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Finns tackle Belarus in Olympic opener

by Shawn P. Roarke
FINLAND (0-0-0-0) vs. BELARUS (0-0-0-0)

NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).

What to watch – Finland knows it faces a dangerous start to the 2010 Olympics, drawing Belarus in the first game of Group B action (3 p.m. ET) at Canada Hockey Place. 

The Belarusians have been training together for the better part of two weeks, while Finland has had just two practices before this game. So despite a marked experience in both skill and experience -- remember, the Finns won silver four years ago in Turin -- Finland knows it will face a determined and organized opponent.

As a result, they vow not to get caught taking the Belarusians too lightly.

"No, it's one game and most of their team has been here for probably a couple more days than we've been here," Finnish captain Saku Koivu said. "They are going to be ready. They are very skilled and what I hear is they are very disciplined in their system. That's going to be a tough game for us. There's no doubt."  

These teams have only met one other time in Olympic play, and Finland won easily. In 2002, Finland bested the Belarusians 8-1 in a Final Round match. Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen each had a pair of goals in that game.

Team Reports:

Finland -- For Finland, this tournament is a last hurrah for a number of its best players, so expectations are high to produce a tournament to remember, as well as get Selanne an elusive gold medal.
"For a lot of us, it's probably going to be our last Olympics so we want to make the most of it," Jokinen said.

While many Finns are hoping to make the most out of their final Olympics, Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is trying to make the most out of his first go-around in the Olympic Games. He passed on the opportunity to play in each of the past two Olympics.

"[I feel] pretty good. Actually, it's a luxury to have three days without a game," Kiprusoff said. "It's rare in the NHL. The best way to prepare was playing games in Calgary and now you can't really do much."

Sami Salo, who plays for the hometown Vancouver Canucks, should get a warm reception from the fans at Canada Hockey Place.  

"It's going to be a great feeling," Salo said. "It's kind of a second home. It will be fun playing for your home country in your hometown." 

Belarus – The Belarusians did not qualify for the 2006 Olympics, but that has not dulled their confidence entering the 2010 tournament.

First off, they have a dozen players that play for the same club team -- Dynamo Minsk. Second, they have the pedigree to be giant-killers in any given game. In fact, Belarus scored one of the most memorable upsets in Olympic hockey eight years ago when goalie Andrei Mezin, now a backup for Belarus, caught fire and held a loaded Swedish team in check as the Belarusians took an improbable quarterfinal victory.

Now they plan to follow the same blueprint in this tournament, starting with the Finns.

"We have to play disciplined and listen to the coaching staff," said Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn, one of two NHL players on the team. (The Finns) have a good team and good skaters."

Total NHL players on rosters – Finland 19; Belarus 2

Puck Drop -- While the Belarusians have a chance in this game, they know things will have to break just right for them to engineer another memorable upset.

Defenseman Ruslan Salei, the other NHL player on the roster, put it this way.

"The key will be to try to play in the offensive zone and limit their time and space with the puck and hope they don't have an 'A' day," Salei said.

The Finns, meanwhile, plan nothing less than bringing their “A” game.
"We can't take anybody too lightly," said Selanne, who has overcome wrist and jaw injuries to be on this stage. predicts -- The Finns rarely take a day off -- because their whole system is based on industry and fundamentals -- and they won't in the opener of this tournament. After a close game for the first half, the Finns pull away in the final 30 minutes.

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