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Finland could contend for another Olympic medal

by Corey Masisak / Tampa Bay Lightning

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, 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.

With Valtteri Filppula and Sami Salo, Finland is a contender to extend its lead in the Olympic hockey medal count

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 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 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 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:

  • Valtteri Filppula
  • Mikael Granlund
  • Niklas Hagman
  • Jussi Jokinen
  • Olli Jokinen
  • Mikko Koivu
  • Saku Koivu
  • Leo Komarov
  • Jori Lehtera
  • Ville Leino
  • Janne Pesonen
  • Tuomo Ruutu
  • Teemu Selanne
  • Toni Lydman
  • Janne Niskala
  • Joni Pitkanen
  • Sami Salo
  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Ossi Vaanenen
  • Sami Vatanen
  • Nicklas Backstrom
  • Tuukka Rask
  • Pekka Rinne
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