Finland seems to churn out goalies like there’s no tomorrow. Their first choice goaltender is Tuukka Rask, who has a Stanley Cup and Vezina trophy under his belt, as well as a bronze medal from the Sochi Olympics. His back up is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who has been a figurehead for the Predators’ success in recent seasons. They’re both very good goaltenders, but when facing all-star teams like Canada and USA, they need to play like MVPs for the entire sixty minutes – it’s no small order.
Defence really is the heart of this Finnish team as they lack much power in the forwards. However, they do have two youngsters in the roster who are an exciting addition to the team. Patrik Laine was selected second overall in this year’s draft after being named playoff MVP for Tappara (who won the Finnish league) and MVP for Finland in the World Championship where he notched up 12 points. He’s only 18. Central scouting also ranked him as second for international skaters in the draft. Sebastian Aho has also been selected to represent Finland and this comes on the tail of winning gold at World Juniors alongside Laine, and signing an entry level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. With Karpat, Aho posted 45 points in 45 games.The tournament will provide him with a chance to know new teammate, Teuvo Teravainen, who was traded to the Canes from Chicago.
For me, the most exciting player on this team to watch is Olli Maatta. At 22, he’s played three seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins and racked up 57 points. He was also part of the Sochi Olympics bronze medal winning team aged just 19. In his second NHL season, the club announced that Maatta would have surgery to remove a tumour from his neck that had an 85% chance of being a low-grade cancer; two weeks after surgery he returned to the line up. A month later, he suffered a re-injury to his shoulder that ruled him out for the rest of the season. Maatta was also a victim of the mumps that swept around the NHL in 2015. Despite all of this, the kid plays like a veteran. His hockey IQ is outstanding, he has a solid two-way game, he’s a good skater and now a Stanley Cup champion.
Only two of their players are not in the NHL, so the majority are used to playing on the smaller sized rink used for this tournament. Finland have a delicate blend of up and coming new talent mixed with seasoned veterans who have played alongside each other for a long time. They’re a committed team and have enjoyed a good degree of success in the past, so they should fare well in the tournament.