Finland confident despite tough group at World Cup

Mikko Koivu spoke to Sean Reynolds about getting Team Finland together and playing without standby’s life Kimmo Timonen and Teemu Selanne.

TORONTO — Finland is in a tough group at the World Cup of Hockey with the powerhouse Swedes, a strong Russian side and a North America team that is loaded with young talent.

It’s a position that might intimidate some teams at a major international hockey tournament, but this collection of Finnish players doesn’t seem the least bit fazed.

Perhaps it’s because Finland seems to consistently reach the hockey podium or maybe it’s because the country boasts a deep one-two punch in net. Either way, when the Finns open against Team North America on Sunday, they’ll enter play expecting to win.

“We know that we can beat anybody if we manage to do our own things and play as best as we can,” said forward Patrik Laine. “I think we can even win this tournament. I’m not afraid to say that.”

Reigning Olympic champion Canada is a favourite at the Sept. 17-Oct. 1 tournament at Air Canada Centre. The hosts are joined in Group A by the Czech Republic, Team Europe and the United States.

Laine led Finland to gold at the 2016 world junior hockey championship and silver at the world hockey championship last spring. Finland won bronze at the Sochi Games in 2014 and the Vancouver Games in 2010.

Finland also reached the championship game the last time the World Cup was played, dropping a 3-2 decision to Canada in the final back in 2004.

Captain Mikko Koivu will anchor this edition of the team along with veteran forwards Jussi Jokinen, Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula. There is also plenty of youth on the roster with Laine – the No. 2 pick in this year’s NHL draft – along with Mikael Granlund, Aleksander Barkov and defencemen Olli Maatta and Sami Vatanen.

“We understand that we are not favourites at the moment (for) this tournament,” said head coach Lauri Marjamaki. “But we have a good chance to succeed and we want to succeed and we have a good team.

“I feel confident but we have a lot of work to do. We want to improve our game and that’s the way.”

Goaltending may be the team’s biggest strength with Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne joined by No. 3 netminder Mikko Koskinen. Rinne stopped 26-of-29 shots in a 3-2 loss to the United States on Tuesday in the final pre-tournament game for both teams.

“For us, we like being the underdogs,” Rinne said. “It’s easier. There’s not huge expectations or anything like that. But among this locker-room and in Finland, there’s always high expectations … I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s (because) we’re a small country and we don’t necessarily produce that many players but each year we produce quality players.

“Any given time – it doesn’t matter who’s on the roster – it seems like the national team plays in a certain way and can compete against anybody.”

Marjamaki was pleased with Rinne’s effort in the pre-tournament finale, but wouldn’t tip his hand after Wednesday’s practice on who will start Sunday.

Rask won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and helped Finland win bronze in Sochi three years later. He was a first-team all-star that season and won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

Rinne missed the Games after undergoing hip surgery in October 2013. Both players had similar numbers last season in the NHL.

NOTES: Finland team adviser Teemu Selanne was in attendance at practice. The former NHL star had his No. 8 retired by the national program last year. … The Finns are expected to take the day off Thursday before practising again Friday and Saturday.

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