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Finland could contend for another Olympic medal

Tuesday, 07.23.2013 / 12:00 PM / 2014 Olympics

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Finland could contend for another Olympic medal
Finland has collected the most medals since NHL players started participating in the Winter Olympics and could contend for another in 2014 in Sochi.

It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, NHL.com had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.

Here's an interesting trivia question: Which country has collected the most medals since NHL players started participating in the Winter Olympics?

The answer will probably surprise a lot of people: Finland is the only country to medal three times in the four tournaments since the NHL started allowing players to represent their countries. Finland never has the most talented roster and never is considered a favorite, but strong goaltending and the ability to adhere to a defensive identity even with star players involved has served it well in an era of all-star teams.

Canada and Russia certainly will be the favorites, and Sweden, the United States and maybe the Czech Republic will be considered better bets than Finland to succeed in the tournament. That said, if the defense holds up, it could very well be another Olympics with Finland players on the medal stand.

The country has become known in hockey circles as a goaltending factory, and no team -- not even the United States -- can boast the same depth and talent at the position. Five goalies earned a spot on one of the three NHL.com rosters. Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask were on all three and seem likely to battle for the starting job, with Niklas Backstrom, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in the running for the third spot.

Finland's defense could look similar to its 2010 group. Four of the defensemen who were on all three NHL.com rosters -- Toni Lydman, Joni Pitkanen, Sami Salo and Kimmo Timonen -- played in the Vancouver Games. A trio of young players -- Sami Vatanen, Olli Maatta and Rasmus Ristolainen -- will try to squeeze onto the team, with veterans playing in Europe (Ossi Vaanenen) in the mix.

There might have been more dissention among Finland's forwards than at any position for any country in this NHL.com exercise. Twenty forwards were placed on at least one roster. There could be a nice mixture of essentially three generations of Finnish players -- Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, who have represented Finland for years; a group of players in their primes (Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula); and a new wave of kids (Mikael Granlund, Aleksander Barkov).

Here are the projected rosters for Finland:

Projected Finland Olympic roster
Corey Masisak Adam Kimelman Risto Pakarinen
FORWARDS
Valtteri Filppula Aleksander Barkov Aleksander Barkov
Mikael Granlund Valtteri Filppula Sean Bergenheim
Niklas Hagman Mikael Granlund Valtteri Filppula
Jussi Jokinen Teemu Hartikainen Mikael Granlund
Olli Jokinen Jussi Jokinen Jarkko Immonen
Mikko Koivu Olli Jokinen Jesse Joensuu
Saku Koivu Mikko Koivu Jussi Jokinen
Leo Komarov Saku Koivu Mikko Koivu
Jori Lehtera Leo Komarov Saku Koivu
Ville Leino Lauri Korpikoski Leo Komarov
Janne Pesonen Antti Miettinen Lauri Korpikoski
Tuomo Ruutu Teemu Pulkkinen Tuomo Ruutu
Teemu Selanne Teemu Selanne Teemu Selanne
DEFENSEMEN
Toni Lydman Toni Lydman Toni Lydman
Janne Niskala Olli Maatta Olli Maatta
Joni Pitkanen Joni Pitkanen Joni Pitkanen
Sami Salo Rasmus Ristolainen Sami Salo
Kimmo Timonen Sami Salo Kimmo Timonen
Ossi Vaanenen Kimmo Timonen Ossi Vaananen
Sami Vatanen Sami Vatanen Sami Vatanen
GOALIES
Nicklas Backstrom Kari Lehtonen Antti Niemi
Tuukka Rask Tuukka Rask Tuukka Rask
Pekka Rinne Pekka Rinne Pekka Rinne

2014 OLYMPICS POLL