Posts Tagged ‘IIHF World Championships’


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. 


Finland named its roster for the World Championships after the completion of the Euro Hockey Tour in Brno, Czech Republic. The tournament ended in disappointment for the Finns, who lost all of its games in a tournament. When I watched a couple of games from the tournament, I thought that the team looked somewhat lacklustre and was never really a threat offensively. Defensively there were some questionable players on the ice, but at least, Finland’s goalies were strong.

 

The roster itself is a bit of a surprise from recent years, but upon reflection, it was to be expected. There are not that many Finns in the NHL and majority of them are taking part in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let’s face it, the Stanley Cup is a bit bigger than the World Championships. The Finns that were left outside the playoffs were: Sami Salo (Tampa Bay), Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia), Kari Lehtonen (Dallas), Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix), Olli Jokinen (Jets), Antti Miettinen (Jets), Ville Leino (Buffalo), Joni Pitkanen (Carolina), Tuomo Ruutu (Carolina), Sean Bergeinheim (Florida), Lennart Petrell (Edmonton), Teemu Hartikainen (Edmonton), Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary).

 

So let’s take a look at that list. Salo, Timonen, Jokinen and Kiprusoff have all more or less retired from the national team and would only suit up for a major tournament, like the Olympics. Lehtonen, Rinne, Leino, Pitkanen, Ruutu, Bergenheim (did not play the whole season) and Petrell are all out due to injuries. Miettinen is healthy, but has had a tough season and I’m not sure whether he was asked to join the team.

 

The only one out of that list that has said that he would play is Lauri Korpikoski and his participation is pending a medical from Coyotes, which he has passed and will be joining the team for the start of the World Championships.

 

Since the list of guys who said no thanks to the World Championships, some influential members of the Finnish hockey community have criticised the decision. Hjallis Harkimo, owner of the Jokerit team said on Radio Nova in Finland that “When they (the players) need to get noticed and they need to get into the NHL, the national team is a must. When they have used the national team, then some of them are not interested at all. It’s wrong against Finland.”

 

Juhani Tamminen, former coach of TuTo in Mestis went on to say that “If my generation would have acted and thought like this, we would only have ten rinks and we would be a B-class country in hockey.”

 

 

Both were also critical of the leadership of the Coaching and general managers in the way that they approach the players. However, the chief of Finnish Ice Hockey Association, Kalervo Kummola was quick to defend the players who had said “no thank you” to the World Champs and said that all of the players who declined had good and valid reasons (either injuries or other matters such as contract negotiations to deal with)

 

Where yes, it would be a good thing to have all those names in the roster, I can’t help but wonder what these guys owe to the Finnish system? They have donned the jersey when possible and in the biggest competitions i.e. the Olympics. They have endured backlash from fans and media alike when after a gruelling NHL season they simply have nothing in the tank. Is that the type of players they want? Guys who would get into the team because of their name but are so tired and beat that they have nothing to give. There is no point in playing guys like that.

 

It’s OK for people to bellyache after players, but the reality is that the NHL is the main job for these guys, and the national team would be sort of like overtime if you will. I tip my hat to the guys who do come after a gruelling season and find that extra gear to dig deep for a while longer, but at the same time I don’t blame guys for saying no.

 

Let’s not forget that it is always a risk to the players to join the team as there are things like insurance to cover and the risk of injury is ever present. It’s not an easy decision to players, specially those with family, or who are facing free agency and can’t afford to risk injury.

 

The roster (see below) is nothing earth shattering and at on paper it doesn’t look like a championship contender, when compared to the likes of Canada or Russia who are loaded with individual talent.

 

I see that Finland’s opportunity is in how quickly the team gels together (properly). These guys have been together for the last EHT tournament and have gone through the camp together so I would expect that they are well on their way. I still question the playbook somewhat, but that’s up to the guys to assume and play to the coach’s instructions.

 

While I would like to see Finland staging an upset, I doubt that we will see the Finnish roster in the medal rounds, if we do, it is a massive feat from this team. The way I see this roster, after a lot of reflection, is that it is an opportunity for these guys to get noticed and maybe get big money deals from either the NHL or European leagues. The roster is relatively young and inexperienced at this level, which should feed the hunger for the players. I can see that one if not two of the Finnish goalies will be playing in North America after putting themselves in the shop window at the World Championships.

