for Weegar and the Canadians--try to get better every day, every game.
"We're trying to play the right way," he went on. "Early on we were forcing a lot of things, but we have a young group and we have to learn from our mistakes. But we play the Canadian way--we're fast and physical and hunt for pucks. That's the way we want to play. Our goal is the gold medal. I think we can win it all here. We've got a great team. We're committed. We're a close group, so I think we can win the gold medal."
Alexandre Texier, France--Wait for tomorrow
Only 23 years old, Texier is already playing in his fourth World Championship, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's always a pleasure," he enthused. "I want to play for my country all the time, so it's fun to be here. We play with our heart. It's great to see some friends again. We always stay in touch during the season, but it's also fun to be together for two weeks. We enjoy each other's company off ice, and on ice we just try to win. It's always a little sad when we leave."
Texier knows the value of international hockey, both personally and in the context of the bigger picture. He has played both junior events at the Division I-A level, and has played in both the French league and the NHL, with Columbus.
"It's also great for French hockey. We have to get better. We all know that. Our whole goal is to grow the game in France--the TV, the media--but it has to start with us and getting good results. It's getting better, so it's nice if I can be a role model for some young fans. And we have a young team, so we're going to improve. They're a special group coming up now, so we're going to grow."
"As long as I can play, I will come--for my teammates, for my country, for everything."
Jonas Siegenthaler, Switzerland—The future starts now
By playing in Riga with Team Switzerland this year, the 26-year-old Jonas Siegenthaler completes his triple hat trick of IIHF competition. That is, he has played in three U18s, three World Juniors, and now three senior Men’s Worlds. He joined the Swiss along with Nico Hischier after their NHL team, the New Jersey Devils, were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. For Siegenthaler, he knows his present is the start of someone else’s future.
“It’s a great chance to be playing with these teammates again,” he started. “I played with some of them growing up, so it’s always fun. We have a good group of guys, and it’s great to spend some off time together. But we’re also sort of ambassadors for the younger generation. We want to give them a positive experience and show them how cool hockey is to play at a World Championship, or hockey in general. Hockey in Switzerland is big but has the potential to grow more. If we can reach our young generation, it will be huge. If they can play in a World Championship in ten years, that would be amazing. That’s how we’ll be successful in the future.”
On a personal note, winning is important, of course, but there’s another hope. “One of my dreams would be to play a World Championship at home,” he explained. “I haven’t experienced it, but something I’m looking forward to. Maybe 2026. Let’s see.”
Timothy Liljegren, Sweden--First time's a charm
Still only 24, Liljegren has just completed his fourth season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after being drafted by them 17th overall in 2017. He grew up in the Rogle system and played at the U18 in 2016 and the World Juniors tow years later.
"I got the call asking me to come over," he began. "It's the first time for me, so it was a pretty easy decision. It's pretty big. I've played with some of the guys before, and against some, so there are some familiar faces. I think it's fun. In a tournament like this, you're around the guys all the time, at the hotel, playing cards, developing chemistry off the ice, and hopefully that translates in the game as well."
Like any hockey fan, he watched the World Championship long before he played in one. "I watched all the time when I was a kid," he continued. "It's always neat having guys come back from the NHL. When I was a small kid I remember watching the Olympic gold in 2006, and then I remember we took gold in 2012 with a team that had a lot of NHL guys."
Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark--Family Matters
Ehlers has been in the Winnipeg Jets organization for nearly a decade, ever since the team drafted him 9th overall in 2014. This is his fourth Men's Worlds. He comes from a hockey family and knows how important sport is. "There's another reason I want to be here," he explained of his participation this year in particular. "It's my dad's last World Championship, and I wanted to be here for it and be with him [Note: Heinz Ehlers is the team's coach]. But I love playing in the red and white jersey. It's something I'm very proud of. The guys are like family to me; it's always fun. It's always a proud moment."
"We're trying to make as many memories on and off the ice as possible as a team, so it's exciting. But we're also trying to make the game more popular back home, and with the results we've had over the last four or five years, I think I can say we've been able to do that. It's an exciting time for Danish hockey, and it's exciting for us as players."
Ehlers takes with him some memories of the World Championships that will never fade, and on a personal note, that's important as well "I think our quarter-finals against Finland in St. Petersburg [in 2017] was pretty cool. And beating Canada last year when I played against two of my teammates was great as well. We've been able to create some speical moments with the national team, and that's one reason I want to keep coming back."
Moritz Seider, Germany--Dreaming Big
Still only 22, Seider has just completed his second full season with the Detroit Red Wings, the team that drafted him 6th overall in 2019. A physical and agile defender with great mobility and a long and bright future, he is also playing in his fourth consecutive Men's World Championship. "I'm not the most vocal guy. I try to lead by example, go out there and have fun, and go from there."
"Being here is really important," he began. "We take a lot of pride putting on that jersey, and we want to represent our country and help develop hockey in Germany, to make it more competitive and get more people to enjoy hockey."
"My favourite tournament was the last one in Riga [in 2021]. Even though there were no fans, it was special because we had an unbelievable team. We were unlucky to be beaten by the Finnish team, even though we were the better team, I think. That's impressive from our side. But now this year I hope we are able to beat the first team on the other side in the quarter-finals. Let's do it. Why not just dream big?"
Nico Hischier, Switzerland—Never forget where you came from
Nico Hischier was the first Swiss player to be drafted 1st overall, by New Jersey in 2017. Since then he has become one of the best young players in the game, and two years ago the Devils made him team captain. This past season he had a career year, scoring 31 goals and recording 80 points.
But no matter how you slice it and dice it, Hischier is first and foremost a proud Swiss player. He has represented his country at three U18s, two World Juniors, and now four World Championship. “I love to represent my country, and I love our team here,” he said soon after arriving in Riga to play for La Suisse. “I don’t hesitate. Any time you can play a few games for your country, it’s fun.”
Indeed, the pro was once a kid, and now that he’s a pro the next generation of little Hischiers are watching, admiring….dreaming.
“I remember when I was a kid there was one World Championship in Bern, so I was able to go to some games as a kid, so that was great. It made me think, that’s something I’d like to do. Looking back, watching Switzerland win the silver medal twice was pretty cool. For me, last year in Helsinki over a weekend when we beat Canada and everyone wore red. So many fans flew in for the game. It felt like we were playing a home game. It was a great atmosphere that I won’t forget any time soon.”