On September 22, Team Finland played their final World Cup of Hockey game against the incredibly dynamic offense of Russia. The hockey world watched with high anticipation. Finland was due for a big game and if they were finally able to break out of their offensive slump and defeat the Russians, Team North America would move on to the semi-final round.
Unfortunately for Finland, and for everyone who has been watching the NHL’s experiment, Suomi could not find their groove. The Russian defense, however, played one of their best games in the tournament, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky maintained his status as top goalie of the tournament.
Finland’s swan song was a 3-0 loss at the hands of a hot Russian team.
After losing all three of their pool play games and two of their three pre-tournament games, the Finnish national system has to be reeling. In pool play, the team was outscored 9-1. Only in the team’s second game against Sweden did their goaltending meet expectations; both Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask underperformed throughout the six games Finland played. Neither Rinne nor Rask got any help from their forwards, who were shut out in two games.
One has to wonder what could have caused such a storied hockey nation such as Finland to fall so far from their performance at the last several Olympics. Less than six months ago, Finland took the silver medal at the IIHF World Chapionships, losing 2-0 to Canada. Suomi won the gold at the World Juniors.
Many players from both successful international teams also played on Finland’s World Cup of Hockey roster. Finland has won two of the last three World Junior Championships. Skilled youthful talent like Rasmus Ristolainen, Teuvo Teravainen, Laine, Sebastian Aho has all played important roles in Finland’s international success. After such a strong showing in both 2016 IIHF tournaments, the Finnish team, (put together by the legendary Jere Lehtinen) appeared poised to once again be a serious contender. Somehow, though, Finland had trouble finding chemistry between their aging superstars and their young aces on the rise.
The ugly one
The team was clearly frustrated by their overall performance in the tournament. Forward Alexander Barkov told the press, “…we have a lot of young guys on the team but it shouldn’t be a problem because we have a North American young team here, they’re all young guns, young guys and they’re playing well, so it doesn’t matter if you’re young or not.”
Perhaps the team lacked confidence after being held scoreless for so long. Tuevo Teravainen told NHL.com, “…we just couldn’t find the net. I think we created a lot of good chances, but it just didn’t bounce this tournament for us. We just need to get the ugly one, maybe, and we can get more goals.”
Rask, who played well despite the result, agreed. “Sometimes you need that one goal to get with the lead and play with the lead to kind of open things up. We can do that and that’s it but I’m proud of how we responded after the first loss.”
The Lion’s Rise
It was a discouraging finish for what is largely considered to be one of the world’s most influential hockey franchises. There is clearly a lot of work to be done in preparation for the IIHF tournaments in 2017, and ultimately, the 2018 Olympic games. By the time those events are upon us, Finland’s young core will have more NHL experience – more time playing against the types of players who dismantled them in the World Cup.
Finland is down, but they are not out. The disappointment will not linger long, and their rise to the top will be that much more meaningful.