THN in Sochi: Finland rides familiar blueprint to semifinal

Finland has a chance to win its fifth straight Olympic hockey medal, thanks to its win over the host country in the quarterfinal. Few expected the Finns to win, but history should have taught us by now never to count them out.

SOCHI – Just in case you were ever wondering, the word ‘Suomi’ on the front of Finland’s sweaters does not translate into Those Pesky Finns™. It’s high time we stopped calling them that. In fact, if anyone ever catches your trusty correspondent using that term ever again, alert our offices and we’ll immediately send you a shiny, new toonie ($1.82 in U.S. funds).*

In fact, these guys have had us fooled all along. They lead everyone to believe in every international tournament that they’re the underdog. They must sit in the dressing room and laugh at everybody. They claim they had no idea that Swedish coach Par Marts said before their game that he thought Russia would beat them.

Perhaps now we should be coming to grips with the fact that this team, this program, is not pesky. Pesky should be now reserved for Latvia and Estonia. Pesky teams do not win medals in four of five Olympics with NHLers, which is exactly what the Finns have set themselves up to do after beating the host Russians 3-1 in the quarterfinal of the Olympic hockey tournament.

All these guys do is rely on superhuman goaltending, relentless puck pursuit and a penchant for clogging up the ice that must make opponents want to spear them in the stomachs. It worked to perfection against the Russians, just as it has worked for years and years and years. Take any Finnish team that has ever played on the world stage and substitute it with any other and the result is the same. They are completely interchangeable.

“I don’t know what they give us when we’re young,” said Finnish winger Joni Lehtera. “I don’t know what kind of porridge we get.”

Well, whatever it is, somebody should figure out the recipe and sell it to the Russians. Because it leaves one feeling as though the Finns can accomplish anything. The Pesky Finns played the entire games with authority and no sense of awe or intimidation. Ilya Kovalchuk scored on the power play on a shot that probably no goaltender on the planet, not even Tuukka Rask, could ever stop, but Finland required exactly one minute and 40 seconds to come back and tie the score.

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And Mikael Granlund, who was born just a couple of months before Teemu Selanne made his NHL debut, then won a footrace before getting the puck to Selanne for another goal. The Old Man With the ‘C’ then helped set his young protégé up for another goal in the second period. After that, the Finns collapsed in front of Rask, sent one forward into the offensive zone and held four back and frustrated the living daylights out of the Russians.

“Playing aside (Granlund) on the first line is a dream come true for me,” Selanne said. Yup, he said that. “My role in Anaheim has gotten smaller and smaller and I knew I was going to play on the first line here, so that has really kept me going this year. I’m enjoying every second here.”

Selanne said he went to fellow veteran Kimmo Timonen and told him to make sure this would not be their last game with the Finnish national team. And now it won’t, since Finland has at least two games remaining in the tournament, although I’ll believe Selanne will no longer play the game when someone strips the skates off his cold feet.

Now the Finns get to take on the Swedes, who will no doubt be wondering why their coach went all Andre Burakovsky on the Finns before the game. Burakovsky, you’ll remember, said prior to the World Junior Championship that Sweden had a better team on paper than Canada. He was absolutely right, but saying things like that have no positive benefit, only potential negatives. Marts saying he thought the Russians would beat Finland will not play well in the Finnish dressing room.

And that’s all these guys need – more motivation. Maybe there’s a reason that lion on their sweaters is so close to their hearts.

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