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Koivu resting as Finland preps for Olympic semifinal

by Curtis Zupke

ANAHEIM -- Saku Koivu won't be setting his alarm for the Finland-Sweden semifinal matchup in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The game will be shown Friday at 4 a.m. PT (TSN, NBCSN), at which time the Anaheim Ducks veteran forward plans on remaining tucked under the covers in his Orange County home.

"I'll probably tape it," Koivu said. "I won't get up at 4 a.m., but maybe a little later on."

Koivu may have withdrawn from consideration for the Finnish team, but the former Olympic captain retains a lot of pride for his countrymen. At age 39, he opted not to play in what would have been his fifth Olympics, a decision he called among the most difficult of his career. He has captained the national team in every international tournament he has played in since 1994, but felt he needed the time to prepare for the rest of the NHL season with the Ducks.

Koivu claims he's watched only one of Finland's games, the 3-1 win against host Russia that extended its unlikely run in a tournament where Canada, the Russian Federation, the United States and Sweden were considered the early favorites.

"You look at any game, Latvia-Canada, teams are playing a really tight defensive game," Koivu said. "That's always been the strength of our country, and we've always had enough scoring to score a couple of goals and kind of rely on our goaltending and the defensive part of the game. That's the strength that we have. We got two goals early on there and then I felt we played a really good defensive game. It's another opportunity for us and a great thing for Finnish hockey. When you can win [against] a team like Russia, it's obviously an accomplishment."

Finland is making a deep Olympic run despite missing four centers, most notably Koivu and his brother, Mikko, who was unable to participate because of an ankle injury. The Finns still were able to bottle up Russia and also held Canada to two goals in the preliminary round.

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said he has been doing nothing but watching Olympics and it's not surprising to him that Finland thrives in low-scoring games.

"The European style is all about defense," Boudreau said. "The Swedes are really defensive minded too. The only ones that aren't defensive minded are the Russians, which is why you see great Russian forwards and not great Russian defensemen. That would be my guess. But every team in Europe plays basically a 1-4, and because they're so soccer oriented, games that are 1-0 and 2-1 are still just as exciting as a 4-3 game that would be in North America."

Boudreau has players on all four remaining Olympic teams and especially likes what he's seen from Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, who is competing in his sixth Olympics. Selanne, who at 43 is the oldest goal scorer in Olympic history, is wearing the captain's "C" for Finland that previously belonged to Saku Koivu.

Saku Koivu
Saku Koivu
Center - ANA
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 62 | +/-: 5
"It's a different kind of passion when you play for your country, especially when you know it's probably your last time," Boudreau said of Selanne. "He's got the 'C' on his sweater. He's doing everything he can to thrust his team, despite all the injuries and players that aren't there."

Forced to contend with numerous injuries entering the Olympics, Finland was initially considered an underdog in the tournament. But Saku Koivu doesn't see the Sochi Olympics as much different from previous tournaments.

"We're always in that role," he said. "When you look at the full lineup for every country, I don't think we're the favorites. That's been the case for the majority of the tournaments. I know how well we can play as a team. Those tournaments are all about team effort."

Saku Koivu will find himself rooting against some of his Ducks teammates when Finland plays rival Sweden in the semifinal, and it makes for a divided locker room considering Anaheim rookie defense Hampus Lindholm is from Sweden.

He may be young enough to be Koivu's son, but Lindholm confirmed that the Finland-Sweden rivalry remains as strong as ever.

"Because you play Finland a bunch of times from the [under] 16 national team up to men's national team. You've been playing the guys in your age for so long. You know the guys. It's always fun to play Finland," Lindholm said. "On big ice, usually they're not the biggest team. They're small. They're fast, and they're really hard working, so I'm not surprised that they're having so much success in the Olympics."

So far, Koivu has resisted the urge to fly to Sochi to watch Finland's games in person. Instead, he's decided to stay home during the Olympic break. He went out of town briefly, but has mostly been at home and was back on the ice when the Ducks resumed practice Wednesday.

"I thought it was a really good break," Koivu said. "It is for everybody. This next week is really important to get a bit of more conditioning and skating. Also, the mental aspect is very beneficial. You're kind of eager to get going again, and that's a good thing."

That conditioning could prove crucial when the first-place Ducks begin their push toward the playoffs. For Saku Koivu, it might even mean getting some extra sleep while his countrymen play in Sochi with a shot at the gold-medal game on the line.

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