Finns to bring world-class goaltending to Sochi

Pekka Rinne (far left), Mikko Koivu (centre) and Kimmo Timonen all appear likely to be key pieces for Finland at Sochi (AP)

Does Finland continue to include its aging forwards out of a sense of honour and respect, or is it simply that they desperately need what Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu (potentially) have to offer?

The answer is likely a bit of both.

Flashy offence and tremendous star power will almost certainly not be the Scandinavian nation’s calling card in Sochi, but Finland will still be a serious medal contender.

The reason? Goaltending. Lots and lots of goaltending. Finland boasts probably the best goaltending in the world, with respect to the Americans. And if years of closely watching international competition has taught us anything, it’s that a fantastic goalie play can carry a team much farther than the sum of its parts would suggest.

Simply put, the Finns know how to win big ice hockey. What’s more, they know how to win medals at the Olympics – they’ve medaled all but once since NHLers were allowed to participate at the Olympics in 1998. So while few are talking about head coach Erkka Westerlund’s club, a medal at Sochi is highly possible.

Here’s a breakdown of what can be expected for Team Finland in 2014, by position.

Forwards

While Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu remains Suomi’s most important piece up front, his club and national teammate Mikael Granlund has slowly been edging his way into becoming the fresh face of the country’s offensive options.

Shifty and of magical hands and vision, Granlund did not have a dream first season in North America last year, but mix a full training camp in the State of Hockey with big ice (his comfortable zone), and the world should get a healthy introduction to the young man some have called the "Finnish baby Jesus."

Beyond the Wild pair and the senior citizens Selanne and Koivu, options thin out considerably.

Valtteri Filppula took a step backward last season after steady progression the previous few years in Detroit, but his national team acumen is solid and he will be counted on for pure, first-line offence.

Leo Komorov, recently departed from the Maple Leafs, should have a spot on the grind line along with Tuomo Ruutu.

It will be interesting to see whether Aleksander Barkov, the Florida Panthers’ second overall pick in the 2013 draft, can make the team with a good first half.

Defence

Old reliables appear poised to anchor the defence.

Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo will return to provide leadership for a group that should be a strong mix of steady (though not overly physical) defence and puck movement.

Twenty-two-year-old Sami Vatanen had a huge year offensively for the Anaheim Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliate in Norfolk last season and appears ready to take the next step.

Ossi Vaananen played for four different NHL teams before returning to Europe in 2009 and is a rugged physical option with loads of international experience.

Goaltending

In all likelihood, the crease will come down to either Pekka Rinne or Tuukka Rask, but really Westerlund and company cannot go wrong.

In 12 full national team appearances – in the world championships and the Euro Hockey Tour – Rinne owns a goals-against average of 1.53 and a save percentage of .943.

Rask, meanwhile, just backstopped his Boston Bruins to the Cup final with a save percentage of .940 in 22 postseason games, and there is no indication that his club will miss a beat in the first half of next year.

Regardless whom they pick, the Finns will have as elite goaltending as any nation in the tournament.

Projecting Team Finland’s 2014 Olympic roster
FORWARDS
Valtteri Filppula Mikko Koivu Mikael Granlund
Ville Leino Saku Koivu Teemu Selanne
Jussi Jokinen Petri Kontiola Lauri Korpikoski
Leo Komorov Olli Jokinen Tuomo Ruutu
DEFENCEMEN
Kimmo Timonen Toni Lydman
Sami Salo Sami Vatanen
Joni Pitkanen Ossi Vaananen
Janne Niskala Sami Lepisto
GOALIES
Pekka Rinne Tuukka Rask Antti Niemi