Two days after the country’s fantastic gold medal winning performance on enemy territory at the World Junior Championships, Finland has announced its final men’s hockey roster for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The two most notable absentees from the junior team – both exceptional young NHLers – forward Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Olli Maatta of the Pittsburgh Penguins will dawn Finnish Blue for the big club next month in Sochi.
Since the NHL has allowed its players to participate in the Winter Olympics, the Finns have been constant competitors. In 1998 Finland earned a bronze, defeating Canada in the consolation game. When the NHL sent its finest to Torino, Italy, Finland won silver, losing a closely contested final showdown against their rivals from Sweden. And, in 2010, there they were again, in the final four earning another bronze medal. That gives Finland three medals in four tries, just like… no one. Only Finland has medalled three times since the inclusion of NHL players to the Olympic ice hockey tournament. Not to mention the Finnish national team earned a second place finish at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey; the only other best-on-best tournament to include NHL players since 1998.
Here is why the Finns could win a medal in 2014: Tuukka Rask. Sometimes, in these short hockey tournaments, a hot goalie can go a long way. For example, in 2010, American netminder Ryan Miller put on a world class performance that led his team all the way to the gold medal game with an undefeated record. In the final, the U.S. courageously fought back from 2-0 down to force Canada into overtime, and could’ve taken the prize, if not for a golden goal by Sidney Crosby in extra time. Rask is more than capable of winning an elimination game, or two, not unlike Miller in 2010.
Beyond Rask, the Finns have a solid, hard-working, skilled team that always surprises all of us from North America who forget about the importance of experience on the bigger international sized ice surface. In fact, if you only consider the two NHL included Olympic tournaments to take place overseas, the Finns are even more impressive, medalling both times.
Expect a hard brand of hockey from the Finns; a style that is ultra defensive and organized around the team’s defensive strengths, particularly between the pipes.
Meet the Finnish men’s hockey team that will vie for an Olympic gold medal in Sochi, Russia:
Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen.
Defence: Lasse Kukkonen, Juuso Hietanen, Sami Lepisto, Olli Maatta, Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen, Ossi Vaananen, Sami Vatanen.
Forwards: Juhamatti Aaltonen, Aleksander Barkov, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Granlund, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Lauri Korpikoski, Jori Lehtera, Antii Pihlstrom, Tuomo Ruutu, Teemu Selanne.