Like it or not, Finland is always going to be one of those teams, and there are about 3-4 of them, that could play a role in a major major upset at an event like the Olympics. Until they actually do win a tournament at this level, that is probably not going to change, but they still have the reputation as a team that is to never be taken lightly. Part of the reason for that is they have a lot of underrated stars currently playing in the NHL. There must be something special about playing for your own country.
Says http://www.nhl.com, Finland always seems to enter these major tournaments flying under the radar, but often ends up being a surprise team.
First, they have at least one goalie who has made it all the way to the grand stage of the NHL’s tournament; Tuukka Rask wasn’t always as solid in the opening round of the playoffs as he was through most of the rest of it.
Proves that you can get incredibly luck at the craziest of times, and still wind up getting the job done…almost. He got shelled by Toronto in round one, got bailed out by teammates, then pretty much shut down the barn door for over 10 games, then had a little let down in the finals.
Whole point is that he has the experience in huge games from not that long ago, now Finland supporters should be licking their chops getting ready for next week.
The goaltending position isn’t the only part of the team where you need someone who is reliable. The Fins have a good mixture of size, talent and speed to go along with Rask in net.
If there is one thing that the Fins definitely will not be lacking in, it is Olympic experience. This will no doubt be the last appearance for guys like Teemu Selanne. Selanne will be just the second player in history to participate in six Olympic games.
Along the way, he has played in Albertville (1992), Nagano (1998), Salt Lake city (2002), Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010).
The Finland roster will also include 10 players from Vancouver, including Olli Jokinen and Anntti Niemi. Absent from this year’s roster is Saku Koivu, but his brother Mikko made the team.
Here is Finland’s Olympic roster:
• Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen
• Defensemen: Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen, Lasse Kukkonen, Teemu Laakso, Sami Lepisto, Sami Vatanen, Ossi Vaananen.
• Forwards: Mikko Koivu, Olli Jokinen, Teemu Selanne, Valtteri Filppula, Aleksander Barkov, Mikael Granlund, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Jarno Koskiranta, Jori Lehtera, Antti Miettinen, Tuomo Ruutu, Niko Kapanen, Jussi Jokinen, Lennart Petrell
The Finnish defense is lucky to have three elite goaltenders on the roster because this blue line lacks top-tier talent.
But even though there’s not a No. 1, shutdown defenseman in this group, there is plenty of experience and leadership with Salo and Timonen to return from Finland’s bronze-medal-winning team in Vancouver.
Despite a lack of physicality and spectacular defensive skill, this blue line will provide valuable scoring because players such s Salo, Timonen, Pitkanen and Vatanen are all quality offensive players with powerful shots from the point, good vision and impressive puck-handling skills.
He wasn’t on the Olympic camp list, but top Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Olli Maatta is on the final roster. His excellent skating, playmaking and puck-moving skills would be a great fit on the Olympic-sized ice sheet that will be used in Sochi.
Antti Niemi, Goaltender
Niemi’s performance will be of the utmost importance because Finland does not have the offensive firepower to compete in high-scoring games against deeper and more talented opponents, such as Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
With that said, there is no reason for Finland to be concerned about its ability to keep games to a low score. Niemi rarely makes mistakes because of his quick reflexes, responsible positioning, great lateral movement and strong puck-handling skills.
He’s a reliable goalie with Stanley Cup-wining experience who understands what it takes to win important games.
There’s probably going to be fewer than 10 players in Sochi who have won two Olympic medals in their careers, and there’s a good chance that almost all of them could be on Finland. Koivu, Olli Jokinen, Lydman, Timonen, Selanne, Salo and Backstrom (if he makes the team) could all win their third Olympic medals in Sochi.
The experience and leadership that these players provide will be valuable components to the team’s success in Sochi. Finland has a tremendous combination of veteran leaders with medal-winning experience and young players eager to prove themselves on the international stage.
Exceptional Goaltending Depth
Finland has more goaltending talent and depth than any other nation that qualified for Sochi. The Scandinavian country has three No. 1 goaltenders with Niemi, Rask and and Lehtonen all capable of leading the team to the medal stand.
In fact, there’s a strong chance that the Fins’ third-string goalie, regardless of who plays that role, will be better than nearly every other No. 1 goalie in the tournament.
Quality goaltending is one common denominator among all gold-medal-winning teams, and it’s why Finland has a good chance to take home the top prize at the 2014 Olympics despite having less offensive firepower and defensive talent than the other gold-medal contenders.
Lack of Elite Talent on Blue Line
Finland doesn’t have the same depth and talent on the blue line that it did when the team won silver in 2006 and bronze in 2010. Even though the goaltending is as good as it’s ever been for the Finnish team, it would be unfair to think that Niemi, Rask or Lehtonen can lead the team to the gold medal if they have to make too many world-class saves at this tournament.
Finland will need a great tournament from veterans such as Timonen and Salo to accomplish its goal, which is a lot to ask of players who are nearing the end of their professional careers.
Finland will be forced to win a lot of close games in Sochi because it doesn’t have the scoring depth to win high-scoring matchups. No one on the Fins’ Olympic camp roster tallied more than 40 points or 15 goals in the NHL during the 2013 season.
This situation is going to put the goaltenders under a lot of pressure to be mistake-free, which is not an ideal situation because Rask, Lehtonen or Niemi will already have to deal with the pressure of being a No. 1 goalie on the Olympic stage for the first time.
Since NHL players began participating in the Olympics in 1998, Finland is the only team that has been on the podium three times. Canada, Russia, the Czechs and USA have all medaled twice. Sweden has once.
2010 results: topped Slovakia in the bronze medal game to win third place.
Predictions for Sochi: Second place in Group B.
Opening game opponent: Fins will be up early on opening day to play Austria at 3am EST on Thursday morning (12 noon Russia time).