Posts Tagged ‘Finland’


The Sochi winter Olympics have provided the hockey loving folk some great games, and for the NHL GM’s a stack of grey hairs as the injury ninja sweeps the games. So far, the losses (NHL only) have been as follows:

  • Henrik Zetterberg – Sweden/Red Wings: Left the games with a herniated disc and flew back to Detroit to be evaluated. Season potentially in jeopardy.
  • Aleksander Barkov – Finland/Florida Panthers: Injured his knee against Norway. Team Finland doctors said that it is unlikely that Barkov will need surgery for the injury, but is sidelined for 4-6 weeks. There’s roughly 8 weeks of the NHL season left for Barkov as Panthers are not going to make it to the play-offs.
  • Tomas Kopecky – Slovakia/Florida Panthers: Got hit in the head against Slovenia. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • Mats Zuccarello – Norway/New York Rangers: non-displaced fracture in his hand. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • John Tavares – Canada/ New York Islanders: Leg injury, no timeline for return announced. Edit: It was announced that Tavares would miss the remainder of the season after it was revealed that he sustained a torn MCL and a torn meniscus. He might avoid surgery, but should he need it he is ready for training camp for 2014-2015 season.

Those are just the players that are out of the games and potentially from their respective NHL club games. The list does not take into account small nagging injuries that players may have carried pre-Olympics. The Sochi Winter Olympics came at a time in the NHL season – and hockey season in general – that there is not a single player that is 100% healthy.

Zetterberg is possibly the biggest loss to his club team. The Red Wings’ captain is due to undergo exams if his back requires surgery straight away or if it is safe for him to carry on to the end of the season and potential play-offs. Tavares is another big loss as he is a huge part of the Islanders’ offense. Where Islanders have an uphill battle to get to the play-offs Tavares is a loss that will be felt in the line-up (depending on the severity of his injury).

The NHL and IIHF have a contract in place for the NHL to be part of these Olympics and then it is up for review. Could you imagine if some one like Sidney Crosby suffered an injury that would sideline him for a long time at the Olympics? Where some of the above players have been injured in ‘meaningless games’ (apart from Tavares), the NHL GM’s – specially those in Florida – will be tearing their hair out. A point on the frustration that the international competitions provide team executives, is when Barkov was injured and it was announced that he was out. He received a call from his GM, Dale Tallon, which was described as (Tallon being) frustrated. Barkov is one of the rising stars of a young Panthers roster and has struggled with injuries before and during the season (he underwent shoulder surgery before camp).

Similar concerns are always shared by GMs during the annual World Championships and many players are looking to go play for their national teams. At the end of a gruelling NHL season, every minor injury is examined and NHL medical staff is often reticent to let players go if there are signs of injuries. Sometimes, players’ desire to go and play for their countries is going to over ride the doctors. Alex Ovechkin, for example, played a few games for Russia in the 2013 World Championships with a broken foot. Speaks volumes of his toughness and desire to play, but I bet it caused some grief to GMGM.

So all in all, when the IIHF and the NHL sit down to talk about the NHL’s continued participation at the Winter Olympics, there will surely be questions raised as to whether teams will want to let their assets go and risk injury at the Olympics stage. In my opinion, the NHL will continue to be part of the Olympics as it is a stage for it to market itself and compete the ever expanding KHL. The risk the NHL has is that some of the more patriotic players may defect to leagues which allow them to compete in the Olympics and World Championships.

It’s going to be another four years before the South-Korean Olympics so there is time, but having said that, there was time to avoid the last lockout and I’m sure IIHF will want the contract in place well in advance for the 2018 Winter Games.


Probably one of the biggest blows to the Sochi winter Olympic hosts was to be knocked out by Finland today. A day before the quarter final I made Facebook post that read as follows “Reason why Russia won’t win Olympic gold? Russia doesn’t have a team, Russia has a group of individuals.” Of course that was met with some glee from friends, but it turns out that the prediction was right.

 

Russia didn’t win gold, because its players played as individuals and its biggest individual stars failed big time. Alex Ovechkin scored one goal in the opening game against Slovenia and that was it. Yevgeni Malkin never got going. In fact Russia’s best player was Pavel Datsuyk. Some might argue that Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Radulov. Both players played well and posses incredible amount of skill, but their commitment to a team system imposed by the coaching staff, is questionable.

