Winter Olympics 2014 preview: Finland men's hockey team

Mikko Koivu & Teemu Selanne celebrate Finland's Bronze Medal win at 2010 Winter Olympics. - (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Finland heads into Sochi as an underdog at the Winter Olympics 2014. Will Mikko Koivu play? At 43, can Selanne still make a difference?

Roster

NAME POSITION AGE LEAGUE TEAM
Juhamatti Aaltonen RW 28 SM-liiga Karpat Oulu
Aleksander Barkov C 18 NHL Florida Panthers
Valtteri Filppula C/LW 29 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikael Granlund C/LW 21 NHL Minnesota Wild
Jussi Jokinen LW 30 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins
Olli Jokinen C 35 NHL Winnipeg Jets
Mikko Koivu C 30 NHL Minnesota Wild
Leo Komarov C 27 KHL Moscow Dynamo
Petri Kontiola C/RW 29 KHL Chelyabinsk Traktor
Lauri Korpikoski LW 27 NHL Phoenix Coyotes
Jori Lehtera C 26 KHL Novosibirsk Sibir
Antti Pihlstrom LW 29 KHL Ufa Salavat Yulayev
Tuomo Ruutu RW 30 NHL Carolina Hurricanes
Teemu Selanne RW 43 NHL Anaheim Ducks
Lasse Kukkonen D 32 SM-liiga Karpat Oulu
Juuso Hietanen D 28 KHL Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod
Sami Lepisto D 29 KHL Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
Olli Maatta D 19 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins
Sami Salo D 39 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Kimmo Timonen D 38 NHL Philadelphia Flyers
Ossi Vaananen D 33 SM-liiga Jokerit Helsinki
Sami Vatanen D 22 NHL Anaheim Ducks
Kari Lehtonen G 30 NHL Dallas Stars
Antti Niemi G 30 NHL San Jose Sharks
Tuukka Rask G 26 NHL Boston Bruins

Strengths

If Finland is going to make the medal round, they'll do it with team defense and excellent goaltending in Sochi.

Both Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask are capable starting goaltenders for Finland at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Neimi has a Stanley Cup to his credit thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks run in 2010. Rask is no stranger to playoff pressure having reached the finals last year with the Boston Bruins. Statistically, Rask has the edge with a 2.12 GAA and .928 S%. The Bruins netminder also leads the NHL in shutouts with five through 41 games. Niemi’s numbers are decent at 2.38 GAA and .913 S% with two shutouts, which still leaves him a ways behind Rask.

Finland's Olympic roster also features a handful of players from the KHL and SM-liiga which could give Finland an edge over their competition. With nine players acclimatized to the large ice surface, including six players already playing in Russia, Finland will be more comfortable than teams laden with NHLers.

Whether or not they can supplement the depth required to compete with powerhouses such as Canada, USA, Russia, and Sweden remains to be seen. Beyond the Gold Medal, if any of the European-based players have an interest in moving (or returning) to the NHL in the future, the 2014 Winter Olympics represents a stage in which to showcase their talent.

Weaknesses

Scoring will be a problem for Finland in Sochi. The team will really need to wring out their roster for offense, especially if the Koivu brothers miss the show.

For Habs fans, the news that former Montreal Canadiens Captain Saku Koivu withdrew from the Olympics in Sochi is disappointing. At 39-years of age, this would have been Saku’s fifth appearance representing Finland at the Winter Olympics, and surely his last.

Saku Koivu’s absence is a tough blow to Team Finland both in terms of leadership and at the center position. Things could get worse for Finland at the 2014 Winter Olympics if Saku’s younger brother, Mikko, remains sidelined after undergoing surgery on his fractured ankle on January 6.

If Mikko Koivu is unable to go, pressure will be on Florida Panthers' rookie Aleksander Barkov to produce offensively. At only 18-years of age the experience will be valuable for Barkov's future, but not necessarily Finland's present.

X-Factor

The Finnish fountain of youth that will undoubtedly revitalize Teemu Selanne to his 76 goal NHL debut during the 1992-93 season. The winter games marks Selanne’s sixth Olympic appearance, which ties an IIHF record set by fellow Finn Raimo Helminen.

We all love Teemu Selanne, but he isn't the scoring threat he once was. At the ripe playing age of 43, he’s been protected by the Anaheim Ducks this season so not to wear out as "coach Bruce Boudreau has rested him on the road in back-to-back games and given him fourth-line minutes." So how will Selanne fair among the best in the world in a compact schedule that includes back-to-back games?

Finland is a clear underdog going into Sochi and a role their comfortable with, which only makes them all the more dangerous in a short tournament. So don’t count them out just yet.

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