Posts Tagged ‘USA’

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.


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. 

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).

IIHF World Championships got underway today. The games started with a ton of media critique over the ticket prices and it showed in all of the games of the opening day. For the first game of the tournament between USA and France, the Hartwall Arena (with capacity of 13,000) in Helsinki drew 8,402 spectators (see picture below), while in Stockholm (Globen capacity is in the 10,000 region) the first game between Germany and Italy drew just over a 1,000 pairs of eyes to watch the games


It didn’t go much better for the other games as Canada and Slovakia, with some super-star  names in their respective rosters, drew an audience of 6,400, which was depressing as under the bar stands of the Hartwall arena, there was not a single spectator watching the game (see picture below). Good on the Slovakian fans for making a lot of noise, cheering on their own. It seems that Slovakians love hockey no matter what game and at what level of play they are watching it


The games themselves were a bit sluggish. France held on valiantly for a period and a half before the US team finally clicked and started controlling the game. Rather empathically the French kept trying but the USA team had just way too much skill and speed on its roster for the French to match it.

There’s a lot that’s been said about team Canada, with its deep roster of NHL players. However, the game against Slovakia left me unconvinced that the team was something that would send shockwaves across the world. Perhaps part of it was due to the fact that several of the key players on the Canadian roster (Tavares, Getzlaf, Perry among others) were seen in the Helsinki nightlife the night before the game. There was a lot of speculation that the teams’ moist night out lead to the cancellation of the morning skate. Canada was visibly sluggish in the first period and the Slovakian’s held on to the very end, even if the Canadian team started to find its legs. I wouldn’t say that Slovakia will be a ‘pushover’ in these games as it was in the last years world championships. Canada won the game 3-2 in the end, but again, there’s a lot to be desired for from the Canadian team looking at the names they’ve got on paper.

Let’s hope that the guys on the roster aren’t treating the World Championship tournament as a roadie with the boys and a chance to have some fun away from home and play a few games of hockey while they’re at it. It is an easy thing to have happen in the world championships. I guess all the Finns remember the rumours from the Moscow world championships a few years ago with supposed helicopter rides to Helsinki and back and not all players being fresh for game days.

The Finland vs Belarus game did draw a big-ish crowd, reported at 12,354, which still left almost a thousand empty seats at the arena. The game itself was… well… it was boring. The Finns were in control for most of the game but couldn’t really get anything going. It seemed that the audience in Helsinki woke up to a hockey game in the 3rd period when the first full arena “Suomi” chant was heard. Finland had plenty of power play opportunities in the game but didn’t make anything of it, except maybe prove that the team can pass the puck really well. That being said there were some good things to take away from the game and I’m carefully optimistic about the teams’ chances in the tournament. We won’t know our full capability until games against the likes of Slovakia, Canada and USA. Kari Lehtonen was definitely Finland’s MVP in the game. He had two saves in the first period and was sharp throughout the game when Belarus had some good scoring opportunities.

Even Finnish D-man Anssi Salmela had his bit to say about the attendance to the games. In a post game press conference he was quoted saying “I normally don’t pay attention to the stands, but I have to admit that it was quiet today.” I guess the Finnish teams’ PR person has to have words with Salmela again, just like after this interview after last years’ world championships:

EDIT:It didn’t go that well in Sweden either, where the game between Sweden and Norway only drew a crowd of 5,985 to Globen. Across the three games played in Globen, the games have so far drawn a total of 8,000 spectators. Now on any standards that is poor, specially if it is across three games.

One can only hope that the organisers will do something, ANYTHING, to the ticket prices or hire people to come in to watch the games. Otherwise, the 2012 World Championships will forever be remembered for the low attendance. People at the top can say what they want about the cost of organising the games, but no one can ignore the rafts of empty seats at the arenas. It’s not good for hockey or for the reputation of the World Championship tournament.

However, the YouTube streams of the games are a welcome plus. I can’t commend the IIHF and its media rights holder enough for getting the games on the web, live and for free. It’s a great feat and its a great way to follow the games, even if the commentators cause some hilarity, bless them though as for most of them, English is clearly not their first language.

