Sunday, February 7, 2010
The second highest seeded team in Group C at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is Finland.
The Finland National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 4th in the IIHF World Rankings and should be considered a medal contender in Vancouver. Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, Finland was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
The Finns have participated in hockey at the Olympics 14 times since 1952, with finishes in the medals becoming a frequent result since 1988. Their best results have been silver medals in 1988 and in the last Olympics in 2006, with bronze medals coming in 1994 and 1998.
Finland are regular participants in the World Championships since 1949 and even had one appearance as far back as 1939. Considered one of the World's elite hockey nations, Finland has never been outside of the Top Division of the World Championships. While they did not medal from 1949 to 1991, they were regular finishers in places 4, 5 and 6, with 28 out of 33 tournaments seeing them falling in that range just below the medals, including six consecutive 4th place finishes in the early 1970's.
Once they broke through in 1992 with a silver medal, they have become frequent visitors to the awards ceremonies, with three bronze medals in 2000, 2006 and 2008, six silver medals in 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2007 and earned their only gold medal and World Championship title in 1995 with a roster that included familiar names such as Janne Niinimaa, Sami Kapanen and the line of Saku Koivu, Ville Peltonen and Jere Lehtinen, nicknamed "Huey, Dewey and Louie".
Considered one of the World's elite teams, they have also participated in the six team Canada Cup four times, with a best finish of third in 1991, and the eight team World Cup of Hockey twice, with a silver medal in 2004.
Finland enters the 2010 Olympics with 18 NHLers on it's roster out of 23 with team captain Saku Koivu and assistant captain Teemu Selanne, who should be ready to play after recovering from a broken jaw suffered on January 13th, both coming from the Anaheim Ducks. Of the five remaining players, four are in the Russian KHL and one plays in Sweden in the Elitserien. Finland does have the oldest average age of any roster in the games, at nearly 31 years old, more than five years older than the American average, thanks to Selanne (39), Lehtinen (36), Sami Salo (35), Saku Koivu (35), Miikka Kiprusoff (34) and Kimmo Timonen (34), for whom this could all be their last chance at Olympic gold, having come within a goal of achieving it in 2006.
The strength of the Finns looks to be their goaltending, with many fine netminders to choose from. Their lineup of Kiprusoff , Niklas Backstrom and Antero Niittymaki has the potential to keep any team off the scoreboard and will carry this team deep into the tournament. More feisty and hard-hitting than the other Scandinavian countries, Finland should benefit more than Sweden or Norway from playing on the smaller NHL-sized ice surface in Vancouver.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Finland will be defeating Sweden in their game on February 21st, a rematch of the gold medal game from 2006, in order to win Group C and avoid playing an extra knockout game the day before the quarterfinals on the 24th.
Finland must also come out strong in their opening game versus Belarus, who will be looking to repeat their upset performance over Sweden in 2002 for them to have any chance of getting a bye into the quarterfinals themselves.
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2004 Finland National Team Teemu Selanne jersey as worn in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey when Finland reached the final game of the championship.
Finland won the European Pool of the tournament with shutouts wins over both the Czech Republic and Germany before a tie with Sweden. They advanced in the playoffs by beating Germany for a second time by a 2-1 score and then beating the United States, who were playing on home soil in Minnesota, 2-1 on a late goal by Saku Koivu before falling in the final 3-2 to hosts Canada in Toronto.
This style of jersey was first introduced in 1998 for the Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The original version read "SUOMI" above the lion on the crest and then changed to "FINLAND" with "SUOMI" now being printed in large letters across the bottom the jersey beginning with the 2003 World Championships through the 2005 World Junior Tournament as seen on today's jersey.
Here is a look at the jerseys that Finland will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The logo is very reminiscent of the one used on the vintage jersey worn once in the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF Centennial Celebrations, which were based on the jerseys originally worn in 1965 when they hosted the World Championships. The remainder of the jersey is purely modern, especially the white home jersey, creating a jarring mix of the old and new.
Today's first video highlight is Finland, wearing today's featured jersey, defeating the United States in the semi-finals of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Next up is Finland's finest moment in hockey, winning the 1995 World Championships, followed by a brief look at the celebrations afterwards.
Finally, a Finnish Nike commercial featuring Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu, Selanne, Valtteri Filppula and Ville Peltonen.