Working up another medal run
Working up another medal run
Finland hopes to repeat successful year
An improbable Finnish team battled through the Preliminary Round of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to upset Canada and glide past the Czech Republic to a shot at a gold in the finals against Russia. Despite losing 5-2, Finland demonstrated once again why they are an elite team, adapting their style and playing within their system and winning important games at the right time.
Nashville’s loss is Finland’s gain as Pekka Rinne will travel to the Czech Republic and start in goal for the national team. Last spring, Rinne was outstanding. He will be further motivated after last year’s gold medal game loss to Russia to come back strong and get Finland again to the finals. Rinne started nine games and posted a 1.88 goals against average. He won five of those games and earned three shutouts. Rinne is a game changer and perhaps the most talented goaltender in the tournament. The Vezina Trophy finalist should see the bulk, if not all, of the action between the pipes. Finland will carry Juuse Saros and Atte Engren as their backups. Engren played for Atlant Mytishi in the KHL where he participated in 56 games and posted a 2.50 goals against average. Saros, a Nashville Predators draft pick, plays for HPK Hameenlinna. Both Engren and Saros represented Finland at the Euro Hockey Tour.
Finland’s defence is younger but possessing of complimentary skills that could be assets. Jyrki Jokipakka has spent two seasons in North America with the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate. His rookie season in the AHL saw Jokipakka contribute five goals and 21 regular season points and another five assists in the playoffs in helping the Texas Stars to their first ever Calder Cup championship. Talented Rasmus Ristolainen was the Buffalo Sabres' first round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. His biggest feat came on the international stage when he scored the overtime game winner for Finland at the 2014 World Junior Championship. Ristolainen’s goal propelled the Finns to a win against previously undefeated Sweden and the gold medal.Continue reading
Esa Lindell is another Finnish product of the Dallas Stars. A third-round selection in 2012, Lindell enjoyed an impressive season for Assat Pori in the Finnish league. Lindell was a breakout performer with 14 goals and 35 points. These numbers not only led his team in scoring but the entire league. Sami Lepisto comes back to represent Finland. This is his fourth opportunity to do so. Tuuka Mantyla, who was second in scoring at the 2014 tournament, is set to play. Anssi Salmela returns after a three-year absence.
One of the key pieces assured of representing Finland is Jarkko Immonen. Since 2009, Immonen has plied his trade in the Kontinental Hockey League. Immonen has scored 19 career goals in the World Championships, including a personal best 9 goals in 2011. Another would be Petri Kontiola, who enjoyed a sublime performance at the 2013 World Championship with 8 goals and 16 points in 10 games.
Leo Komarov performed so well last year in Minsk that he became a priority for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer when then general manager Dave Nonis flew to Finland to sign him. Komarov is a hard-working forward whose ethic makes him a natural leader on the teams he’s played. Komarov scored 8 goals in 62 games for the Maple Leafs.
New Jersey’s Tuomo Ruutu will play since the Devils did not qualify for the playoffs. The last time Ruutu played for Finland in this tournament he scored six goals in nine games. Jussi Jokinen’s NHL goal production fell this season from 21 goals scored for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013/14 to 8 for the Florida Panthers in 81 games this season. Aleksander Barkov doubled his goal production form his rookie season in the NHL. Barkov will be a player to watch for Finland. Drafted second overall in 2013, Barkov made the Florida Panthers out of his first training camp and has shown incredible potential to be a big game forward. Previously, Barkov represented Finland at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi where he scored a goal in two games played.
55-year-old Kari Jalonen brings a resume as both a player and coach. Jalonen’s NHL playing career was Alberta-based. He played for both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. Jalonen is a nine-time representative for Finland, helping the World Junior team win a bronze medal in 1980. As a coach, he has won four titles, three with Karpat and another with HIFK. Jalonen succeeds Erkka Westerlund, who took his team to the finals last spring. Despite losing to Russia, Finland was able to rebound after some early lackluster efforts in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to get stronger and gain momentum as the tournament progressed.
Finland should be fairly well positioned to qualify for the playoff round. Consistency has been the mark of Finnish teams at the World Championships. Finland is always formidable against any level of competition but certainly capable of raising their game against the best countries in the world. Don’t count Finland out as a strong candidate for a medal.
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