However, the YouTube streams did cause somewhat of a debacle in Finland. At first, like reported here yesterday, it was said that Finland would be on the geo-blocked country list, but by the time the puck dropped for the USA – France game, people could tune into watch the games on YouTube. It wasn’t until midway through the game that the feed was blocked in Finland. It appears that the MTV3, who has exclusivity for TV rights in Finland had to place numerous calls to the IIHF to get the games blocked as it went against the contract they had signed for the games.

Oh well, there are ways around it with different proxy settings and so on, so all is not lost.

Hopefully the games will pick up from here and we are in for some great hockey in the tournament and that we will see both the arenas, Hartwall Arena in Helsinki and Globen in Stockholm, filled with fans. Though with those ticket prices the sarcast in me thinks we’ll not see a sold out arena, except for the final.

I’ve had a lot of requests from the UK for the game times. Ask and ye shall receive. Below are the Group stage games in GMT times. I will post the quarter, semi and final times once the pairings are set.

Remember you can stream all the games live and for free via:

Friday 4.5.2012

10.15 USA-France Helsinki
12.15Germany-Italy Stockholm
14.15 Canada-Slovakia Helsinki
15.15 Czech Republic -Denmark Stockholm
18.15 Belarus-Finland Helsinki
19.15 Sweden-Norway Stockholm

Saturday 5.5.2012

13.00 Swizerland-Kazakhstan Helsinki
15.15 Latvia-Russia Stockholm
17.00 Canada-USA Helsinki
19.15 Sweden-Czech Republic Stockholm

Sunday 6.5.2012

10.15 France-Kazakhstan Helsinki
11.15 Denmark-Italy Stockholm
14.15 Finland-Slovakia Helsinki
15.15 Russia -Norway Stockholm
18.15 Switzerland-Belarus Helsinki
19.15 Germany-Latvia Stockholm

Monday 7.5.2012

14.15 France-Canada Helsinki
15.15 Czech Republic-Norway Stockholm
18.15 USA-Slovakia Helsinki
19.15 Denmark – Sweden Stockholm

Tuesday 8.5.2012

14.15 Belarus-Kazakhstan Helsinki
15.15 Latvia-Italy Stockholm
18.15 Finland -Swizerland Helsinki
19.15 Russia-Germany Stockholm

Wednesday 9.5.2012

14.15 Slovakia-Kazakhstan Helsinki
15.15 Norway-Italy Stockholm
18.15 Canada-Switzerland Helsinki
19.15 Sweden-Germany Stockholm


14.15 USA-Belarus Helsinki
15.15 Denmark-Russia Stockholm
18.15 France-Finland Helsinki
19.15 Czech Republic-Latvia Stockholm

Friday 11.5.2012

14.15 Kazakhstan-USA Helsinki
15.15 Italy-Czech Republic Stockholm
18.15 Finland-Canada Helsinki
19.15 Russia-Sweden Stockholm

Saturday 12.5.2012

10.15 Slovakia-Belarus Helsinki
11.15 Norway-Latvia Stockholm
14.15 Switzerland-France Helsinki
15.15 Germany-Denmark Stockholm
18.15 Kazakhstan-Canada Helsinki
19.15 Italy-Sweden Stockholm


14.15 Finland -USA Helsinki
15.15 Russia-Czech Republic Stockholm
1815 Switzerland-Slovakia Helsinki
19.15 Germany-Norway Stockholm

Monday 14.5.2012

14.15 Belarus – France Helsinki
15.15 Latvia-Denmark Stockholm
18.15 Kazakhstan- Finland Helsinki
19.15 Italy-Russia Stockholm

Tuesday 15.5.2012

10.15 Canada-Belarus Helsinki
11.15 Norway-Denmark Stockholm
14.15 Slovakia-France Helsinki
15.15 Czech Republic-Germany Stockholm
18.15 USA-Switzerland Helsinki
19.15 Sweden-Latvia Stockholm

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:


Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars

Karri Rämö, Avangard Omsk

Petri Vehanen, Ak Bars Kazan


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


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.



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.



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.



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.