BostonBruins.com - Tuukka Rask made his Olympic debut for Team Finland on Thursday in Sochi, Russia, backstopping his squad to an 8-4 win over Austria in their opener.
For those who managed the 3:00 a.m. wakeup call on the East Coast, they saw a fairly calm, confident netminder in the Suomi blue, despite what showed up on the stat sheet as four goals allowed on 20 shots.
"Wasn't nervous at all," Rask told me after the game.
From the start, it took Finland half a period to really get in gear. Michael Grabner took advantage of a turnover just 36 seconds into the game, and was wide open at the goal mouth, scoring point-blank on Austria's second shot.
Finland evened it up, though, with a goal by Mikael Granlund, and Captain Teemu Selanne's 38th Olympic point setting him up.
Austria's next goal came with dropped defensive coverage, and a puck that went off Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta's skate and over the goal line. Rask only faced six shots in the first, which would usually be less than ideal for the netminder, and the Austrians cashed in on the prime opportunities given to them.
Finland would eventually make it 2-2 about nine minutes into the first, and then take control of the game, scoring twice in eight seconds (the fastest two goals scored in Olympic men's hockey history) to take a 4-2 lead into the second, and go up 6-2 heading to the third with five unanswered goals.
Once Finland shored up their coverage, and protected the crease better down low, the game settled down for them.
But even despite what may have seemed like a rough start for Rask in his debut, the netminder looked calm and in control, much like he does in the Spoked-B.
When it was still tied at 2-2, and Finland tasked with a penalty kill, Rask thwarted a chance through traffic and nonchalantly scooped up the puck in his glove, 'Cool Hand Tuukk' style.
To start the third period, Grabner scored his second of the game off a perfect tape-to-tape deflection, not allowing much of a chance for Rask to slide across in time. Though Grabner would eventually record the hat trick, the Finns were dominant offensively and finished off an 8-4 game with 52 shots on goal.
Rask didn't have to make unbelievable saves, but remained his confident self between the pipes, controlling his rebounds well, though he would have liked to come out with a few more big stops.
"It was a little different than playing on the big ice though," said Rask. "Have to move more and be more patient."
Compared to the usual NHL rink, which is 200 feet long an 85 feet wide (with 11 feet from the endboards to the goal line), the Olympic sheet in Sochi has 23 more feet of real estate, being 210 feet long and 98 feet wide, with 13 feet from the end boards. There's also no contained trapezoid, so the goaltender can roam.
The netminder was clearly pleased with the team's offensive effort, but stressed that there was plenty to correct.
"Offense was great; we just have to tighten up the 'D' for the next game," he said.
For Finland, that next game comes right away against Norway on Friday, February 14.
It was not yet known whether Rask would be back in goal as the starter, or if the nod would be given to Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi.
Team Finland has become quite popular with their bright blue bikes seen around the Olympic Village. Tuukka sent us over a photo of him riding one near the Bolshoy Ice Dome before the games kicked off, and the team all rode their bikes to the rink for their matchup against Austria. It's the easiest form of transportation for them there.
"The Village is awesome and having bikes is great," said Rask. "Other teams are jealous!"