(ISN) – Jake Virtanen’s dad, Rainer, was born in Finland and lived 10 of the first 15 years of his life there. But when the Finns play Canada’s National Junior Team on Dec. 29, his loyalties will be anything but divided.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Finland, but there’s no doubt I’m rooting for Canada all the way,” he says. “It’s not even close.”
Back in B.C., Rainer’s dad has also switched allegiances. “We bought him a red-and-white sweater because he’ll be cheering at home,” says Jake’s mom, Brigitte. “We told him he has to wear it during games and cheer for Jake.”
Now the family just has to convert the last holdout: Jake’s great-uncle, who still lives in Finland.
“(My dad and him have) been bugging each other over Skype about who’s going to win the game,” says Rainer, laughing.
For many Canadian hockey fans, the World Juniors are a favourite holiday tradition, and the Virtanens are no exception. The family went to the 2006 tournament in Vancouver. Nine years later they’re sitting in the stands again, only this time with a more personal interest.
In Canada’s opener against Slovakia, Jake scored the final goal in an 8-0 win. With some fans already up and heading for the exits, Rainer and Brigitte couldn’t see the ice, only the people around them getting excited.
“I said to Brigitte, I think Jake scored that,” says Rainer. “We looked at the monitor and said, ‘yes, he did,’ and gave each other a little high-five.”
With Jake having played spring hockey in the same organization as Curtis Lazar, Nic Petan and Shea Theodore – who also attended the same high school as Jake – the Virtanens know the families of several of their son’s teammates.
Camaraderie at this level comes naturally, as does providing unwavering support to their sons.
“Sometimes they’re going to have good days and sometimes they’re going to fumble, but that’s okay,” says Brigitte. “You know, they’re teenagers.”
Jake has always had specific hockey goals, his dad says, including playing in the Western Hockey League (he’s now in his third season with the Calgary Hitmen), getting drafted in the NHL (the Vancouver Canucks selected in the first round in 2014) and being chosen for the World Juniors.
“We’re so proud and happy for him,” says Rainer. “Of course, the pride comes through for yourself, but mostly it’s a sense of pride for what he’s accomplished to get where he is.”