Olympic Hockey: Finland Among Gold Medal Favorites in 2014

Tuukka Rask, Olympic Hockey
Tuukka Rask, Olympic Hockey
Dec 28 2013 Ottawa Ontario CAN Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask 40 at the begining of the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre The Senators defeated the Bruins 4 3 Mandatory Credit Marc DesRosiers USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when it was the “Big Four” in international hockey: Canada, USA, Russia, and Sweden. The last of those has only really been the last 15-20 years. Finland was seen – at least in the hockey community’s eyes – like the little brother of Sweden. They tried pretty hard, and did OK sometimes, but they were never a real threat (perception, not reality).

A lot has changed since the good ol’ days. Finland made it to the final at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, only to fall to their rival Sweden 3-2 and go home with a silver medal. It was still an incredibly impressive showing; the Finns went 5-0 in the round robin, beating Canada 2-0 along the way. They then beat the Americans in the quarter-final and shutout Russia in the semi-final. This was a very good tournament for a team that wasn’t among the gold medal favorites.

At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Finns didn’t quite repeat the 2006 performance, but they did end up with a bronze medal after beating Slovakia in the third-place game. That made them the only country to have earned a medal in each of the last two Olympics.

The team from Finland isn’t just a “dangerous” team anymore, they should be considered among the medal favorites. You can read about the 53 Olympic orientation camp invitees here.

For them, it all starts in goal.


As of today, Tuukka Rask and Kari Lehtonen would seem to be locks for the team. Rask is absolutely automatic while Lehtonen is the next-best healthy goalie available for the Finns.

The wild card in all this as of right now is of course Pekka Rinne.

Rinne hasn’t played a game since October 22 because of an E.Coli infection in his surgically-repaired hip. The hope was that he would have returned by now, with a 6-8 week timeline being the initial estimation. However, Rinne – whose .922 save percentage is second best of any goalie in the NHL since 2010 that has played 175 games – hasn’t been able to fully recover  and is still going through off-ice rehab. It’s only a little over a month until the Olympics start, so the concern for him being on this team is real.

If Rinne is back and healthy, then the Finns have their trio set. They also have a quandary as to who should get the starts (though there probably isn’t a wrong answer). If Rinne can’t go, look for Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom or San Jose’s Antti Niemi to get the call.


From their orientation camp list, you can see that the Finns could have most of their defensemen returning from the bronze medal-winning team from 2010.

First things first, Joni Pitkanen suffered a broken bone in his heel earlier in the season which wiped out both his NHL season and his Olympic chances. Pitkanen had proven himself to a be a 35-45 point defenseman in the NHL capable of logging big minutes, and would have been a big part of this team. That’s a hole that others will have to fill.

See full 2014 Olympic Hockey Rosters

Among those filling that hole is Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is himself a big minute defenseman. Timonen, along with Tampa Bay defenseman Sami Salo, will be expected to play a lot of minutes for this team, especially on the power play. Both Timonen and Salo, in different ways, are power play specialists for their respective NHL teams. There won’t be a lot of offense up front, so this team will need to capitalize on their chances when they get them, and a lot of that will fall on the shoulders of Salo and Timonen.

The name Sami Lepisto should be familiar to Coyotes fans especially, and he should also find himself in Sochi. He could never quite establish himself in the NHL, despite pretty good AHL numbers, and is now in the KHL. Sami Vatanen should also make this team as well, and could play a big role on this team. These types of tournaments provide great opportunities for young defensemen to shine – think about Drew Doughty in 2010 – and Vatanen has great offensive numbers at every level he’s played (including close to a 25-point pace as a rookie in the NHL).

The top six should see Lasse Kukkonen and Janne Niskala, both former NHL draft picks and returning defensemen from 2010, round out the top six.


There are two ways to look at the Finnish forwards this year: either really old, or reliant on youth.

Likely returning players include Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen, Saku Koivu, Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen. The youngest of this group of returnees is 30-years-old (J. Jokinen by a month) and Selanne is old enough to be my father.

After that group of seven players, I would assume that Valtteri Filppula, a returnee, and Sean Bergenheim, the Florida forward who is averaging a career-high in points-per-game this year, should both be on the team as well. I would assume that Jarkko Ruutu and Buffalo’s Ville Leino, assuming health, will both be on the team (the former, a returnee). That leaves three forward spots.

I would take the Granlund brothers in Markus and Mikael, the former is a second round draftee of the Calgary Flames and has 25 points in 31 games with their AHL affiliate while the latter has been a fixture in Minnesota’s top six for most of this season. It’s lazy to call them the Finnish Sedins, but there is something to be said for chemistry, especially seeing as most players from this team will come from all over Europe and North America.

The last guy would have to be Aleksander Barkov. Not that he won’t get ice time or will sit in the press box, but he’s the type of player who can change games single-handedly by seeing the game unfold like very few can. Those types of players are tough to come by on a team like Finland, so he needs to be on their roster.

Two final guys to look for on the roster are Olli Maatta, the rookie defenseman from Pittsburgh and Joel Armia, a Buffalo first rounder currently playing for their AHL affiliate. Maatta has had a really good season thus far so he may have played his way on the team as a seventh defenseman while Armia is just simply a goal scorer, something that may be lacking on this team.

Goals could be hard to come by for Finland, but you will get great goaltending, great team defense, and discipline in all facets of the game. What they lack in pure talent they more than make up for by their attention to detail, and it’s the little things that win and lose individual hockey games. It shouldn’t be a surprise if they’re on the podium for a third straight Olympics.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');