Finland’s men’s hockey team took home Bronze in the Vancouver Games four years ago and they want more. The medal gave Finland their third medal (1 silver and 2 bronze) since NHL players began competing in the games in the 1998 Nagano Games. The three medals are the most of any country. Getting more will be tough though especially after losing forwards Mikko Koivu and Valterri Filppula to injuries before the games. Even their top replacement Sean Bergenheim of the Florida Panthers declined a trip to Sochi saying he needed the Olympic break to heal up and rest for the back end of the NHL schedule. Its a bit of a strange reason coming from a player whose team has no chance of making the playoffs.
Sochi Preview: Finland
Jarkko Immonen and Sakari Salminen play for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and will be the replacements for Koivu and Filppula. The rest of the Finnish offense will be led by 43 year old Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks. Selanne will be making his record tying sixth appearance in the Olympics and has played 47 games this season with 20 points to his name in the NHL.
With the loss of Koivu scoring will be an issue for the Finnish team. The one upper hand they may have is that with the addition of Immonen and Salminen, seven of the Fin forwards are coming from leagues that already play on the larger international sheet of ice that is used in Olympic play. The others are Jori Lehtera, Sibir Novosibirsk; Petri Kontiola, Traktor Chelyabinsk; Antti Pihlstrom, Salavat Yulayev Ufa; Juhamatti Aaltonena, Karpat Oulu; and Leo Komarov, Dynamo Moscow.
The other six forwards are coming from the NHL. Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets; Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes; Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers; Lauri Korpikoski, Phoenix Coyotes; Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins; and Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild.
The defensemen are an even split between NHL players and international players. The four from the NHL being Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins; Sami Salo, Tampa Bay Lightning; Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers; and Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks. The other four are Ossi Vaananen, Jokerit Helsinki; Lasse Kukkonen, Karpat Oulu; Sami Lepisto, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg; and Juuso Hietanen, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod.
Goaltending will be the number one position for the Finns who are stacked in net. The projected starter is Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins who leads the NHL in shutouts with five. He’s sporting a 2.11 goals against average and a .928 save percentage in 43 games. The men backing up Rask are San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars.
Niemi has a Stanley Cup to his name that was earned in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks so he is no stranger to the type of high pressure situation that the Olympic Games can bring. He’s played 48 games and has a 2.39 GAA with a .912 SV% and two shutouts. Lehtonen has a similar stat line to Neimi with 48 games played a 2.48 GAA and a .916 SV% and three shutouts.
With Russia playing to a home crowd and Sweden looking strong it will be tough for Finland to even make it to a medal game, never mind a repeat performance of 2010. Relying on the scoring of the aging Selanne with some secondary punches coming from Jussi Jokinen, Ruutu and Olli Jokinen the Finns just don’t have the depth that the other big nations bring to the games. They will be anchored in net and playoff type performances from Rask, Neimi and Lehotonen might be enough to steal games and get them to the medal round but I think that might be their only chance.
Check in later for previews on the rest of the elite eight of the tournament.
Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on Twitter – @Billman93. Support LWOS by following us on Twitter –@LastWordOnSport – and “liking” our Facebook page.
Interested in writing for LWOS? We are looking for enthusiastic, talented writers to join our Hockey writing team. Visit our “Write for Us” page for very easy details in how you can get started today!