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Veterans, strong goalie play highlight Finnish roster

by Shawn P. Roarke
Finland has named an experienced roster to the 2010 Olympics in an attempt to defend the silver medal the country won at the last Games.

Fifteen players from the team in Torino that battled arch rival Sweden in a memorable gold-medal game are back for another shot at gaining gold, led by a pair of brother combinations and perhaps the best goaltending troika in recent Finnish hockey history.

Veteran Anaheim forward Saku Koivu makes another Olympic appearance, joined once again by younger brother Mikko, who plays for the Minnesota Wild. The Ruutu brothers also made the team. Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators was on the 2006 roster. This time, he is joined by Tuomo Ruutu, who is having a strong season for the Carolina Hurricanes.

In net, Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom returns, joined by Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who missed the 2006 Olympics, and Tampa Bay's Antero Niittymaki, the MVP in Turino, might just be the No. 3 goalie this time around.

Like the team in Torino, this Finnish squad is well-balanced.

In 2006, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne tied for the tournament scoring title with 11 points in eight games. Both are back for this tournament and have the added appeal of playing on the same NHL team this season. Saku Koivu joined Selanne's Anaheim Ducks this summer.  

Finland had three other forwards finish in the top 10 in scoring in Turino and all three will be in Vancouver. Ville Peltonen, 36, had 9 points four years ago and is enjoying a renaissance this season playing for Dynamo Minsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Calgary's Olli Jokinen, then with Florida, had 8 points in eight games, as did Jere Lehtinen from the Dallas Stars.

Plus, four of the defenders from a Turino team that allowed just 8 goals in 8 games return, including Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen, who was named to the All-Tournament in Turino, joining Niittymaki, Saku Koivu and Selanne.

The other returning defensemen are Lasse Kukkonen, who plays for Omsk in the KHL, Buffalo's Toni Lydman and Vancouver's Sami Salo.

Those defensemen are joined by a trio of fresh faces: Phoenix Coyotes youngster Sami Lepisto, Carolina vet Joni Pitkanen and Janne Niskala, who plays for Frolunda in Sweden.

Niskala is just one of five Finns on the 2010 roster who don't call the NHL home and the only one playing in Sweden. The other four -- Kukkonen, forward Jarkko Immonen, Niko Kapanen and Peltonen -- all play in the KHL. The Finnish roster does not feature a single player from its top domestic league, the SM Liiga.

Up front, Toronto's Niklas Hagman and Kapanen, who plays for AK Bars Kazan, are the other returning forwards.

Finland named three new forwards who should add some offensive firepower. Detroit youngster Valterri Filppula has just returned from a long injury absence and has 6 points in 13 games this season. Minnesota's Antti Miettinen, a right wing, has 17 points this season. Jarkko Immonen, a former NHLer, has 27 points in 26 KHL games.

Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen (25 points), Detroit speedster Ville Leino, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne and Boston rookie goalie Tuukka Rask were among the players that did not make the final cut.

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