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Fins Up! How will Team Finland Finish at the World Cup?



Captained by Mikko Koivu, with alternates Jussi Jokinen and Valteri Filpula, Team Finland may not be the favorites coming out of Group B, but they may surprise many who have already written them off. Group B also includes Team Sweden, Team Russia, and Team North America.

Young Florida center Aleksander Barkov has three points in as many games so far in the exhibition phase of the World Cup. In the first game, he opened the scoring in the second period on the power play and assisted on the game-winning goal 4:17 into OT. He collected his third point assisting Patrick Laine on the man-advantage. In his third season in the NHL, Barkov recorded 59 points in 66 games. This was quite clearly his breakout season. It definitely helped playing with Jaromir Jagr, but the kid is still gaining invaluable experience playing with the future hall-of-famer.

Speaking of Patrik Laine, the world has finally witnessed him up against NHL talent for the first time. Drafted second overall by the Winnipeg Jets back in June, the 6’5” winger did not necessarily make a splash in the first or second exhibition game, having recorded only one shot on goal in the second game. Despite being down Tuesday night to the USA 3-0, Laine put Finland on the board on the power play. He would end up with four SOG Tuesday night. Going forward, I expect Laine to play more like he did in game three, than in the previous two, all the while using his big stature and fast feet to beat opponents to pucks and barrel into the zone generating offense.

On the back-end, Stanley Cup Champion Olli Matta blasted home the game-winning OT goal in Finland’s first exhibition game. Though he has gone pointless in games two and three, he is being utilized in all situations. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the then 19-year old defenseman recorded five points in six games. Now, 22-years old and a Stanley Cup under his belt, expect Matta to continue to play outstanding in the WCH.

Sami Vatanen and Rasmus Ristolainen also picked up points in Tuesday night’s scrimmage against Team USA. Both are young defensemen, 25 and 21-years old, respectively, and like Maata, are being utilized at even-strength and special teams situations. Vatanen is only 5’10” whereas Ristolainen is a towering 6’4”. Ristolainen also put up a goal and an assist in Finland’s 6-3 loss to Team Sweden last Saturday.

Finland’s blueline is stacked with youth. Aside from veteran Sami Lepisto (age 33), Vatanen and Jyrki Jokipakka are the second oldest defenseman on the squad at 25-years old. Ville Pokka, a former-Islanders’ draft pick in 2012 (traded to Chicago in 2014), and Esa Lindell (Dallas Stars prosect, drafted 2012) are two young players looking to showcase their talent in big moments for their respective hockey clubs. Both have had incredible stints in the AHL. While Lindell has a good shot of making the NHL roster this season, Pokka may have to wait for an opportune moment (like someone else’s demise) for a call-up given Chicago’s deep pool.

Between the pipes, Pekka Rinne will likely split time with Tuuka Rask with another former-Islanders draft pick, Mikko Koskinen likely riding the pine the rest of the World Cup. Rinne started in goal in Finland’s first (OT win) and third (loss) exhibition games while Rask played the second, letting up five goals in a 6-3 loss to Team Sweden. At 33-years old, Rinne has continued to perform at an elite level. On Tuesday night against the USA, he stood on his head trying his best to hold an American lead of 1-0 before letting up two early goals in the second period after killing off an early penalty. Rinne stopped all remaining shots against, while his countrymen campaigned for a comeback, falling short 3-2). Goaltending will be the key factor for Finland.

Team Finland is no stranger to international competition. The Fins consistently provide opponents with tough competition, having medaled in the last three Winter Olympics, earning silver medals at the IIHF Worlds in 2016 and 2014, and losing in the finals to Canada at the 2004 World Cup. That being said, Finland has been having issues coming out of the locker room strong, seemingly waiting until the second and third periods to get going. If they are to have any success at the 2016 WCH, Finland must come out of the gate setting the tone, forcing opponents to react to their game, as opposed to scrambling for the first 20 minutes. Having faced Sweden twice and splitting the exhibition series, the Fins know just how tough the Swedes can be. Team Russia is stacked with incredible talent and North America’s young guns have been tearing it up in pre-tournament play.

Therefore, Finland must find its game and execute it as soon as that puck drops to provide relief for the netminders, or else the Fins might find themselves leaving Toronto prematurely.

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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