The year started on a positive note for Finland with a surprising gold medal win by their national junior team at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship last Sunday. The last time Finland had won the gold at the WJHC was in 1998. The Finnish Hockey Federation must have done something right in the last 5 years to elevate their young players to this feat. A few minutes before Finland won the World Junior Championship, Jussi Jokinen told Sporting News he was expecting an infusion of younger players into the country’s international program and tournaments. Was he ever right. On Tuesday the Finns released their Olympic roster, which features a few of those younger guys such as NHLers Aleksander Barkov, Olli Maatta, Mikael Granlund and Sami Vatanen who were all born in the 1990s. Finland won bronze in 2010 but many of its best players are close to the end of their careers. This is a period of transition for Finland. To sum it up, the old guard is still there and the young studs are in.
Here is the complete Finnish roster as it was announced:
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars (NHL)
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks (NHL)
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (NHL)
Lasse Kukkonen, Kärpät Oulu (FIN)
Juuso Hietanen, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod (RUS)
Sami Lepistö, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (RUS)
Olli Määttä, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
Sami Salo, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Ossi Väänänen, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN)
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Juhamatti Aaltonen, Kärpät Oulu (FIN)
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers (NHL)
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild (NHL)
Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild (NHL)
Leo Komarov, Dynamo Moscow (RUS)
Petri Kontiola, Traktor Chelyabinsk (RUS)
Lauri Korpikoski, Phoenix Coyotes (NHL)
Jori Lehterä, Sibir Novosibirsk (RUS)
Antti Pihlström, Salavat Yulayev Ufa (RUS)
Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes (NHL)
Teemu Selänne, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Problem: Mikko Koivu sustained a broken ankle during a game on January 4 although he did finish the game. He had surgery on Monday and is expected to be out for one month. This injury puts his ability to play for Finland in the 2014 Sochi Olympics in jeopardy. He was a favorite to be named captain for his country. In the meantime his brother, Anaheim Ducks center Saku Koivu, reportedly has declined an invitation to participate in his fifth Olympics.
Also not on the roster: Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who’s dealing with the aftereffects of an infection in his surgically repaired hip. Finland will have to make due with Tuukka Rask as its presumed starter. Not too bad. It could be worse.
What to expect from the team in Sochi?
The good: Well for one the Finns usually play a well structured game and they are used to the larger ice surface. A huge factor considering that both Canada ans USA did not have success outside of North America at the Winter Games and neither during the last WJC in Sweden. The Finns have good goaltending in Rask who is familiar with the best players in the World. As far as scoring is concerned I believe they have what it takes to score important goals and compete but to a certain extent. Selanne, perhaps ignited by a last representation of his country, could make things happen despite his age. NHL rookie Barkov should be doing great at these games. You almost forget he is only 18. Finally, the Finns are known to be a disciplined team so they are not vulnerable to power plays situation too often. This is not an emotional team like Canada, USA or Russia at some point. When you watch Finland you know pretty much what type of hockey to expect. However they are tenacious and never easy to play against.
The not too good: The group of defencemen may be the weakest one of all top teams at the Olympics. Some of them are on their way out. Some others are just coming in and others well we don’t know much about them. This is not usually a good combination. Timonen excels on the PK and PP. I expect him to patrol the blue line. It is more at even strength that the weaknesses of their defensive corps will show and against scoring teams the Finns will struggle unless they get a brick wall in Tuuska Rask.
Special units: With Saku Koivu missing and possibly his brother as well, these are two players who could have helped on both special units. Especially Mikko. On the penalty killing there will be veterans on the ice for most of the time so the Finns are fairly okay since they avoid the box. The less opportunities for the opponent team the better. But on the power play unit the chemistry fails. It is a result of the transition this team is going through.
What’s in the picture?
A difficult tournament especially at even strength with a weak defense and younger players involved at the back and front. If Rask makes miracles they can win but by low scores. If Mikko Koivu is due back around the first week of February he may be cleared to play and get better as the games will add that is if the Minnesota Wild does not object to that. One can not underestimate them however and my take is that they will end up playing for the bronze. Not so much because they are a such a powerhouse but because some other teams are not that strong. They’re practically guaranteed to be in the medal round given that they and Canada are in a lopsided pool with Austria and Norway. So a second consecutive bronze medal isn’t out of the question here.
- Selanne will be just the second player in history to participate in six Olympic Games, having previously represented Finland at Albertville 1992, Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010.
- Kimmo TImonen will play at the Games for a 5th time.
- Finland is the only country to medal in three of the four tournaments since the NHL began taking a break from its schedule to allow players to participate in 1998.
- Finland won bronze in 2010.
- Finland will join Austria, Canada and Norway in Group B in Sochi.
Editor’s note: Make sure to follow Gillistheone on Twitter @GillisTheOne! If you have Facebook, make sure to “like” us here: https://www.facebook.com/notyouraveragehockeyblog