MALMÖ – It’s not hard to figure out why Canadian fans often cite the Finns as their second-favourite team in international hockey.
Finland plays more of a north-south, physical style than any other European side, and it’s similar to Canada’s traditional approach.
Also, most Canadian NHL cities have had at least one Finnish player who’s greatly loved by the fans. Examples include Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen in Edmonton; Petri Skriko, Jyrki Lumme, and Sami Salo in Vancouver; Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary; Saku Koivu in Montreal; and, of course, Teemu Selänne in Winnipeg.
But regrettably for the Finns, arguably the main reason Canadians like (or at least don’t mind) them is that they really haven’t posed much of a threat to Canada’s hockey dominance at any level over the years.
Probably the most painful loss to Finland that Canada has ever suffered was on February 21, 1998 at the Nagano Olympics. But that 3-2 decision deprived Wayne Gretzky and his teammates of bronze, not gold, in the first Olympics with full NHL participation.
A semi-final victory for Finland over Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship might inject a little more animosity into this rivalry from the Canadian side.
Finland’s two greatest moments at the World Juniors have actually come at Canada’s expense. But the damage never came in an elimination-game scenario.
In 1987, Finland tied Canada 6-6 early in the tournament in Czechoslovakia. It went on to capture gold after both Canada and the Soviet Union were kicked out for brawling in the notorious “Piestany Punchup”. That Finnish team’s best-known player would prove to be Janne Ojanen. The longtime Tappara Tampere star appeared in 98 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils and also won two Olympic medals and three World Championship medals, including gold in 1995.
In 1998, the host Finns defeated Canada 3-2 in the first game of the tournament. Canada would then stumble to an eighth-place finish, losing 6-3 to Kazakhstan en route, while Finland would capture gold on the strength of Niklas Hagman’s overtime winner against Russia.
If Karri Kivi’s crew were to defeat Brent Sutter’s boys, it would be the first Finnish World Junior victory over Canada since December 30, 2001.
To put it in perspective, at that time, there was no Twitter and no Facebook. Canada hadn’t won Olympic gold in men’s hockey since 1952, and current Finnish World Junior captain Teuvo Teräväinen was seven years old.
Clearly, there’s room for some serious Suomi improvement.