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Finland goes 'all in' for 2010

Friday, 08.14.2009 / 11:52 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Risto Pakarinen - NHL.com Correspondent

"I bumped into the former director of coaching of the Finnish Olympic Committee in the summer, and he told me to forget about setting winning a gold medal in Vancouver as a goal for the team. 'Just say a medal. Going for gold creates too much pressure."
-- Team Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen

VIERUMAKI, Finland -- Tuesday afternoon, Team Finland kicked off its Olympic orientation camp at the Finnish Sports Institute in Vierumaki, the epicenter of Finnish hockey since the 1970s, and where the majority of national team players start their Team Finland career at an evaluation camp for 15-year-olds.

On Wednesday afternoon, 39 candidates gathered at the camp. They then went back to their summer activities, a little wiser to what head coach Jukka Jalonen and his coaching staff want from them come February.

"We invited 48 players to this event, 39 could make it, the rest were either already in North America, or their KHL clubs wouldn't release them," Jalonen said.

The camp had only been open for two hours, but the players had already been through an intense presentation on the Olympic arrangements, how the coaching staff wants to build the Olympic team, and were preparing group work presentations about the system.

Everybody was sporting a brand new Olympic golf shirt with -- in addition to the sponsor logos -- the team's slogan heading into the tournament: "All in."

"I bumped into the former director of coaching of the Finnish Olympic Committee in the summer, and he told me to forget about setting winning a gold medal in Vancouver as a goal for the team. 'Just say a medal. Going for gold creates too much pressure,'" Jalonen said.

He then paused.

"But when I've talked with the players, they all have winning the Stanley Cup, the World Championship, and the Olympic gold as their goals, so it's difficult to have something else as a goal.

"What's important now, though, is that every single player makes sure to be at his best when the puck drops," he said.

Originally, the Finnish federation had planned on having a three-day camp, but after the NHLPA's recommendation to not hit the ice due to insurance concerns, it was cut shorter, said Team Finland GM Jari Kurri.

"There was no point in making it longer and just having the guys here, just to be together. We'll keep it tight and intense and I'm sure the players prefer that as well," he told NHL.com.

"It doesn't really make any difference. Of course, we wouldn't have made any cuts based on that, but the players would have liked to skate. For them, it would have meant a couple of good practices which might have helped them to prepare for the season," he added.

Instead, the focus was on the theory of the game, and getting to know each other. Besides having the players together, the management team also announced two additions as recently retired defenseman Teppo Numminen joins the program as a North American scout, and Jukka Holtari, the Bruins' European scout, has also agreed to monitor the Olympic candidates during the season.

"Teppo is based in Buffalo and he'll keep an eye on the NHL players, especially on the East Coast. Jukka [Jalonen] and I will probably make a couple of trips to the West coast before Christmas," Kurri said.

"It's going to be a busy fall because the roster has to be submitted by the end of the year, and we'll also have our first Euro Hockey Tour tournament in three weeks. That's why it was important to build this network to get fast and accurate information about the players," Kurri said.

But mostly, the camp was about the jelling.

"The social aspect of the camp is really important. We've had these camps for many years now, and we see that it's a great way to bring the veterans and the young players together so that once they then play on the same team, the process is faster," Kurri said.

"Being a veteran player here, I must admit that I'm not that familiar with some of the younger guys here," said Kimmo Timonen, the Philadelphia Flyers' 34-year-old defenseman.

"For example, I had never met Mika Pyorala, who just signed with the Flyers," he added with a smile.

For Timonen, the camp was also the first chance to talk hockey with Jalonen, and see what kind of a system he'd like his team to play.

"He believes in speed, and he'd like us to forecheck hard, and move fast -- and a lot. The players have to be in a great shape to be able to pull it off," Timonen said.