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World Cup

Rask, Rinne to lead Finland at World Cup

First 16 named to roster have plenty of international experience

by Shawn Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director, Editorial NHL.com

Team Finland went a traditional route with its selections of the first 16 players on the World Cup of Hockey roster, which was announced Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland.

Virtually every player has extensive experience with a national team that has achieved success recently in international tournaments at various age groups. The Finns have medaled in each of the past three Olympics, including a bronze in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a silver in the 2014 IIHF World Championship and a gold in the 2016 World Junior Championship. In the most recent World Cup, in 2004, Finland finished second, losing to Canada in the championship game in Toronto, site of the best-of-3 final in the 2016 World Cup.

The team is built upon its goaltending and defense. Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has won the Stanley Cup and is traditionally atop many of the statistical categories in the NHL. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators has been the linchpin for the success they've enjoyed since the 2008-09 season.

"Finland has always had extremely good keepers," general manager Jere Lehtinen said. "Everybody fitted in their roles already in the (2014) Sochi Olympics. Everybody wants to play, but there will always be guys who won't be able to play. Everybody comes to this project and wants to wear the National Team shirt so that there will be no problems. He who plays, will be supported."

"We always have a good team, a competitive team," Rask said after Bruins practice, "and as long as we play tight defense, we always have a chance. That's been our bread and butter forever. Obviously the 'D' corps is way younger than it used to be now, and it's going through getting new faces out there. It'll be different, but I'm sure we'll have a good team."

Video: Team Finland World Cup of Hockey Jersey Reveal

"Huge honor," Rinne said after Nashville Predators practice. "I've missed all of the Olympics. I've been injured at the wrong times and obviously have been in the World Championships a bunch of times. I think this is a different atmosphere for a player. It was a goal of mine going into the season and going into the next season to be on the World Cup team. It's a huge honor, and I'm very proud of it."

Lehtinen has selected a roster that excels at the things Finland traditionally does well and this edition should play the same physical, north-south game for which the Finns are noted. 

So far, every player named to the roster plays in the NHL, which is not surprising since the games will be played on the smaller North American surface.

"When we play in the smaller rink, everyone has to know how the game will be played there," Lehtinen said. "(The) door is open for the players in Europe also. It's hard to say, whether there will be players from Europe or not. We have some good defensemen in Europe."

"It's great because the best players are playing against each other on small ice," Rask said. "It's the best tournament you can imagine, I think. I remember watching it the last time ...it was great. Everybody loved to watch that. And to have it in Toronto, all the games in Toronto, I think the fans are going to love it."

Coach Lauri Marjamaki said the core on which Team Finland wanted to build a World Cup roster is there.

"We got a group that looks like Team Finland. Many experienced leading players and many unprejudiced younger guys," Marjamaki said.

"I'm excited to get in there," forward Teuvo Teravainen said after the Chicago Blackhawks morning skate in Detroit. "But I know that every team is unbelievable in there, so it's going to be hard."

Video: Vatanen chats about his inclusion on Team Finland

The task for Marjamaki prior to the World Cup starting will be to get everyone on the same page.

"We have been talking about the selection and preparation with the players. I meet everyone in the summer and then we talk about roles and who they want to play with, lines and so on," Marjamaki said. "Preparation is the key. I listen to everyone's opinion about how they feel, what they think is important, how the schedule goes, and what kind of hockey we play. The coaching staff has to make sure that everyone feels happy and safe when they come to the team."

"I know who fits in the same line with who, but I also listen a lot to the players. When games start, everything has to be clear. We can't wonder during the tournament, what should we do."

"The thing is, in Finland we always have a good team and we always play for the team," forward Leo Komarov said after the Toronto Maple Leafs morning skate in Washington. "We maybe don't have the best skillful guys like Canada or Russia have, but we always play as a team and we have a good coaching staff and good goalies. That's a big part of us."

Strength of the team: Commitment. This group has played together for several years and has had success. Despite its small pool of NHL players, Finland is always eager and united to prove to the larger hockey-playing nations that it has something special.

Weakness of team: Goal scoring. None of the 14 skaters named to the roster have reached 20 goals yet this season; two, Komarov and Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, have more than 15.

Biggest surprise: Joonas Donskoi. The San Jose Sharks rookie forward has 57 games of NHL experience and has played for the senior national team in one tournament.

Biggest omission: Erik Haula. The speedy winger from the Minnesota Wild has 20 goals in 175 NHL games in three seasons. He has eight points in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Roster
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, G
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators, G
Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins, D
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres, D
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks, D
Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars, D
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, F
Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues, F
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers, F
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild, F
Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers, F
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs, F
Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks, F
Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers, F
Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks, F

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