The Finnish roster is as follows:

Goalies,

Atte Engren – TPS – SM-Liiga
Joni Ortio – HIFK – SM-Liiga
Antti Raanta – Ässät – SM-Liiga

Defense

Juuso Hietanen – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod – KHL
Lasse Kukkonen – Rögle – Elitserien
Teemu Laakso –  Severstal Cherepovets – KHL
Tuukka Mäntylä – Tappara – SM-liiga
Sami Lepistö – HC Lev Praha – KHL
Ilari Melart – HIFK – SM-Liiga
Ossi Väänänen –  Jokerit – SM-Liiga
Janne Jalasvaara – Dynamo Moscow – KHL

Forwards

Juhamatti Aaltonen – Rögle – Elitserien
Marko Anttila – TPS – SM-Liiga
Juha-Pekka Haataja – Kärpät – SM-Liiga
Niklas Hagman – Lokomotiv Yaroslav – KHL
Juha-Pekka Hytönen – Amur Khabarovsk – KHL
Pekka Jormakka – Pelicans – SM-Liiga
Miika Lahti – JYP – SM-Liiga
Petri Kontiola – Traktor Chelyabinsk – KHL
Jarno Koskiranta – Tappara – SM-Liiga
Janne Pesonen – Ak Bars Kazan – KHL
Antti Pihlström – Salavat Yulaev Ufa – KHL
Sakari Salminen – KalPa – SM-Liiga
Veli-Matti Savinainen – Ässät – SM-Liiga
Ville Viitaluoma – HPK – SM-Liiga 

Lauri Korpikoski – Phoenix Coyotes – NHL*

 

*Please note that I have not seen an updated team roster that would include the forward that will be dropped to accommodate Lauri Korpikoski. 

 

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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.


The last four and a half periods of Finland’s hockey have been somewhat of a mystery. The game against Canada showed in the first period and a half showed what the team is capable of when it is playing to its strengths and plays with commitment and without fear. Then all of a sudden, it all fell apart.

 

The game against Canada was no means a bad game of hockey, in fact, I think it was possibly one of the best games of the tournament so far from the hockey perspective, but as a Finn, it was disappointing to see a team to play 30 minutes of a 60 minute hockey game. I can only applaud the Canadians and how they collected themselves after the first period. After the first it looked like the Canadian team didn’t turn up to play and that the celebrations from Ryan Getzlaf’s birthday the night before were heavy on the players’ legs.

 

Finland crumbled in the third period, when all of a sudden the playing style became stagnant and it looked like the players’ were afraid to play against the Canadians. After the loss, I was expecting that the Finns would come back strong into the USA game, after all, we saw what the Finns can do when they are playing at the peak of their style.

 

It was rather curious to see an article that half of the team had skipped the morning skate, which one tabloid attributed to the nice weather in Helsinki. Regardless or not, the Finns looked un-prepared for the USA game and man it showed. Whether it was because of many of the players skipping the morning skate, the players FAILED to prepare for the game, a fact which the coaching staff and players have openly admitted in post game interviews.

 

The game itself, well, those of you who saw it, know what I’m talking about. It was almost as embarrassing to watch as it was in Vancouver 2010 against the Americans. The thing that puzzles me is that USA didn’t look that sharp either. It didn’t look like the team that came from behind to beat Canada earlier in the tournament. The Finns had every opportunity to win the game had they come into it ready to play. I hope that the defensive players have taken a leaf out of the USA and Canada books on how to play in front of their own net. The Finns have not shown the kind of grit as is expected from the North American players.

 

At the moment, I am not overtly worried about the team and its chances. I’m hoping that the last two games have taught the team a lesson and it brings it together. Last year we saw the team struggle and come out on top (should mention Finland didn’t face either of the North American teams last year). At the moment, I am disappointed in the way the team turned out to play.

 

Last year Jukka Jalonen said that the team was “Mikko Koivu’s team”. Right now it’s no-one’s team. Either Jalonen or Koivu need to pull the group together again. Preferably Jalonen. The situation the team is in right now will show the true quality of Jalonen’s capability as a coach.

