Finland confident as it prepares for Sochi Olympics hockey tournament
SOCHI, Russia -- Who’s the favorite to win the Olympic men’s hockey tournament?
“We are,” Finland forward Olli Jokinen said Monday after the team -- minus Ducks winger Teemu Selanne and defenseman Sami Vatanen -- skated at the Bolshoy Ice Dome practice rink as NHL players began arriving here to join their national teams.
Jokinen certainly isn’t lacking confidence, but he does have history to back him up: Since the tournament was opened to NHL players, Finland has won the most medals -- three -- of any country.
But it will be tough for the Finns to beat deeper teams, especially after having lost forwards Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula to injuries. Jokinen acknowledged that Canada, the United States, Sweden and Russia must be regarded as top medal contenders, but he’s not counting out his own team.
“Russia will be the favorites, and it doesn’t mean anything in a tournament like this,” said Jokinen, the onetime Kings first-round draft pick who now plays for the Winnipeg Jets. “With the Russian team playing on bigger ice, they are [the favorites], but we beat them before on the bigger ice and we know how they play.
“We think we’re one of the favorites. It maybe sounds crazy.”
Maybe not, given the Finns’ stellar goaltenders. They can choose among San Jose’s Antti Niemi, Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen and Boston’s Tukka Rask, and there’s no wrong choice in there.
Niemi said the Finns will miss Koivu and Filppula but will have to get by without them.
“Those are tough losses for our team. They are top players in the world,” he said. “But I think we’ve got some good skill to replace them and it’s a tournament, so I think we’ve got a great chance.”
Finland assistant coach Lauri Marjamaki said Selanne, 43, will play right wing on the team’s top line in his sixth Olympic Games. Selanne will skate alongside 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers -- who hadn’t been born yet when Selanne made his Olympic debut in 1992 -- and 21-year-old Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild. Selanne was due to arrive in Sochi in midafternoon.
“He is our top player and so motivated and in really good condition,” Marjamaki said. “He’s an important player for us.”
Marjamaki said he’s aware that the Ducks haven’t usually played Selanne in back-to-back games and have reduced his playing time, but said he expects Selanne -- the all-time leading scorer in Olympic men’s hockey -- will be able to handle power-play time and regular minutes.
“We know what he is feeling now but he is so motivated and in good condition, and he is taking a rest for a while with the Ducks,” Marjamaki said. “But he is coming here and he is so happy, and we are happy that Teemu is with our team.”
So is Niemi. “I think it’s just a great chance for me and especially the younger players to be able to play in the Olympics with him,” he said.