2016 World Cup of Hockey: Team Finland preview
Finland has always been a tough squad to play against with their team approach to all facets of the game, but this year they may hold a trump card.
The Finnish team is young and inexperienced, with some older players sprinkled into the ranks. They have some amazing talent coming through, with Patrik Laine being the poster boy, and this will be a big test for the Finnish Lions, who have finished on top in several international competitions of late.
Having watched the two games against Sweden, the Finnish team has been more or less outplayed at five-on-five, but has managed (especially on home soil in Helsinki) to throw off the Swedish players with some physical play. That has forced some undisciplined penalties from the Swedes, and Finland was able to capitalize.
|Tuukka Rask||NHL||Boston Bruins|
|Pekka Rinne||NHL||Nashville Predators|
|Mikko Koskinen||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg|
|Jyrki Jokipakka||NHL||Calgary Flames|
|Sami Lepisto||KHL||Salavat Yulaev Ufa|
|Esa Lindell||NHL||Dallas Stars|
|Olli Maatta||NHL||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Ville Pokka||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Rasmus Ristolainen||NHL||Buffalo Sabres|
|Sami Vatanen||NHL||Buffalo Sabres|
|Aleskander Barkov||NHL||Florida PAnthers|
|Joonas Donskoi||NHL||San Jose Sharks|
|Valtteri Filppula||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Mikael Grandlund||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Erik Haula||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Leo Komarov||NHL||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Jori Lehtera||NHL||St. Louis Blues|
|Teuvo Teravainen||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Lauri Korpikoski||NHL||Edmonton Oilers|
|Jussi Jokinen||NHL||Florida Panthers|
While all eyes have been on Laine, he has struggled a bit, and it is unfair to expect an 18-year-old player to step up to the plate and swing for the home runs. It has taken some adjustment, and Laine has been very vocal about needing to step up his game. To be fair, he has probably played against the most exciting defence in the tournament, and even the best players have a tough time getting their bearings against the dynamic Swedish blue line. Coach Lauri Marjamäki has given Laine every chance to succeed, placing him with Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen on both the first line and the first power-play line.
The other youngster from Liiga, Sebastian Aho, was the thirteenth player in both games played in Europe, and it does look like he is in the squad to learn rather than play. You have to wonder if Coach Marjamäki has picked him because he was one of his players from last year’s Kärpät team, and he knows he can handle sitting out and will cause minimal trouble with that role.
Finland will rely on their standard tactics: a good goalie, a solid defence, and a counter-attack with speed and skill. It’s a strategy Finland has always relied upon, and the smaller rink at the Air Canada Centre should help them keep the games close.
If (and it is a big if) Laine can step up to the plate and deliver as he did in last season’s Finnish-league playoffs and the World Championship, Finland has a chance to make it out of Group B. His shot is one to behold and it looks as though he has adjusted a bit more to his defensive responsibilities, noticeable in the two games against Sweden.
Otherwise, it’s down to the same old story as with many Nordic teams in different sports: “the sum of all our parts makes us better then we are individually.”
The glaring weakness for Finland is the defence. When you need to bring some AHL talents to a best-on-best international tournament, that must be deemed a negative thing. The struggle on the back end was visible against Sweden when the team was exposed in their inexperience by doing too much with the puck.
We have to raise a question for the goalkeepers, because they need to be at their best in order for Finland to succeed when facing a revenge-seeking Russia, a playmaking Sweden, and a speedy North American team in group-stage action.
Pekka Rinne comes off a 2.43 GAA, .908 SV% campaign with the Nashville Predators. Boston’s Tukka Rask had a 2.56 GAA and .915 SV%, and Mikko Koskinen had similar numbers with the KHL powerhouse that is SKA Saint Petersburg. None of them stands out from the pack, but one of them will have to have a tournament of the ages to take Finland further than the preliminary round, especially considering the young Finnish defence.
Will Laine and Barkov find chemistry? A lot of the capital that has been held in reserve is reliant on that question. If Laine finds his groove, and the Finns can continue to draw penalties, there is no goalkeeper that would want to face his elite shooting ability.