BY: Nicholas Malofy
First and foremost, I am proudly Canadian and I fully expect the gold medal to be coming home to Canada. The reason I chose to write up about Team Finland is simple: Former Habs captain Saku Koivu has long been my favorite NHL player.
Finland has been a force in the past two Olympics, ending up with a silver medal in 2006 and a bronze in 2010. The strength of the Finnish program is goaltending. While Canada is trying to figure out who will be more consistent between Carey Price and Corey Crawford, Finland is trying to figure out which all-star to leave OFF the roster. Good goaltending can help a bad team win games. This is good because Finland has an aging roster that is short on top-level talent, especially on defense.
Pekka Rinne (starter)
Anti Niemi (3rd)
With incumbent starter Mikka Kiprusoff retiring, the reins have been passed to All-Star and two-time (arguably should have been three-time) Vezina trophy candidate Pekka Rinne. Tuukka Rask is coming off a defining playoff run and Antti Niemi has won a Stanley Cup in Chicago and was a Vezina nominee for his play this year in San Jose. Kari Lehtonen is a former 2nd overall draft pick and star for the Dallas Stars, but does not boast the talent and resume to make this squad. Barring injury to one of the top three, Lehtonen is watching from home, along with Minnesota Wild standout Niklas Backstrom.
Kimmo Timonen – Sami Salo
Joni Pitkanen — Toni Lydman
Sami Lepisto — Sami Vatanen
Ossi Väänänen (scratch)
This group is old. Timonen and Salo are both 38 years old, but both still posess puck-moving skills to lead the power-play (Timonen) and a cannon point shot accessorize it (Salo). Lydman is an elite shutdown defender, but is also 35 years old. Sami Lepisto makes the team based on his past experience, but is currently playing in the KHL. Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks prospect) is an up-and-coming NHL player who should break camp with the Ducks this upcoming season and will be a part of Finlands future. Olli Maata (Pittsburgh Penguins prospect) has a bright future, but at 19 will not be a part of this team. OssiVäänänen is a well-regarded veteran and will be on the squad to provide depth.
Valterri Filppula – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Tuomo Ruutu — Saku Koivu — Teemu Selanne
Lori Korpikoski — Olli Jokinen — Ville Leino
Antti Miettinen — Sean Bergenheim — Jussi Jokinen
Teemu Hartikainen, Jori Lehtera (scratches)
Up-front, this squad is led by the brothers Koivu (Mikko is my choice for captain, Saku an assistant), the ageless TeemuSelanne and Detroit Red Wings stalwart ValterriFilppula. After that, the talent level thins out considerably. This is a veteran group through and through, as Saku is 38 years old, Selanne is 42 and Olli Jokinen is 34. Most of the core players are at or around 30 years of age. Granlund and Hartikainen (20 and 22 respectively) will provide the youth.
The top line of Filppula/Koivu/Granlund boasts two potential line-mates from Minnesota playing together. If they develop a chemistry together during the regular season, that should theoretically carry over to the Olympics. Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne have played together in Olympics past and currently play together with the Anaheim Ducks. Tuomo Ruutu provides a physical presence on that line. The third line consists of veteran sniper Olli Jokinen, with two-way Phoenix Coyote Lori Korpikoski and the gritty Ville Leino. The checking line should be able to shut down teams on the penalty kill, with proven grinders Miettinen and Jussi Jokinen paired up with Florida Panther Sean Bergenheim. This line can also put the puck in the net. Teemu Hartikainen is a top-prospect with the Edmonton Oilers and pairs up with top KHL player Jori Lehtera (52 games, 17 goals, 48 pts) to provide depth. While Sasha Barkov is expected to be drafted in the top 5 of the 2013 NHL draft, I do not see him making the team this year barring a Sidney Crosby-esque start to his NHL career.
Finland has the goaltending depth to steal another medal. While they lack the firepower to compete with power-houses Canada, Russia and the United States, this has always been the case for them. Finland has enough two-way forwards to make up for the lack of depth on defence. Age will be a factor, as will health. Sami Salo, Joni Pitkanen, Saku and Mikko Koivu and Tuomo Ruutu have been injury prone in the past and losing any of these players to injury around Olympic time will be a hard blow to overcome.
Group B consists of Finland, Canada, Austria and Norway. Canada and Finland advance.
Finland rides hot goaltending to make another appearance in the medal round but lacks the offensive firepower to upset the United States. Canada and Russia meet for the gold.
The Finnish Finish: 4th