Since 1992, Finland’s record in the World championships is one gold, six silvers, and three bronze medals. That’s ten medals in 17 tournaments. The first one, the silver in Prague 1992, was won with a team that had only one NHLer, the gold with no NHLers (in a tournament with no NHLers due to the NHL lockout in 1995), and the 2008 bronze with 13 NHLers (and two players from the AHL).
There's no formula.
Finns enter this year's tournament determined and focused, and with seven NHLers – which can be another way to winning a medal.
Yes, the Finns have a rookie head coach, and probably a rookie starting goaltender - in the context of the World Championship - and they probably would have liked to get a Selänne or a Koivu on the team but what they do have, as always, is solid goaltending and a team that sticks to the game plan.
And of course Petteri Nummelin, entering his 14th World Championship tournament.
When Pekka Rinne left Kärpät Oulu two years ago, he was Niklas Bäckström’s backup. That was a scenario likely to repeat itself but with Bäckström’s hip surgery that prevented him from joining Team Finland, Rinne will now probably get the starting job, even if coach Jalonen will surely give Karri Ramo a game or two as well.
Rinne emerged as a bona fide NHL starter this season, playing 52 games and having the NHL’s tenth-best save percentage at 91.7, and notching 29 of Nashville’s 40 wins in the regular season. A big, modern goalie, Rinne has a big upside but the World Championship will also be the first time in Rinne’s career that he’s wearing the Team Finland jersey.
Sure, Petteri Nummelin is back on the team, coming off a great season back in Lugano, but is one Nummelin enough? The Finns have four defenCeman from the Swedish Elitserien, two from the Swiss National League A, and two - Ville Koistinen and Anssi Salmela - from the NHL.
Koistinen and Salmela played prominent parts on the team last year when Finland won bronze in the World Championship, Janne Niskala - now with Frölunda Gothenburg in the Swedish Elitserien - was mainly used as a powerplay weapon.
Besides Nummelin, there isn’t a lot of World Championship experience on the blueline. Koistinen is in his second full tournament, as are Salmela and Mikko Lehtonen. Topi Jaakola and Teemu Aalto are entering their first World Championships.
Janne Niinimaa and Petteri Nummelin - sixth in the Swiss National League A scoring - are the cornerstones of the defenCe, and you will be seeing them on the ice a lot.
Sami Kapanen is back. The former NHLer is entering his sixth World Championship and the first since 2001, and he’s doing it as the captain of the team. Kapanen will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility. A versatile player who’s also played defence in the NHL, Kapanen will be killing penalties, and scoring goals on the power play.
Another Kapanen, Niko, is the team’s number one centre entering the tournament. Finnish SM-liiga centres Jarkko Immonen and Juha-Pekka Hytönen, both in their first World Championship, and Tommi Santala are the others.
Santala is coming off a strong season in the Swiss league where he scored 48 points in 50 games, Immonen was second in SM-liiga scoring, and Hytönen is looking at a defensive role on the team.
Niko Kapanen, with a past with the Dallas Stars will most likely play with other former Stars, Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen, two of the team’s seven NHL players.
Hagman scored 22 goals for Toronto in the NHL this season, Miettinen collected 44 points in Minnesota, and they are expected to take care of the scoring.
All in all, Team Finland has seven forwards from SM-liiga and coach Jalonen will surely be in touch with any and all available in North America.
Last year, Jukka Jalonen was Doug Shedden’s assistant in Canada, and the plan was to give him a soft landing to the head coach’s position. Finland took a bronze medal, Shedden left for Switzerland, and Jalonen took over.
Jalonen is a big believer in teamwork, both for the players on the ice, but also with his coaching staff. He handpicked Timo Lehkonen, his former assistant at HPK Hämeenlinna in Finland, to join him in the national team, and added JYP Jyväskylä’s head coach Risto Dufva as the third member of the team.
Jalonen will ice a well organized Finnish national team in the tournament. They may not play the most beautiful hockey in the tournament, and they may not have the brighest stars, but they will also never give up.
Barring a perfect tournament by Pekka Rinne, there’s a risk that this will be one of the years that take down Finland’s medal average. Then again, the team will surely make it to the quarterfinal, and anything is possible again. Solid goaltending, organized play, and a hardworking attitude can take them to the semi-final.