Team Finland enters the World Cup of Hockey on a hot streak in international play. The Finns won the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship this year and won a Silver Medal at the World Championships back in the early summer. Finland is one of the top teams heading into the tournament, with a roster made up of a good mix of experience and youth.
Unfortunately for Finland, they’ll have to really earn their place in the elimination round of the tournament. They’ll begin by competing in Group B with Sweden, Russia, and the under 23 Team North America. In order for Finland to advance to the elimination round, they’ll need to finish in the top two of the group.
Forwards: Youth Leading the Way
- Jussi Jokinen-Aleksander Barkov-Patrik Laine
- Leo Komorov-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund
- Joonas Donskoi-Jori Lehtera-Teuvo Teravainen
- Erik Haula-Valtteri Filppula-Lauri Korpikoski
- Extra: Sebastian Aho
The Finnish forward group is highlighted by the future of the country in international play with Aleksander Barkov, Patrik Laine, Joonas Donskoi, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho. Florida Panthers center Barkov and 2016 second overall pick Laine will be leaned on heavily to lead the offense.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Aho will also play a big part in Finland’s success before all is said and done. Right now the 19-year-old is skating as the extra forward, but the team may need his skill to get past a team like Russia or North America. Aho played extremely well with Laine at the World Juniors, to propel the Finns to a Gold Medal.
The veteran experience of players like Mikko Koivu, Jussi Jokinen, and Valtteri Filppula help round out the roster. The trio has had a lot of experience playing in international tournaments for their country and will be a good leadership group for a relatively young roster.
Defense: The Big Question
- Olli Maata-Rasmus Ristolainen
- Sami Vatanen-Jyrki Jokipakka
- Sami Lepisto-Ville Pokka
- Extra: Esa Lindell
The defense group is the biggest question for Team Finland. The Finnish blue line has an average age of 24-years old, but if you don’t include 31-year old Sami Lepisto, the average age is 22.8-years old. The blue line is filled with young talented players like Olli Maata, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Sami Vatanen. However, none of these players have proven themselves able to hold up against the best talent in the world on a nightly basis. At such a young age, they’ve all shown glimpses of being elite defenders.
Goaltending: Rask or Rinne?
The Finnish net will belong to Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask or Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. Both are coming off of what would be considered a down season for them in 2015-16. Rinne will get the start in the first preliminary game against Sweden and Rask will get the opportunity in the second game against Sweden over the weekend.
The goaltending decision is an important one for the Finns. As I previously mentioned, with the defense being a question mark, the goaltender will need to cover up for the potential mistakes of a young defense group.
Rask was the guy during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, while Rinne hasn’t seen much international time with Team Finland, except for the 2015 World Championships. During that tournament, Rinne played well with 1.63 goals against average in seven appearances.
Even though the two upcoming games are warm-up games for the teams, the focus will be on the crease for Finland. The goaltender who shines in the three preliminary games may indeed be the one who ends up starting the tournament against Team North America.
Tournament Outlook: Tough Journey
Team Finland will have to play well to get out of a tough group and into the elimination round. All four countries in the group have a roster full of talent and potential to take home the World Cup. A good start in their first round robin game against Team North America will be essential for the Finns. If they lose their opening matchup the task only gets more difficult against international powerhouses Sweden and Russia.
Although the Finns have a roster full of talent, the Group in which they find themselves is too difficult for them to advance to the elimination round. The Swedes are stacked on the blue line and are backstopped by one of the best goaltenders in the game, Henrik Lundqvist. Team North America may be one of the deepest clubs in the tournament and will likely surprise some people. I predict Sweden and North America will be at the top of the group with Finland finishing third ahead of Russia.
Prediction: (3rd in Group B)
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