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