|Ottawa Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu will wear Finland's colours at the Winter Olympics for a third time at the Vancouver 2010 Games (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images).
They’ll never be the favourites at the Winter Olympics.
And that’s just fine with Finland, which once again will be more than happy to fly under the radar during a gathering of the planet’s best hockey talent.
But that being said, don’t be surprised if the feisty Finns find a way to cart home some hardware when the medals are handed out at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Even though their talent level might not match the likes of Canada, Russia or Sweden.
“When you look at the strengths of Finnish hockey, we don’t have as much skill as a lot of the other countries,” said Ottawa Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu, who’ll wear his homeland’s colours at a third straight Winter Olympics. “But the way we play together and how every single guy buys into the game plan and systems … it’s incredible, from the first line to the fourth line.
“That’s why we’ve been successful. The tournament before, the World Cup (in 2004), there wasn’t anything expected out of us and we lost in the final. Somehow, we’ve just got to find a way to pull out a win in the final.”
Four years ago, the Finns reeled off seven straight wins to reach the gold-medal game at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. But Sweden dashed the Finns’ dreams with a 3-2 victory in the final. But Ruutu still found a silver lining in the result.
“It was disappointing to lose in the final, especially after we had played so well throughout the tournament,” he said. “But at the end, you look at it and the tradition (of the Olympics) and how hard it is to win a gold medal or any medal … you have to be fortunate to be healthy and to get a chance to play for your country.
"When you look at the strengths of Finnish hockey, we don’t have as much skill as a lot of the other countries. But the way we play together and how every single guy buys into the game plan and systems ... it’s incredible, from the first line to the fourth line. That’s why we’ve been successful." - Jarkko Ruutu
“Not many guys get to experience that. But in a way, it’s like any other game. You play 60 minutes and you don’t think about the result until it’s over. Unfortunately, we lost our only game in the Olympics in the final. But I think we had a great ride. It was as lot of fun but in the final, we couldn’t pull it off.”
Ruutu has no doubt about the celebrations that would ensue back home if the Finns can manufacture that one extra victory in Vancouver.
“It would be huge, especially when all the best athletes in the NHL are allowed to participate,” he said. “As players, you dream about it but you don’t talk about it too much. You just go game by game. Anything can happen if you’re playing well as a team.”
While Ruutu has represented Finland at four previous world hockey championships, he clearly puts the Olympics on another level.
“Everybody is watching the Olympics around the world,” he said. “Just living in the athletes’ village and being with all the other athletes … it’s special. It’s only once every four years and there’s such a tradition around it.”