What to watch
Finland rarely gets rattled. Their highs are never too high and their lows not enough to cause a crisis of confidence. Case in point when Finland lost on Saturday to Belarus--they promptly came back on Monday to beat a previously undefeated Canada in a shootout. They navigate a calm middle ground that seems to get them into the playoff round, but they're never quite able to take it to that last notch that is the difference between gold and silver. Mind you, they are good at playing their game and matching up well against other teams. But their game is not as sexy as, say, Russia or Canada. Still, there are many reasons why you donít discount Finland; goaltending and defense are the keys to their success. The Finns beat the Americans 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals last year.
Who to watch
Niko Kapanen, Niklas Hagman, and Antti Miettinen are the scorers of note for Finland. They were always found on the scoresheet in the early round but cooled off a bit in the Qualification Round before getting back into the mix against Canada on Monday night. Kapanen leads the team in scoring with six goals and nine points. Miettinen is not far behind with three goals and seven points. Hagman, playing his best hockey for Finland in some time, has a goal and five points.
If given the chance to work on the power play, Finland is lethal. They are tied for second with Russia for the most power play goals scored with eleven. The star for Finland on the man advantage is Niko Kapanen. Of Kapanenís six goals, five have come via the power play. In other words, Kapanen accounts for over 40% of Finlandís power play goal scoring.
There is little doubt that Finland will continue to stake their fortunes with Pekka Rinne the rest of the way through this tournament. Heís started in five of their six games and has a 1.72 goals-against average. Rinne has been the beneficiary of some solid defensive coverage in front of his net, but has also made some big stops.
What to watch
This game will be a test of experience versus exuberance. The battle-tested Finns will look to force the young Americans to make mistakes. Watch for early battles in the American defensive end of the ice to see if the Finns try to force turnovers deep. Additionally, Team USA has good skaters who can thrive in a game like this if they can find pockets on the ice to maneuver.
Who to watch
Christopher Higgins should be finally comfortable after arriving from the Montreal Canadiens. Against Switzerland, he had several scoring chances and a goal. Dustin Brown is always a banger, but has also been a timely scorer for Team USA at the World Championships. Look for Brown to reassert himself against Finland. Unfortunately Zach Parise wonít be a part of this team, though he could have been a critical piece for the Americans. But when you dance with what brung ya, as they say, Team USA has depth throughout the lineup to be competitive. And as the other saying goes, you canít miss what you donít have.
Youth. With so many young players in the lineup it is inevitable that the Americans will make some mistakes, but the significant upside there is that they will not be consumed with fear and should simply play their game. And what should not be lost is that so many of these players have competed at U18 and U20. They are therefore not unfamiliar with playoff hockey World Championship style.
Intriguing choices here. Robert Esche is the veteran of World Championship hockey for Team USA but has so far had a subpar tournament. Al Montoya has appeared in one game, which he won, but has done little else. Heís an attractive up-and-comer, but is this the right time to go with a netminder who has been relatively idle? And Scott Clemmensen has been the capable backup with the New Jersey Devils for so many years. Now that heís arrived, can Clemmensen take the reins and move Team USA into the semifinals? We'll see if Ron Wilson decides to stick with Esche or surprise everyone.