International Ice Hockey Federation

Will Finland medal again?

Will Finland medal again?

This year, it’s about willpower, not star power

Published 05.05.2017 11:52 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Will Finland medal again?
Savvy teenage forward Sebastian Aho made his Worlds debut last year and will need to be an offensive force again for Finland. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / HHOF-IIHF Images
Last year, Finland won silver with hot young stars like tournament MVP Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov, and Mikael Granlund. This year’s team looks different.

Suomi, sitting third in the IIHF World Ranking, is unlikely to fill the net at the rate of the 2016 squad, which potted 37 goals in 10 games. Coach Lauri Marjamaki has a more workmanlike roster. But remember: when the Finns won their last Worlds gold in 2011 in Slovakia, captain Mikko Koivu and assistant captain Tuomo Ruutu were the only two active NHLers. Despite its small talent pool, Finland has proven repeatedly that you can never count it out of the medal conversation.


This year, Joonas Korpisalo was overshadowed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, as Russian starter Sergei Bobrovsky earned Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy nominations with a huge bounceback season. That said, Korpisalo should still have the inside track on Finland’s starting job with his 45 games of NHL experience. But if the athletic 23-year-old falters, there are two capable alternatives waiting in the wings.

Former Calgary Flames prospect Joni Ortio (Skelleftea AIK) posted a 2.20 GAA and 91.9 save percentage in Sweden this season, while KHL stalwart Harri Sateri (Vityaz Podolsk) was also solid with a 2.50 GAA and 92.9 save percentage. Remember, the Finns prevailed in 2011 with another KHL veteran, Petri Vehanen, in net, and they have a surplus of netminding talent that’s the envy of any nation not named Canada.


Finland’s current blueline depth doesn’t compare to the glory days of Teppo Numminen, Kimmo Timonen, and Jyrki Lumme. That said, the Finns consistently play well as a unit regardless of who’s out there. On this team, 21-year-old Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka will need to step up on the power play, and Juuso Hietanen (Dynamo Moscow) is coming off a career high in KHL goals (12-18-30). Karpat Oulu captain Lasse Kukkonen and Atte Ohtamaa of Ak Bars Kazan will bring physicality and shot-blocking. It’s a good, solid group.


It’s fortunate Sebastian Aho is mature beyond his years, because the 19-year-old playmaker will need to shoulder much of the offensive load for Finland. The Carolina Hurricanes forward is coming off a fine NHL rookie season (24-25-49). In his second straight Worlds, Aho will likely team up with two-way centre Valtteri Filppula of the Philadelphia Flyers on the top line. Mikko Rantanen, who captained the 2016 World Junior team to gold, also impressed with 20 goals in his first year with the Colorado Avalanche.

After that, the scoring options off for Marjamaki’s squad. If HIFK Helsinki’s Juhamatti Aaltonen could recapture his 2013 Worlds form (4-7-11), that’d be a huge plus. Jesse Puljujarvi, who tore up the World Juniors and U18 last year, has struggled with his confidence this year in the Edmonton Oilers organization, but still has great potential. And Toronto Maple Leaf fans are excited about versatile 23-year-old forward Miro Aaltonen, who took a step forward this season with the KHL’s Vityaz Podolsk (19-25-44). Yet realistically, playing stifling defence and waiting for counterattack opportunities is what we can expect here, not run-and-gun excitement.


Marjamaki, who turns 40 on May 29, has been one of the most successful young coaches in Finnish history. He led Karpat Oulu to back-to-back Liiga titles in 2014 and 2015. His only international hardware came in 2014 as an assistant to Erkka Westerlund at the Olympics (bronze) and Worlds (silver). Marjamaki has been feeling the heat after his disastrous debut at September’s World Cup of Hockey: the Finns scored one goal and allowed nine in three games in Toronto, finishing eighth and last overall. A top-four finish, even if it’s not splashy, would do much to boost the bench boss’s credibility. He’s assisted by longtime Karpat goaltending coach Ari Hilli and Waltteri Immonen, who serves as an assistant coach with Switzerland’s EV Zug.

Projected Results

On paper, this Finnish team isn’t anything special. Yet this Nordic nation, which has medaled at six out of the last eight men’s Olympic hockey tournaments, thrives on low expectations. The Finns will probably vie with the Czechs for second place in Group B behind Canada, and after that, anything from a quarter-final flameout to another medal appears possible. Hard work is the only given.


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