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Finnish Olympic hopefuls focused on present

Wednesday, 08.12.2009 / 10:48 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Risto Pakarinen - NHL.com Correspondent

"I haven't really thought about the Olympics yet, to be honest. (NHL) training camp opens on the 12th (of September), and then it's full speed ahead for the next three weeks and onward. We'll play 50 games in the NHL before the Olympics and then there's also the question of making the (Olympic) team, so I think it's just best to keep focused on the task at hand every day, and make sure I can play good hockey in the NHL."
-- Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom

VIERUMAKI, Finland -- It takes a mind of an Indian guru to imagine a cold winter's day during the middle of summer.

Wednesday in Finland, as the Finnish ice hockey federation continued its two-day camp for 39 Olympic hopefuls, the sun was shining and most everybody was wearing shorts and sandals. People were out on the golf course or playing soccer on the greenest of fields.

Vancouver is 7,500 kilometers from this Finnish city, and the Olympic tournament still some six months away; so it was not surprising to find that hockey fever has even eluded many of those that will represent Finland in the Olympic tournament.

"I haven't really thought about the Olympics yet, to be honest," Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom told NHL.com at the Team Finland Olympic orientation camp here.

Backstrom hit the ice a week ago, skating with a group of Finnish NHLers in Helsinki, and is healthy after April hip surgery. He'll keep on playing five times a week until it's time to get back to North America.

"The training camp opens on the 12th (of September), and then it's full speed ahead for the next three weeks and onward. We'll play 50 games in the NHL before the Olympics and then there's also the question of making the (Olympic) team, so I think it's just best to keep focused on the task at hand every day, and make sure I can play good hockey in the NHL," he said. "But it's nice to see old teammates, and the rest of the guys, after the summer."

Finland has an excellent Olympic record since the late 1980s -- a medal in four of the past six tournaments -- and is going for gold in Vancouver as well.

For 39-year-old Teemu Selanne, Vancouver will be the chance to cap a great career with another big win.

"It's a short event -- I think the men's hockey tournament will be played in 12 days -- so the team that can find its game right away will be strong," Selanne said. "The differences in the rosters aren't huge. We know that. We all play in the NHL against everybody every day, so I don't think that's an issue.

"If we play our own game, we can beat anybody. Having said that, it's just as obvious that we're not the favorites to win, the pressure is on other teams."

One of Team Finland's strengths in recent years has been its ability to stick to its plan, and having a team where everybody knows exactly what to do.

Even Selanne acknowledged the differences between Finland's roster and those of other Olympic hockey powersin rosters.

"We don't have the problem that Canada and the U.S. have," Selanne said. "They have four lines that all want to play twenty minutes a game.

While Selanne, and his Anaheim teammate Saku Koivu, will have dominant roles in Vancouver for sure, Team Finland is in the middle of a generational shift.

Defenseman Teppo Numminen retired recently, Selanne is pushing 40, Koivu will turn 35 in November, Kimmo Timonen -- Numminen's defense partner from Turin -- is 34, and right wing Jere Lehtinen is 36.

Minnesota's Mikko Koivu and Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes, both 26, are two of the younger players to which the coaching staff is turning its eyes.

"I was fortunate to make the Turin team, but I was still a young player," said Mikko Koivu, Saku's younger brother. "Now, I have more experience, and I can enjoy everything more. Not just hockey, but all other sports as well. The Olympics is a fantastic event."

Another new-generation star may be Ville Leino, 25, who cracked the Detroit Red Wings' lineup last season and finished his first NHL season playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

"It's nice to be here, and to see the guys, and hang out," said Leino, who admitted that the Olympic tournament wasn't occupying his mind just yet. "My goal for the season is to return to Detroit, win a spot on the roster, and play well. I'll think about the Olympics if and when the time comes. I'm really looking forward to the new season."

Leino has been working out under the supervision of former Team Finland head coach Raimo Summanen and former speed skater Janne Hanninen (a three-time Olympian) to improve his skating and add some muscle to his legs.

"It's been great. They really don't let you get off easy," he said, laughing.

While Leino has been skating for a while, and most of the other players have already hit the ice, Timonen has barely laced up his skates.

"I've learned over the years that I don't really need to skate yet," he said. "I played with a bunch of friends yesterday and that was the first time I skated since last season."

"I'll wait until I get to Philadelphia in a couple of weeks," Timonen said.

For now, though, the players are still enjoying summer, despite the looming presence of an Olympic tournament that is just 188 days away.