 

Further to the point, if a guy turns up to an Olympic tournament with customised skates, and a custom stick (that is different from the Bauer Olympic stock) chances are he is placing himself above the team and he can do whatever he wants. It’s not the reason why, but it plays a small part in the grand scheme of things.

 

When I said about Ovechkin’s lack of production I got some pushback on it, but judging by his international presence over the past few years, there’s a case to be made that Ovechkin isn’t that effective in short tournaments, specially if he is a late addition. From the start of the Olympics, Ovechkin was a big part of the Olympics. Not just the Russian team but the whole circus.

 

Compare that with Olli Jokinen, whose morale and attitude has been questioned time and time again in the Finnish hockey circles. Before the games, Jokinen said on Twitter – via his wife – that he was prepared to collect bottles in Sochi if his team demanded it. Russian players, where stoic in their national team pride never made similar claims.

 

The reason why Russia failed, is not because of the number of KHL players, or NHL players who played for themselves. Quickly after the game was finished there were reports circulating the hockey world, suggesting that there was a rift between Ovechkin, Malkin and the head coach.

 

The reason why Russia failed is because its coach was not able to gell the team quickly enough and to buy into a system. To be honest, I don’t think I saw a system from the Russians the whole tournament. It was apparent from the opening game of the tournament, that the Russian team was not going to be a threat and would not go to the medal rounds. It has nothing to do with potential rift between the coach and players, but it comes down to not having a system.

 

There was evidence of the coach losing the players at the 2013 World Championships (granted, Russia won the tournament in 2012), but even then there were signs that all was not well in the big red Russian machine.

The only part of the Russian team that deserves a absolution of sin is the goaltending department, which was among the strongest in the tournament after Finland and Sweden. There is a sombre time for reflection in Russian hockey ranks to determine what went wrong in such a high profile tournament and the fate of the coaching staff and GM will hang in the balance.

Similarly Canada has been in a similar pickle. A star studded team that is struggling and hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. Canada was confident that it would secure gold in the second consecutive Olympics, following its triumph at Vancouver 2010. How could they not bring home the gold? With a roster like that they are sure winners. Same as the Russians.

 

Canada’s captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t been playing at his level and the reason for that is that Crosby is a great franchise player, but for a short tournament such as this and a team that is not built around him, he is finding it difficult. Sure enough the constant juggling of lines and personnel is not helping Canada’s cause either. Canada is poised for a medal, sure, but it’s not gold when its neighbour down south is having a more convincing tournament.

 

The other thing why I feel that Canada’s success is not set in stone is that Canadian players have not yet fully adjusted to the rink size in Sochi. The rink in Vancouver, where bigger than the NHL rink played into Canada’s and USA’s hands but it was not a full Olympic size surface, as that would have required a long repairs at the Rogers Arena.

 

Canada is facing USA in a replay of the 2010 Olympic final in the semi final stage of the games, and it will be a miracle if Canada makes it to the final. So far the team has done little to suggest that it has what it takes against a tougher opponent.

 


18 years ago, 7th of May 1995, a Sunday afternoon and Finland was playing in the World Championships. That Friday before, my teacher at school had asked us to show our hands if we thought Finland was going to win gold. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t think that the team was going to do it, given the disappointment of the year before.

On that Sunday afternoon I wasn’t paying the game my full attention. Yes, Finland was in the final, but I thought that Sweden would be the winners of the game. They always beat us in hockey, especially in big games like this.

I remember that I had my friend Hannu over at our place and that we were in my room playing computer games or whatever and went to check on the score a couple of times. It was 0-0. Until we heard my mom and dad roar. Finland had scored. Ville Peltonen had put the puck in the net for the first time. That was it, maybe Finland did have a chance.

We watched the remainder of the game and saw Peltonen score two more goals and Timo Jutila add another. It was set, Finland was going to win the World Championship in ice hockey. A sport that is engrained in so many Finn’s psyche. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal.

