Olympic Preview: Finland

Will Olli Määttä make Finland's Olympic team? - Bruce Bennett

Let's meet Santa's hockey team, the great Finnish Lions.

We continue PensBurgh's Olympic preview series with a look at Finland. If you'd like to check out the previous articles in the series, here they are:

  • Olympic Preview Series: Introduction to Sochi 2014
  • Olympic Preview: Austria
  • Olympic Preview: Canada
  • Olympic Preview: Czech Republic
  • FINLAND

    Finland is home to more than 180,000 lakes and almost 180,000 islands. It is also the official home of Santa Claus. Finns are the world's heaviest coffee drinkers. They can also play a little hockey, and have great fans, who can sometimes be a little extreme. Let's meet their national team, currently #2 in the IIHF world ranking.

    Finland is one of the world's greenest and most sustainable countries, so it's fitting that they'll be wearing environmentally friendly jerseys made of 73% recycled materials.

    OLYMPIC HISTORY

    If you had to guess which country in the world has won the most Olympic medals per capita, would you come up with Finland? It's true. As of 2012, Finns have hauled 302 summer and 156 winter Olympic medals, which comes to almost 85 Olympic medals/million population (10 times higher than the United States).

    The Finnish Lions (Leijonat) have participated in the Olympic hockey tournaments since 1952. They failed to medal in their first seven tries, but since 1988 have won five medals, three bronze and two silver ones, including medals in the two most recent Olympics in Turin and Vancouver. Finland has won the IIHF World Champinships twice, most recently in 2011 in Slovakia. Here is Mikael Granlund with a great goal against Russia. More than 100,000 people were out in Helsinki for a parade with the world champions.

    Finland won the bronze in Vancouver (beating Slovakia 5-3 in the third-place game) and in that tourney Teemu Selänne became the all-time points leader in the Olympics, surpassing legendary Kharlamov, Bubník and Watson. Sochi will be his sixth Olympics (and the amazing part is that he won't be the first Finnish player to accomplish that).

    PRE-OLYMPIC CAMP ROSTER

    Here’s the full list of invitees:

    Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, Antti Raanta, Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Karri Ramo, Petri Vehanen

    Defensemen: Juuso Hietanen, Topi Jaakola, Joonas Jarvinen, Jere Karalahti, Lasse Kukkonen, Teemu Laakso, Sami Lepisto, Toni Lydman, Tuukka Mantyla, Janne Niskala, Petteri Nummelin, Joni Pitkanen, Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen, Sami Vatanen, Ossi Vaananen

    Forwards: Juhamatti Aaltonen, Aleksander Barkov, Sean Bergenheim, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Granlund, Niklas Hagman, Teemu Hartikainen, Juha-Pekka Hytonen, Jarkko Immonen, Jesse Joensuu, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Jokinen, Niko Kapanen, Mikko Koivu, Saku Koivu, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Lauri Korpikoski, Jarno Koskiranta, Jori Lehtera, Ville Leino, Antti Miettinen, Janne Pesonen, Lennart Petrell, Antti Pihlstrom, Jarkko Ruutu, Tuomo Ruutu, Sakari Salminen, Veli-Matti Savinainen, Teemu Selanne

    PROJECTED ROSTER

    Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask (starter), Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen

    Even without Pekka Rinne, whose recovery from a bacterial hip infection is going to take much longer than anticipated, this is the best goaltending lineup by a wide margin. If Canada had one of these guys in goal, there would be no point to even bother with a tournament. Who will be the starter, Niemi or Rask? There is no wrong answer here although I'd go with Rask, because we know he can play on the big stage (welp) and his GAA is 0.50 lower and SV% .30 higher than Niemi's.

    Defensemen: Juuso Hietanen, Toni Lydman, Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen, Sami Vatanen, Lasse Kukkonen, Sami Lepisto, Olli Maatta

    Why not Olli? This is an aging group of blueliners that doesn't really scare anyone. Nobody had him on their lists, but Olli Maatta has played his way on the Pittsburgh Penguins top 6 against strong odds and definitely deserves a spot over someone like Joonas Jarvinen (and I'm not saying that because I'm a Pens fan). It's going to be a long tournament and Maatta can help them when the old legs get tired. The Finns have another 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL, Buffalo Sabres' Rasmus Ristolainen, and even he is above Kimmo Timonen for the season. I know Timonen is a stalwart of the Finnish defense, but one assist in 16 games ... I won't be shocked if they go with Ristolainen or someone else.

    Forwards: Mikko Koivu, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen, Valterri Filppula, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, Ville Leino, Leo Komarov, Lauri Korpikoski, Mikael Granlund, Niklas Hagman, Alexander Barkov

    Same thing here. Lots of great players who aren't exactly spring chickens. Young players like Granlund and Barkov will make a difference. If they feel Barkov is too green, they may opt to take Jarkko Immonen, but that would be a mistake. Time for another fun fact. Jussi Jokinen has represented Finland 10 times in international competitions, and has 6 medals to show for it. Watch Jussi light the lamp against Canada at the 2012 Worlds.

    MEET THE COACHES

    General manager of Team Finland is 5-time Stanley Cup winner Jari Kurri. Erkka Westerlund has just completed his second stint coaching the national team (he had previously coached them from 2004-2007), and although he'd achieved considerable success (three medals including an Olympic silver in 2006) it was announced that Kari Jalonen will take over in January for the next two years.

    STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

    Strength: Duh. Goaltending on this team is ridiculous. The thing is, only one of these guys can be in goal at any one time, but having two other incredibly strong goalies behind him is a huge confidence boost in case of an injury or bad form. Experience and veteran leadership on this team is tremendous and second to none.

    Weakness: Their defensive corps is not very strong, though I still think they can get the job done. I'm not actually certain about coaching, because Jalonen is just taking over, but still, I think they will have to make adjustments here as they go.

    PREDICTED FINISH

    Finland is going to medal in the Sochi Olympics. That you can take to the bank. I can't tell you with certainty what their medals will be made of, though. The way I see the teams shaping up, I think theirs will be bronze.

    Finland has been drawn in Group B with Canada, Austria and Norway. I think Canada will come out of the gates very strong and sweep their group. The Finns will still make their way to the semis, probably lose to a team with more weapons, but regroup to win the bronze.

    I am rooting for so many teams in this Olympic tournament that it's kind of ridiculous. Russia, the team of my ancestors. United States, because I'm American. Slovenia, my Cinderella team. Sweden, because I can shamelessly root for Henrik Lundqvist (and because it's one of my favorite places but that's an aside). In my heart of hearts, though, I want Finland to break through and win their first Olympic gold because it's the greatest hockey-playing nation in the world to not have won one yet. I plan to spend much of the Olympic tournament wearing my white #8 Suomi jersey and cheering them on, hoping for more of this.

    For all the glory and accolades that Teemu Selanne has righly received, he is just one of the greatest Finns to lace 'em up. Besides Hall-of-Famer Jari Kurri, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the greatest of the Finnish greats Raimo Helminen, who played a total of 331 games for Finland and tallied 207 points (52 goals and 155 assists). This video is from Maestro's last game for Finland. This clip shows very well, due to positioning of the cameras, the size of the international ice surface. The Finns know how to play on it. Ihanaa Leijonat!

    Thanks for reading. Next Sunday, we're off to Latvia.

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