Things took an unfortunate turn for team Finland last night starting with Valtteri Filppula fracturing his ankle and is expected to miss three weeks. News didn’t get better after hearing that Mikko Koivu most likely won’t be playing either as he hasn’t even been cleared to practice with the Wild yet. This is a MAJOR blow for the Fins, and this could very well keep them off the podium. I apologize if this original post put the hex on Suomi.
The Olympic Hockey Tournament starts in a couple of days, and just about everyone has Canada, Sweden, and USA all medaling. Year after year, those three along with Russia are the most feared teams in the world, and smaller teams sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely see Sweden and maybe Canada on the podium, but from there it gets a little grey for me, and rightfully so.
Finland has the best goaltending tandem in the world. Rask and Lundqvist are pretty much 1A and 1B in the NHL, but that’s where Sweden’s goalkeeping declines. Finland has Niemi backing up Rask, and Lehtonen behind him. Rask has a Stanley Cup, so the pressure shouldn’t be that big of a deterrent as he’s shown he can perform under similar circumstances.
In front of Rask is a pretty solid defensive group, led by Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo. The addition of breakout rookie Olli Maatta and fellow youngblood Sami Vatanen gives Finland’s defense a promising upside. The Fins have good mobility on the blue line, and this shouldn’t be much of a surprise since Finland is the unofficial goalie/defenseman factory. Both Rask and Niemi should feel very comfortable playing behind these guys, and I have no reason to be worried about SUOMI’s backend.
The forward group worries me a little bit. They don’t have any star firepower like USA, Canada, Sweden, and Russia do, but they have a team full of skaters and grinders. The International ice is what’s going to be the x factor for Finland. Scandinavian’s grow up playing on the big rink, North American’s obviously don’t. The Fins have, in my opinion, a faster team than Canada and USA, and the extra ice is going to be a huge advantage for them. They’re led by super veterans Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen, but also have older vets who are playing over in the KHL and SM-Liiga. One kid to keep an eye out for is Jori Lehtera. Jori is playing over in Russia for Novosibirsk Sibir where he has been hovering around the point per game mark for his last three seasons. He’s an incredible finisher down low, and I expect him to use the bigger ice to sneak in behind the D and bang in some garbage goals. The last time the Olympics were held on International ice, Finland lost to Sweden 3-2 in the gold medal game. Canada and USA didn’t even make the semis. In 2010 in Vancouver, Finland beat Slovakia for the bronze medal. The bigger rink is no joke, its a humongous advantage to be used to playing on it, and I fully expect the European teams to take advantage of it.
Call me crazy, it is what it is.