Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Finland

The Finland National Hockey Team is currently ranked 2nd in the IIHF World Rankings and should be considered a medal contender in Sochi, having won the World Championship as recently as 2011.

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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 15 times since 1952, with finishes in the medals becoming a frequent result since 1988. Their best results have been silver medals in 1988 and 2006, with bronze medals coming in 1994, 1998 and 2010.

Koivu Finland Trophy photo KoivuTrophy.jpg
Finland's captain Mikko Koivu is thrilled to hoist
the World Championship trophy

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 first 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".

They again returned to the top with a second World Championship in 2011, led by tournament leading scorer Jarkko Immonen, Mikael Granlund, who earned himself a place in Finnish history with a postage stamp to commemorate his shock goal against Russia, goaltender Petri Vehanen and captain Mikko Koivu.

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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 2014 Olympics with 16 NHLers on it's roster, led by their always world class goaltending, this time represented by Antti NiemiTuukka Rask and Kari Lehtonen. Their defense is anchored by veterans Sami Salo (39) and Kimmo Timonen (38). 

The Finnish forwards are down a man, due to the injury to Mikko Koivu, who was unable recover in time from a foot injury to lead the team in Sochi. Leadership will now come from their captain, the evergreen Teemu Selänne (43) and Olli Jokinen (35). Other familiar names are Valtteri Filppula, Granlund, Jussi Jokinen, Lauri Korpikoski, and Tuomo RuutuOf their remaining players, six play in the Russian KHL and three play at home in Finland.

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Selänne will be playing in his 6th Olympic Games

The strength of the Finns, as always, will be their goaltending, with three fine netminders to choose from. Their lineup of Niemi, Rask and Lehtonen 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 plays more of a North American style game than any other European country.

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 Canada in their game on February 16th in order to win Group B and avoid playing an extra knockout game the day before the quarterfinals on the 19th. If they fail to win the group, taking Canada to overtime to maximize their points in the standings could earn Finland the final bye up for grabs.

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Today's featured jersey is a 1991 Finland National Team Teemu Selänne jersey. This short lived style with the cartoonish lion head was worn during the 1991 Canada Cup tournament. By 1993 Finland had adopted a more dignified heraldic lion shield logo.

This jersey was featured on Selänne's rookie card, which became a much sought after item when Selanne set records for Most Goals by a Rookie with 76 and Most Points by a Rookie with 132, which still stand today 20 years later - and while Selänne is still an active player in the NHL.

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Finland 1991 CC jersey photo Finland1991CCB.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that Finland will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The logo on the blue jersey is based on the jerseys originally worn in 1965 when Finland hosted the World Championships.

The white jersey on the other hand…

It's the strangest one Nike has unleashed upon the field playing at Sochi with it's full bleed flag design on the body, one seriously unconventional jersey which is sure to receive plenty of commentary once it takes to the ice during the Games.

Finland 2014 jerseys photo Finland2014jerseys.png

Today's first video is Finland's finest moment in hockey, winning their first World Championships in 1995 against their rivals Sweden and in Sweden.

Next up is Finland winning the 2011 World Championship.

Finally, a Finnish Nike commercial featuring Mikko Koivu, Ruutu, Selanne, Filppula and Peltonen.

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