If the NHL and NHLPA had allowed its players to participate in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, Team Finland would have had a formidable roster. From Aleksander Barkov to Sebastian Aho, they would have been a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, hockey fans won’t see the likes of them in this tournament as the NHL officially withdrew from the competition on Dec. 22, 2021.
At the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, 18-year-old Eeli Tolvanen led the team in scoring with three goals and nine points as they finished off the podium in sixth place. He won’t be there this year as he’s currently starring for the Nashville Predators in the NHL. So they will have to find someone else to take up his mantle. 2022 top prospects Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert could be called upon to do just that as they were denied their chance at glory when the 2022 World Juniors were postponed last month.
Along with Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States, Finland has seen its share of success on the international stage. Surprisingly, not so much at the Olympics though.
Finland Has a Rich Hockey History
For a country with a population of only 5.53 million people, they sure can pump out NHL talent. From Hall of Famers like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri to current stars like Aho and Barkov, they usually have no trouble giving the world stage something to talk about. They don’t have superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid but that doesn’t mean they are an easy out. What you can always count on is their work ethic and never-say-die mentality. They go out every shift and grind you to the ground.
Finland’s emphasis on skills development and its cult-like devotion to a cohesive team game has made it a contender year-in and year-out.Lucas Aykroyd, IIHF.com
Whether it be an elite first liner like Selanne or a grinder like Jarkko Ruutu, they all possess that same worker-bee attitude. When an entire team buys into that system, they get that much more difficult to play against. That’s why it’s best to never count out the Finns in any international competition.
Most of Finland’s success has come at the World Championships (WC). Since their first medal at the 1992 WC, they have won three gold medals, six silver and three bronze. Their last championship came in 2019 when they beat Canada 3-1 on the strength of two goals by Marko Anttila. The Olympics, however, have not been so kind.
Since their first appearance in Oslo at the 1952 Winter Olympics, Finland has been involved in 17 of the last 18 Olympic Games. The only time they didn’t compete was in 1956 when Cortina d’Ampezzo hosted the competition. They have never experienced the glory of winning gold but came close in 1988 and 2006 when Alexander Mogilny and the Soviet Union and Henrik Zetterberg and the Swedes walked away with the championship over them.
Related: Top-10 Finns of the 1980s
All told, it’s been 16 years and three Olympics since Finland had the pleasure of playing in the gold medal game. In addition to their two silver medals, they have four bronze medals as well. Before their sixth-place finish in 2018, they had medaled in three straight Olympics and six of the last eight. So, in a big picture sense, they have fared quite well.
Fun Facts About Team Finland & Its Players
- Since the league came into existance in 1917, 249 Finnish players have suited up for at least one game in the NHL.
- Selanne still leads all Finns in NHL goals and points with 684 and 1457 respectively. The next closest active player is Barkov with 196 goals and 492 points. Unless he goes on a bender for the rest of his career, his record is safe for the foreseeable future.
- Finland’s biggest win on the international stage came against Norway when they dispatched them 20-1 on Mar. 12, 1947.
- Conversely, their biggest loss came against Canada on Mar. 3, 1958 when they were destroyed 24-0.
- Finland has retired the numbers of seven players, Selanne (#8), Koivu (#11), Kurri (#17), Raimo Helminen (#14), Ville Peltonen (#16), Jere Lehtinen (#26) and Kimmo Timonen (#44).
- To this day, Helminen is still the Olympic record holder for most tournaments played. He participated in six Olympics from 1984 to 2002.
- Saku Koivu holds the Olympic record for most assists by a center with 19 in 22 career games.
Biggest Stars on the World Stage
With the majority of the past Olympics being played with NHL players, Finland’s stars have been plenty. Selanne (aka the Finnish Flash) was their most prolific with 24 goals and 43 points in 37 games. He also won three bronze medals and one silver medal. Koivu, who captained the last team to make it to the gold medal game, is a distant second with nine goals and 30 points in 28 games.
Without NHLers this year, the pressure will be on players that don’t have a lot of experience on this stage. Rumored players like Markus Granlund, Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov and Sami Vatanen have only participated in one Olympics. They each have a bronze medal, so they will definitely be the leaders on a team that will be full of younger, more inexperienced players.
Where Will Finland’s Players Come From?
Usually, the NHL is the biggest source of talent for the Finnish National Team. Without NHLers, they will be forced to look elsewhere. Most likely, they will use the Finnish Liiga, Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and various junior leagues for players this time. If they go with the speculated names of Granlund, Komarov, Filppula and Vatanen, the Swiss League and KHL will be prominent sources. If it ends up being Lambert and Kemell, JYP will be losing two of their top players very soon.
Yes, Finland won’t have their usual stars, but that doesn’t mean teams should take them lightly. Their system, work ethic and often goaltending make up for their apparent lack of talent most of the time. They always seem to surprise their opponents, stars or no stars. This year should be no different, even without NHL names donning the Suomi crest.
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
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