The country went into a frenzy, just like it would do 16 years after that Sunday in May 1995. There were parades held up and down the country so that people could greet the heroes. I went to one event in Hameenlinna and saw Timo Jutila and Marko Palo with the trophy. I remember that Marko Palo signed my hockey card I had of him (which I have since lost) and that he was wearing these big Ray-Ban sunglasses to hide his blood shot eyes.

One of the relics that I still have at my parent’s house is a signed team photo of that 1995 team. It’s in a glass frame and I don’t dare fly it over to my place in case it would get damaged in transit.

Since then the saying -95 never forget has become somewhat of a joke amongst Finnish hockey fans. Today will be 18 years since the nation’s expectations were changed and we started to patiently wait for gold year after year, only to come away disappointed, until 2011.

We may only have two World titles to our name, no Olympic gold, no World Cup of Hockey honours, but those two World Championships mean so much to the Finns that it’s almost impossible to describe in words, even if the value of the World Championship event has diluted a little bit, it being an annual tournament and all.


With three games played in the World Championships, Finland has shown some promise in the early going. However, where the team has won all of its games (surrendered one point to Germany in opening game), there are areas within the team that do need a bit of work before heading to big games against USA and Russia.

 

Here are a couple of great surprises to myself that I did not expect when the roster was first announced:

1)      Antti Raanta: Not really a surprise to many, but given that I only saw Youtube highlights and a the stories of his and his team’s Cinderella run to the Finnish championship. Raanta has only appeared in one game so far, but will likely carry the goaltending duties against USA and Russia which will be his biggest test to date. The shutout against Slovakia was a showing of his talents, specially during the phases of the game when Finland were helplessly lost. According to Raanta’s agent, there are as many as five NHL teams after his signature and KHL is not an option.

2)      Sami Lepisto: For the past couple of years Lepisto has been an enigma, not only to myself, but to many Finns. During the EHT in Czech Republic, Lepisto was hopelessly lost in the defensive zone. When his name was announced on the final roster and you saw him in the top D pairing, many jaws fell to the floor. The positive thing is that Sami Lepisto has responded to his critics the best way possible and has raised his game and has started playing up to his potential.

3)      The first line: Aaltonen – Kontiola – Pesonen has been what the coach wanted out of the trio. Couple of the guys (Aaltonen and Pesonen) have been part of Jalonen’s teams since taking over as a coach. Kontiola has featured in the teams as well, but has been left to a limited role. This year, he has been thrust into the fore and has responded beautifully. In the three games that he has played he has notched up 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points, which at the time of writing entitles him to the top scorer slot in the World Championships, ahead of Ilya Kovalchuck.

Things to improve upon

1)      Powerplay: Against Germany it was terrible (2 out of 9) and against Slovakia it was slightly better, but not great and against France, well it’s not really there. Special teams can be the difference maker in a tournament like this. The Finns seem a bit too content to chip the puck behind the net and chip it to the slot to a guy who is surrounded by two or three opposing players. It’s not really working so far.

2)      Play-book: Finland has often looked like they come out slow from the gates. It’s like watching a Diesel engine get going. Takes a while but when it gets going, it gets going. Slow starts like this are not going to be good against Russia and USA. Finland plays a puck possession game and likes to control the tempo of the game and for some reason I see this as a weakness, specially as the teams they will be facing will be stacked with individual talent, which can lead to trouble. However, hockey is a team game and is not decided on Individual talent.

3)      Scoring: Most of the scoring relies on the top line at the moment. Where the Finns have received some scoring assistance from the other lines, majority of the scoring responsibility has lied on the shoulders of the first line. Finland needs secondary scoring in-order to compete for a medal.

 

So there, a few thoughts on the Finns and how they are doing so far. There are big areas for the Finns to improve on, but given what the team has, many have been impressed by the team’s determination and guts. Are the Finns on pace for a medal? Time will tell. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and book the market square in Helsinki for the celebration, but it’s a long tournament and where the toughest games are still yet to come. 


