Posts Tagged ‘Gold’


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.

 


The World Championships draw closer and obviously the team that I am most interested in following is the Finnish team. The team was published last night after the final Euro Hockey Tour game against Sweden, which Finland won 4-1.

 

The roster is as follows:

Goalies:

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars

Karri Rämö, Avangard Omsk

Petri Vehanen, Ak Bars Kazan

Defence:

Juuso Hietanen, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod

Topi Jaakola, Luulaja

Joonas Järvinen, Pelicans

Lasse Kukkonen, Metallurg Magnitogorsk

Mikko Mäenpää, Amur Habarovsk

Janne Niskala, Atlant Mytishi

Anssi Salmela, Avangard Omsk

Ossi Väänänen, Jokerit

Forwards:

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings

Mikael Granlund, HIFK

Jarkko Immonen, Ak Bars Kazan

Jesse Joensuu, HV 71

Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes

Niko Kapanen, Ak Bars Kazan

Tuomas Kiiskinen, KalPa

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Leo Komarov, Dinamo Moskova

Petri Kontiola, Traktor Tsheljabinsk

Janne Pesonen, HIFK

Antti Pihlström, Salavat Julajev Ufa

Mika Pyörälä, Frölunda

Jani Tuppurainen, JYP

 

Players that were cut from the roster include Petteri Nokelainen (Montreal Canadiens), Lennart Petrell (Edmonton Oilers), Pasi Puistola (HV71) and Ville Peltonen (HIFK). From the cut players I am surprised that Petteri Nokelainen, a member of last years championship winning team, was cut from the roster. Nokelainen could’ve easily filled the fourth line centre role. Nokelainen has carved himself a niche in faceoff and is an excellent two way player. His role in the Habs wasn’t a big one, but he did play to his role. Nokelainen was bugged by injury towards the end of the season so it could be that he has not fully recovered, leading to him not being at his peak, which is something that head coach Jukka Jalonen wants from all of his players.

 

Lennart Petrell is another surprise. When it was announced that he was to join the camp, I thought he was a shoe in and that the Finnish fourth line would consist of Leo Komarov – Petteri Nokelainen and Petrell. Petrell played his first season in the NHL this season just gone and provided the Oilers with some energy and also hit home a few goals. Petrell was never going to be a high scoring player in the NHL, but he possesses a great work ethic and is willing to put his body on the line for the team. Petrell was supposed to play in last years’ World Championships, but an ankle injury prevented him from taking part.

 

As for Ville Peltonen, I’m not surprised that he was left out. Peltonen is an icon in Finnish hockey, but in my opinion it was the right call to not include him in the roster. There is a crop of younger and equally good and hungrier players out there. I know Peltonen is hungry for success, but as the saying goes, it is time to let the kids play the game. Peltonen could’ve added leadership to the team, but to be honest, the roster as it stands has plenty of it.

 

I have confidence in Jalonen’s choices and ultimately it is responsibility how the team performs. However, being a couch coach, I probably would’ve not included Janne Pesonen and Antti Philstrom in the roster and would’ve brought in the afore mentioned NHL players (Nokelainen, Petrell). With Pesonen, he’s a decent player on all fronts, but something is missing. He had a good stint in the AHL with Wilkes Barre Scranton, but since then it sort of seems like his game has been a bit lost. He failed to make the Winnipeg Jets’ roster from the training camp and returned to HIFK and in light of statistics wasn’t anything spectacular.

 

With Philstrom, I’ve got two fold feelings of him. He is a great energy player and has probably the best set of wheels I’ve seen on any hockey player in years. Sometimes, however, I think his speed gets ahead of his thought. I was on the fence with him last year as well and I’ll continue to sit on it this year as well.

 

Goalies:

The goalie situation is something that Finnish fans shouldn’t have to worry about. There is an abundance of world class talent in the native SM-Liiga. If there isn’t a goalie there that is available, there’s always the KHL and a couple of nifty NHL goalies. Kari Lehtonen has been stellar the last two years and is starting to show the promise and skill we all knew he had. He has now had two injury free seasons and has been able to give Stars a chance night in, night out.

 

Vehanen is familiar from last year and was amazingly solid throughout the games last year. Last year I questioned his ability but he convinced me of his skill and ability. It will be an interesting fight between the two.

 

Ramo will likely be the third goalie in the games. He has been solid in the KHL and played OK behind a weak Tampa Bay defence a few years ago. He was one win away from the KHL championship. Should be able to challenge for a spot on the team should Vehanen or Lehtonen tank during the games.

 

Defence:

Rather unsurprisingly, not a single NHL defenceman in the roster. Then again the Finnish NHL defence man is a dying breed. Sami Lepisto declined to play this year, as did Sami Salo. Last year I thought our defence was weak on paper, but on the ice it executed relatively well, though there were one or two too many scary “holy c**p!” moments on the ice.

 

There are experienced players on the blue line and key pieces from last years’ team, which should ease things a little bit as majority of the defence is familiar with Jalonen’s playing style.

 

 I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this, but in my opinion, on paper the Finnish defensive roster is the weak point of the team again. It will mean that all the goalies have to bring their A-game night in, night out.

 

Forwards:

The forwards of the team consist of the core of last years’ champions and culminate in the leader of the team Mikko Koivu. In many people’s opinion (including mine) Koivu is the best Finnish forward. He is able to play both ends of the ice and like his brother, he is a natural leader who has such a passion for the game and most importantly, winning.

 

The forward crops has some familiar names, ensuring that the system is easier to implement this year. Names that are back from last years team include: Mikael Granlund, Jarkko Immonen, Jesse Joensuu, Niko Kapanen, Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov, Janne Pesonen, Antti Philstrom.

 

The NHL additions of Valtteri Filppula and Jussi Jokinen, should bring more offence and puck control, specially in Filppula’s case to the roster. Let’s not forget that Jalonen prefers a puck control style of play.

 

One of the interesting (and at the same time sad cases) is how Mikael Granlund will perform. The youngster became an overnight sensation after last year and has been used for so many promotional activities and extras off the ice that it has bound to have taken its toll on the guy. I wrote earlier that the nation has unrealistic expectations for the kid and as much as it pains me, they will be waiting for something to top the airhook goal, which will not happen. I believe Granlund will be on top form, and play in a style that is borderline erotic (seriously, the things that the kid does with the puck and how he reads the game are unbelievable.)

 

Surprise names to me include Tuomas Kiiskinen and Jani Tuppurainen. Both have had strong seasons in the SM-Liiga and it will be interesting to see how the guys will respond to being chosen. I can’t say that much about their individual skill sets, but I’ll be following these two rather closely.

 

Overall? I think Finland will do OK. We have a tough group to start the games from, with the likes of USA and Canada in the same group, but you know what, I think we are within a shot of a medal. I doubt we will be able to get the gold, but I have a feeling that this will be the year that Finland will finish high in its home games. Hopefully there isn’t anything extra in the works that would distract the players from the job at hand.