SOCHI, Russia — Beads of sweat rolled down Olli Maatta’s face as the 19-year-old tried to process one of the most painful losses of his young career.
A costly mistake by Maatta in his own zone had led to Sweden’s first goal in a 2-1 victory against Finland in the Olympic semifinals, and now the Finns’ hopes of bringing home a gold medal had been reduced to bronze.
Maatta had experienced brutal defeats before this, but certainly not on such a grand stage. Afterward, he stood in the bowels of the Bolshoy Ice Dome in his soaked blue sweater and answered for his error, showing the same maturity that has impressed his teammates, coaches and fans back in Pittsburgh.
“It was a tough play, a turnover,” Maatta said. “I lost the battle in the corner, and they made a great play. It happens.”
Maatta has been one of the emerging players of these Sochi Olympics, scoring two goals and adding two assists from his spot on the blue line. But he was not willing to acknowledge that he had taken a personal step forward here with the wound so fresh.
“It’s tough to think about that right now,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Luckily, Maatta had Penguins and Finland teammate Jussi Jokinen around to state the obvious.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Jokinen said. “Lots of people didn’t know much about him before coming here, and he’s been one of our top two defensemen here for sure.”
In Maatta’s brief time with the Penguins, Jokinen, 30, has been like a “father figure” to him. Together, they will endure this loss against their rival to the west. Jokinen also was on the ice when Sweden beat Finland in the 2006 gold-medal game and, given his deeper perspective, Friday’s result will hurt him in a different way than Maatta.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Jokinen, who has one goal and two assists in the Olympics. “These are the chances you don’t get too often. It’s four more years, and we don’t know if NHL players will be out there after these Olympics. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Finns have much to be proud of, having knocked off Russia, 3-1, on its home soil in the quarterfinals and playing Canada to overtime in group play before falling, 2-1, in overtime. And they will still have much at stake today in the bronze-medal game against the U.S.
“It’s going to be a big deal in years to come whether you had a bronze medal, or if you lose that game you get nothing to take home from here,” Jokinen said.
Said Maatta: “It’s the Olympics. Everyone wants it. I don’t think anyone will find it hard to find motivation tomorrow.”
J. Brady McCollough: email@example.com and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.