So the IIHF World Championships have concluded and the champions have been crowned in Yevgeni Malkin… I mean Russia. Russia was the dominant team throughout the tournament and perhaps no player was as dominant as Malkin. Where Russia won, I thought it’s play wasn’t harmonious and at times it was disjointed, but thanks to strong individual players who WANT to play, game-play mistakes are easy to overcome.  Apart from Russia’s championship, I think the story of the games has been Slovakia. Last year in Bratislava, the games ended in tears when the Slovakian team ended up outside the medal games. Where as a Habs fan it might sound weird me saying this, but the gesture from Zdeno Chara after the game was classy. Wearing Pavol Demitra’s jersey to the medal ceremony was a really classy move.

 

Demitra undoubtedly was the Slovaks’ sixth player on the ice in each of their games. Causes like these are great to rally behind that can carry a team a long way. Demitra, who is a legend in Slovakian hockey, lost his life in the tragic plane accident that claimed the entire Yaroslav Lokomotiv team in September.

 

First off, let’s review the tickets, that have been talked about in the press and on my blog in great extent. From that point of view, it has been one of the most embarrassing World Championships I can remember. Watching the games via YouTube (I’ll get to that later) saw empty arenas in nearly all of the games in Helsinki and it wasn’t that great across the pond in Stockholm. I honestly think that the organisers of the games failed big time. Comparing to the games hosted in Slovakia last year, the TV coverage that I saw showed that the tournament was well publicised in the host towns, but judging by what I’ve seen on videos, there hasn’t really been that much in terms of visibility in Helsinki or Stockholm. Even one of the Russian players went on to say that these were the worst World Championships that he has played in.

 

Furthermore, a bit of an embarrasement, the organisers now have to get advice from Edmonton who arranged the World U-20 championships recently. Finland and Sweden aren’t exactly new to the hockey thing so it is embarrassing to say the least that they have to get help on how to make everything work. The scary prospect is that the two countries and the same organisers are in charge of arranging next years’ tournament as well. Hooray for another year of empty arenas and overpriced… well… overpriced EVERYTHING (€7 for a “pint”).

 

I do hope that the Finnish Ice Hockey Association is true to its word and guides the profits directly to junior development. It is in the grass roots where hockey has to be nurtured and talents developed. Additionally, though I know hockey isn’t the cheapest of sports to play, the Finns need to attract kids to start playing hockey as well and the sport shouldn’t be for the privileged, neither as a hobby or as a spectator sport.

 

But anyways, what did the games leave us with? Well there were some interesting games, who would have thought that one of the best round robin games was between France and Kazakhstan. In fact during round robin, it was the ‘smaller’ countries that provided more entertainment than any other game in the schedule, except maybe apart from USA vs Canada.

 

Speaking of Canada, I know my post about the Canadian team antics was read quite a few times, but I realised that the point that didn’t come across properly in it was the fact that I don’t have a problem with players going out during the tournament, it happens and as players we’ve all been there and done it. However, it was more the outburst that caught my attention. Other teams were seen in Helsinki nightlife and conducted themselves appropriately. Granted it was only a onetime thing and I guess the reason why Getzlaf’s and Perry’s exploits were followed closely is because the Ducks have been under a magnifying glass in Finland because of one Teemu Selanne. But let by gones be by gones and all that jazz. I could say many colourful things of what I think of Getzlaf as a captain of a team, but I will only say, I feel sorry for Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne.

 

For me personally, the low point of the games was when the IIHF pulled the live YouTube broadcasts, hence why I reduced the amount of ‘ink’ and space I gave the IIHF.

 

That is something unheard of in sports broadcasting and I’m sure the IIHF has had a huge backlash from people all over the world. I had numerous conversations on Twitter and Facebook about the decision to pull the feeds and all were equally disappointed. The common factor among the comments was this: “Shame, I’ve never watched the world championships and I was quite enjoying it.” Or “What’s the point of watching them with 30 minute delay if I can get another stream from the Internet.” There you go IIHF. Even if you tried to protect the TV broadcast deals you talked about, people will find a way to watch the games live and un-interrupted. I really do hope that the IIHF figures this out. You have a year to do it. GET IT RIGHT!

