BEIJING (AP) — Marko Anttila had time to ponder many thoughts while in isolation at the Olympics.
“Can I play here or not?” was one of them.
The Finnish hockey veteran spent six days in a hotel in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus upon arriving in Beijing, wondering when he might resume his pursuit of gold. Anttila returned for the second match of the tournament, scored twice, and Sunday will play in the final against the russians seeks to help deliver the nation’s first Olympic hockey gold medal.
“I thought we could win something here and how (it would be) after that to be isolated and win something,” Anttila said. “The goal was to be here and enjoy and achieve this dream. Now it’s possible.”
That’s possible in part thanks to Anttila, a 36-year-old alternate captain at the Olympics who has worn the ‘C’ for Finland at the last two world championships and is a respected leader in the locker room. He scored in his first game and again in the quarter-finals.
“He must feel it in his legs in the first games of his comeback and the first practice, but he’s a pro,” former NHL defenseman Sami Vatanen said Saturday after the Finns’ final Olympic practice. “He knows what it takes to win games and he does everything to help the team. (He) guides us on the right path, shows us how to fight and win the little things on the ice.
Although he has no symptoms, Anttila was unable to skate during the first practices at the Olympics. Thinking about the possibility of winning the tournament motivated him to do some extra practice in his bedroom while biding his time.
There was a lot of time to kill and the mental anguish was worse than the physical toll.
“I was just alone in a hotel room,” Anttila said. “It was not easy.”
He made it easy to get back into playing condition. General manager Jere Lehtinen, who made the final in 2006 the last time Finland went this far at the Olympics, credits Anttila’s off-ice routine for becoming more rigorous with age.
“You have to do it more and more, and he’s doing a good job of that and that’s why he’s playing at this level,” Lehtinen said. “Don’t see any fatigue on his part.”
Of course Anttila is not tired. After six days of doing nothing, he was full of pent up energy.
Captain Valtteri Filppula joked that playing after being released from solitary confinement ‘seems to be working for’ Anttila, who was briefly joined at the hotel by Jussi Olkinuora, the goalkeeper when Finland returned from a three-goal deficit to beat rivals Sweden in the preliminary round final.
While Olkinuora has since made way for Harri Sateri in goal, Anttila’s line has become coach Jukka Jalonen’s choice to start every game. That’s because, Lehtinen said, “We know what they can do.”
Jalonen knows Anttila well and is not at all surprised to see this performance at the Olympics.
“He’s a very tough individual mentally,” said Jalonen, who coached Anttila for more than a decade. “We knew when he came back he had enough time to get into top physical condition. That’s what he’s doing right now.”
While it took several days to pass consecutive COVID-19 tests to be cleared, Anttila made sure he wouldn’t need too much time to get back up to speed. This isolation work has paid off so far, even though Finland have already left the Olympics with silver and Anttila wants to be part of the country’s first team to win gold.
“It’s our job to be ready when the opportunity arises and to do whatever you can to prepare yourself,” he said. “Hopefully now mine and the team’s best game is ahead of us.”
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno