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Kurri discusses Finnish hockey

by John Dellapina
VANCOUVER -- Jari Kurri is one of the greatest goal-scorers in National Hockey League history.  As Wayne Gretzky's wingman during the Edmonton Oilers' glory days, Kurri tormented opposing goaltenders like few ever have.

He ended his NHL career with 601 goals, which ranks 17th all-time -- just ahead of the 597 scored by Teemu Selanne, one of the forwards Kurri, as general manager, tabbed to play for Team Finland, which takes on Team USA in an Olympic semifinal game Friday afternoon. The game is a bit of a flashback for Kurri, who played on the Finnish team in 1980 that led the Americans going into the third period before that "Miracle on Ice" team completed its fabled run to gold.

Kurri took a few moments during Thursday's Team Finland practice at the University of British Columbia to discuss the team he has assembled here and other matters related to Finnish hockey with -- As one of the great goal-scorers in history, how is it that you preside over a team that plays a defense-first style?

Kurri -- The game has changed that way. I think everybody plays so well defensively -- every team, every country, every hockey club. They start with goaltending. Every country has a good goaltender.

Now the NHL made new rules a little bit to open up the game.

But especially on this ice surface, it's tough. There's not too much room. In Europe we still have more room to break through the neutral zone. It's so tight here -- you've got 10 guys in a small area. So how are you going to go by? It's a tough job these days.

That's why special teams are such a big part of today's game. It's as simple as that. -- Still, your country produced you and Teemu Selanne. Does it bother you that when people think of Finnish hockey, they think defensive posture and goaltender?

Kurri (smiling) -- Do they? Yeah. It bothers me because we don't think that way, no. We don't teach this team to play that way. It's a big part of our game, for sure. We don't have as much talent as other countries have, We really need to be a good team, with good team chemistry and play as a team together. Plus the good goaltending, which we have for many, many years.

But we don't tell players not to attack. We tell them, 'Attack. Go for it. Have the puck. Keep the puck.' For example, you play against the Russians, who have so much skill. The best way to stop them is you have the puck. Don't let those guys have the puck.

It's confusing that people would think that way. We don't think of our hockey that way. -- One thing Finland seems to have figured out that other national teams haven't is how to create instant team chemistry at tournaments like this. No team plays more cohesively than the Finns.

Kurri -- It's huge. It's huge. And fortunately, on this team, we have a lot of players who have played together in tournaments and have a lot of memories. They have tough memories of losing in Torino -- to Sweden in the final.

And we pay a lot of attention when we built this team to have the right guys in the right spots. Every guy knows their role or they know what is expected. When they come to this team, they know what they have to do.

"It's a good experience. The guys know each other well. They have fun and they have good chemistry when they get here -- older players and young guys like Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen who generate energy.

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