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Finland on to Semi's

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
February 23, 2006

TURIN, Italy (AP) -- If Finland wins the men's Olympic ice hockey gold, Teemu Selanne will have every dentist in the country volunteering to do his bridgework.

Selanne lost two teeth - knocked out on a high-stick by American Derian Hatcher - and probably cracked another in Finland's 4-3 quarter-final victory Wednesday over the United States.

"Of course I'm disappointed to lose two teeth,'' Selanne said, speaking through a cut lip. "But that's an OK sacrifice for the gold. You can always get new teeth.''

That's the Flying Finn spirit.

"It's not easy for anybody - the jet-lag, no break, six games in nine days,'' added the Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward, who has six goals in the tournament. "I told the guys at the start that whatever team works hardest over the next 12 days is going to win.''

The victory put Finland into the semifinals, and no team is playing better. The Finns are 6-0, have outscored opponents 23-5 and, like the quick-skating Russians, are at home on the larger international ice surface.

"I think we are confident,'' said Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu. "I don't think tonight was our best game, but we have been getting better and better and that's how you have to play if you want gold.''

The Finns took a quick 2-0 lead over the Americans - first-period goals from Ville Peltonen and a shorthanded goal by Sami Salo - and then held on behind Antero Niittymaki's goaltending. That was supposed to be a weakness, but the Philadelphia Flyers' goalie has been hot filling in for injured Miikka Kiprusoff and Kari Lehtonen.

The Americans bombarded Niittymaki 16-3 in the final period, with a 28-25 edge in the game. Only Brian Gionta managed to break through at 15:33 of the third, and then it was too late.

"Nobody is playing better than he (Niittymaki) is, and if we win gold he's a big, big part of it,'' forward Olli Jokinen said.

Viewed as the next leader of Finnish hockey, Jokinen put the game away with two second-period goals - he now has five - after Mike Knuble scored at 13:14 of the first and Mathieu Schneider knocked in a power-play goal at 1:29 of the second.

"We have to enjoy our time right now,'' said Jokinen, the Florida Panthers captain. "The next Olympics are going to be 2010. We've got a few more games left, and it's a good feeling to be playing for a medal and be in the semifinals.''

A small country of only 5.2 million, Finland still had 36 players on NHL rosters when the season began. Among European countries, only the Czechs, Swedes and Russians have more.

"If you look at our lineup, most of our guys in the NHL or third or fourth liners,'' Jokinen said. "This gives the guys who have limited ice time more confidence.''

"I'm sure it's going to carry over to the NHL. And a lot of guy are going to be tired next Tuesday when we start the season.''

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