 

Finland is likely to face USA again in the quarter final stage of the tournament and if the team can’t get back to its normal playing ways, it can face embarrassment in front of the home crowd.

 

However, we’ll give the team the support to see them through into the finals (I hope).


In a shocking turn of events, the IIHF has turned around and stopped the free live broadcasts of the World Championships. The decision, is according to an IIHF statement, based on some fans in the geoblocked countries bypassing the blocking mechanism to watch the games, rather than use services provided by TV rights holders. The games will still be shown for free via YouTube, but with a 30 minute delay to the service, which negates the point of watching the games.

 

The World Championships have been a total farce from start to finish and this is the last nail in the coffin. The free YouTube streams were a step forwards in exposing the sport and the sponsors of the games to a whole new audience, whilst extending the service to those who wanted to follow their nation play, but lived in a country where there was no TV deal in place. The release by IIHF cites that “today’s step was taken to prevail illegal attempts to access the streaming countries that were geoblocked due to exclusive contracts.” I’m sorry, but bypassing a geoblock is not illegal. It may not be ethical, but it is by no stretch of imagination illegal. It’s a complete disgrace to the IIHF that they have blocked a service that was enjoyed by the fans, regardless of the fact whether some users bypassed the blocking mechanisms in place. Furthermore, I can’t believe that an organisation like the IIHF is so out of touch with the internet that they thought that a geoblock would work. What the IIHF has failed to realise is that as long as something is broadcast on to the web, whether by an “authorised” TV provider, the feed will ultimately end up in the Internet where users like myself can watch it for free. So my question is why block it on that premise? Surely the best way to tackle the issue of illegal streams is to do what the IIHF did in the first place, by offering a free, high quality stream of the games.

 

The official statement read: Bruno Marty, Excecutive Director Wintersports, said: “We deeply regret that we have to take this step, in particular for all the ice hockey followers out there who just want to enjoy the games online on YouTube. However, we currently see no other option to protect the existing media rights agreements with our broadcast partners, as some so called fans decided not to play fair and to illegally surpass existing copyright and geoblocking mechanism.”

 

I have a feeling that the geoblocking has nothing to do with the fact the games were pulled. I have a feeling that broadcasters in countries where the rights have switched hands (I’m looking at Finland here) have kicked up a fuss, because the live streams took away customers from the pay for channels. What makes the IIHF think that the users who have been watching the games via YouTube will suddenly flock to a TV provider and pay an arm and a leg for a viewing pack?

 

What’s surprising even further is that the IIHF has not even brought in an option it has hosted previous years and allow users to buy a country pass or a tournament pass to watch the games. That way users could at least still watch, what the IIHF calls legal streams, and make a profit out of it on the side. Delaying the games by 30 minutes just negates the point of watching a game! What is the point when you have an app for a phone that tells you the score. Wake the hell up IIHF.

 

Like I said these world championships have been a total farce from the start, with the ticket prices and price slashes and free ticket giveaways. All the while Rene Fasel and the organisers have talked about a great brand they have to protect, but this decision sees the IIHF take the brand and wipe its ass with it!

 

It’s completely puzzling how the KHL can show the entire regular season via YouTube, including playoffs, and have no trouble with it? How can the IIHF find this context so hard and difficult?

 

I will conclude this post on this picture as it is now more pertinent than ever (With thanks to Esko Seppanen and Urheilulehti). My parting thoughts would be to curse at the IIHF, but what’s the point?

 

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Sweden brings out big guns to fill the rafters at Globen.Even after the recent price cuts at the games, the audience numbers have not improved. This has lead to the organisers giving away free tickets to Stockholm’s junior hockey teams/players.

The free tickets will be handed out for this weekend’s games and will exclude Sweden’s game and the Russia vs Czech Republic game. The aim of the initiative is to improve the atmosphere in the arena. “Naturally we want fans to come and see Sweden play, but at the same time we don’t want to have the rest of the teams to play to an empty stadium,” said the Swedish hockey association’s chairman Christer Englund.

As reported before, the ticket prices in both Finland and Sweden have raised a lot of discussion. Sweden already slashed the prices by 70% after Friday’s Sweden vs Norway game was played to a half capacity Globen.