 

The one thing that I do think that the games needed and it is something that I have been saying for years when talking about it with relatives and friends. Kalervo Kummola needs to move over from the helm at Finnish ice hockey. I have nothing against Kummola personally and if anything we should all be grateful for what he has done to Finnish hockey and the way he has cultivated the sport. But it is time to move over now. I feel that Kummola is past it and ‘not with the times’ anymore and that his views of the game and the way things should be done are somewhat archaic.

 

Kummola’s hockey resume is something to envy, but right now I feel that what would be best for Finnish hockey is to get some fresh blood in and get new views and expand our horizons further. Finland has a great legacy in hockey and the sport means a lot to the nation and I think now, if ever, would be time to mix things up a bit.

 

Personally, I don’t think Kummola’s successor has to be a someone with a background in hockey, but someone who can bring an innovative new way to develop players and who is not stuck in the same mindset as the current core of the powers that be.

 

With Russia now the reigning world champion’s we are waiting for another 365 before Sweden and Finland again host the games, with this time Sweden being the lead country for hosting. Good thing the organisers have already come out and said that they’ll review the ticket prices for next year. Oh, I do hope that they mean review the prices on basis of reducing them, not hiking them up even more.

 


Well, Finland’s dream of a double world championship are over, but at least the team is still playing for a medal. The game against Russia was encouraging. The team showed that it is capable of competing play-wise with a star studded Russian team. However, where I feel the Finnish team fell down on was on individual talent. If you have some one like Yevgeni Malkin snipe three goals at will you are in trouble.

 

Where I might’ve said some harsh things about the Penguins during the first round of the NHL playoffs, I have to admit that I have not seen a player as hungry as Malkin is right now. At the moment, his playing oozes the desire to win.

 

The reason why I am not overtly disappointed at the Finnish teams’ efforts is because the team went down with its boots on. The score 6-2, I feel, does not reflect the game on a playing level. Finland was the more dominant team across the first 30-35 minutes and I thought that until the 3-1 goal that the team had every chance to claw back. The body language of players said that they were there to fight to the end. However, it wasn’t until Malkin completed his hat-trick that the wheels fell off the bus. A 4-1 deficit is difficult to claw back from, not impossible, but difficult.

 

A couple of things that I was impressed with: Petri Kontiola’s game was probably the best he has ever played, or at least what I’ve seen him play. Same with Jesse Joensuu. I think as the tournament has gone on, he has elevated his game probably more than any other player on the Finnish team. It was his strong board play and relentless hustle that set up the Finnish first goal.

 

Petri Vehanen didn’t have one of his strongest games we’ve seen from him. Let’s not forget that Vehanen has been linked to a couple of NHL teams during the tournament (One of which is the Penguins). I don’t know whether the contract talk got his nerves going. Personally, I don’t see why Vehanen would go to the NHL. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great goalie when he is on top of his game, but he is what the hockey world would call a veteran. Then again, I’m always happy when a guy who has worked hard for his dream actually makes it, so from that point of view, it’d be great to see Vehanen make it.

 

Whilst we’re on the topic of goalies. Today’s game against Russia sets up an interesting dilemma: Ride Vehanen or go with the back-up, Karri Ramo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Vehanen will play tomorrow. Jalonen is unlikely to throw a guy in the net who hasn’t played a minute in the tournament. Ramo is a capable goalie, but I think that Jalonen will stick to his guns and ride Vehanen rather than risk putting Ramo in goal. What he should’ve done though was to put Ramo in goal for the 3rd period in the Russia game. By that time the Finns would’ve had nothing to lose. It’s OK to say this in hindsight, but there you go.

 

One of the things that has been, shall we say, ridiculous has been the refereeing. Not only in the Finland vs Russia game, but across the entire tournament. There were a couple of calls the refs missed in the game and then called a few things that they did call, but wouldn’t have been worthy of penalties. Where Malkin went down I don’t think should’ve been a penalty. I’ve watched the play again and again, and Malkin goes down on his own as opposed to the Finnish player tripping him, as the refs interpreted.

 

Despite the loss tonight and the disappointment of it to the team, I’m sure that the Finns will come out and want to win the bronze on home soil. Though I think as a team, the guys want to go out with a win as it is officially the end of the season fro them all.

 

A quick word about the other finalist. I’m really happy for the Slovakian’s. Their last tournament was a disaster to say the least, but they have come through as the underdogs and I’m sure the guys will be relishing every moment. There’s no doubt that the Slovakian team has a 6th player with them on every shift in Pavol Demitra, whose jersey is hanging in the Slovakian changing room. For those who don’t know, Demitra was among the victims who perished in the Lokomotiv air disaster in September.


Following the Finland vs Kazakhstan game from last night, I didn’t do my own take on the game, simply because there was something that was bothering me about it. It wasn’t the game itself or the performance of the team, but one player in the roster. The player just so happens to be one of the most hotly talked about Finnish youngsters, Mikael Granlund.

 

Granlund’s year has been manic to say the least. From winning the SM-Liiga championship in 2011, accompanied by World Championship 2011 to Finnish national service, to his every move being followed, to Veikkaus using Granlund on his only real day off for 15 hours to shoot a commercial, to being the carrying force for HIFK to carrying the Finnish U-20 team. He has been asked about his airhook goal more than any one cares to remember.  However, last night, almost a year after he was put on a stamp and when he became every mom’s favourite son-in-law candidate, Mikael Granlund was benched. And I’m sad to say, it was the right call.

 

Prior to the World Championships, Granlund was out with a nasty bug but came back to the roster and was not at his own level. After the SM-Liiga season was done, Granlund was put on rest, which seemed to bring him back, but come the World Championships, he has been not at his own level.

 

Let me iterate that Granlund’s attitude is there. He wants to compete, he wants to win and he wants to play the game, but the sad fact is that it’s impossible to compete or play with your attitude alone and be at the top of your game, while your batteries are completely and utterly empty. Everything that Granlund has achieved, those achievements do take A LOT out of a player mentally and physically. On March 27th I wrote on http://pushforpros.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/mikael-granlund-and-that-damn-airhook-goal/  about some of the concerns that I had for Granlund. I still stand by the fact that people should’ve had alarm bells about the kid after the U-20 world championships. He looked tired and the media scrutiny at home over the missed penalty shot was shocking.

 

Going back, look at the year the kid has had! Do you think that with all the activities that he has had to endure, that he has had time to train properly. The sad fact is that Granlund has been driven to the ground and he is tired, despite what he says to the media. And speaking of which, no one gets asked such dumb questions as Granlund.

 

Looking at the Canada and USA games, it was the first time that Granlund played against his future opponents and he was invisible. Granlund wanted to show that he can play against the players on the NHL stage, but he was not able to, because he has nothing in his tank left to give. It has gotten to a point that a TSN commentator has now said “It looks like Granlund will play for IFK.”

Yes Granlund will be an NHL player, but in hindsight what would’ve been THE best thing for him this year, was to leave him out of the team and give him time to train properly and prepare for Minnesota Wild training camp. Granlund needs the hard training and good quality rest. After these performances, if it is the first time you’ve watched Granlund, you might ask yourself “This kid was drafted 9th overall?” The fact is that Granlund IS better than what we have seen from him this year.

 

I think that another part of the problem is the expectations that he carries on his shoulders. He was spectacular last year, in every competition he played in and that has set the bar for some that it is how he should play. Believe me, Granlund can play like that when he is fresh and when he is 100%. Because of the expectations, I think part of Granlund’s problem is psychological. I bet that somewhere in the back of his head he is thinking what kind of hype will the next play/goal/pass create. Another part of (a rather complex problem) is that he is trying too much. Last night we saw him try a pass to Jarkko Immonen twice on the power play. Immonen was on the side of the goal and could’ve done nothing but go behind the net. Why try the same move twice?

 

I think Granlund will still dress for Finland in this tournament, because he can play and I think he has the capability to bounce back, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he is the 13th forward for the Finnish team and is used sparingly.

 

For Granlund’s sake, I hope that after the World Championships are eventually done, that he is left alone to focus on what for what is best for his future and what is beckoning. Let the kid re-charge his batteries, let him spend time with family and friends and let him train and prepare and don’t bother him with moronic questions and ask him to do give 15 hours of his time to do a freaking TV advert.