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Captain Granlund leads Finland at World Championships

Wild forward dons the 'C' as Finns aim for medal podium in Denmark

by Julie Robenhymer / Special to Wild.com

HERNING, Denmark -- When the Minnesota Wild were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Mikael Granlund's disappointment was quickly replaced by excitement as he was not only invited to play for Team Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark, but to be its captain as well. 

"I've been able to play with a lot of great captains here with the national team and in Minnesota too," said the 26-year-old, who's already donned the lion jersey at four other world championships, the Olympics in 2014 and the World Cup in 2016. "Hopefully I've learned something along the way, but I'm just going to try to be myself and try to show an example on the ice and help the guys leave everything out there so we can be successful, but also enjoy the tournament and the atmosphere and have a lot of fun too." 

As soon as Finnish head coach Lauri Marjamaki knew Granlund would be available to play in Denmark, he knew the gritty playmaker, who plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame, was his captain. 

"I can't really explain it, but I was so sure of it," he said. "He shows an example every day is very important to our team. I like his style and how he plays. He's behaved so good and he's such a good captain. I am sure he will succeed in this tournament."

Two games into the tournament, Marjamaki has his captain centering Kasperi Kapanen (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche). 

"I thought a lot about lines," the coach explained. "With Granlund, he needs some pretty good wingers who can play with him and that's why I put Ratanen there and then when I heard Kapanen was coming, Ratanen and Kapanen played together in the U20 championships two years ago and thought if I put Granlund in the middle it would be a good line for us."

So far, so good as the trio has combined for two goals and four assists in Finland's wins against Korea and Latvia. 

"I think we played pretty solid, but I think we can get better," Granlund said. "It's tough because we haven't played a game in a couple weeks, so it's been nice to ease into this tournament and get some confidence."

To finish the preliminary round, Finland will play Norway, Denmark, Canada, Latvia and the United States. 

"We know we have a good team and whenever we play, our goal is to win," Granlund said. "It won't be easy, there are a lot of good teams here, but we'll take it game by game and see how this tournament is going to treat us. I feel pretty good about this group. We have a lot of young guys here and we think we have a chance to do something special."

The last time Finland medaled at this event was 2016 when it earned silver, and the last time the Finns won was in 2011 with they defeated Sweden 6-1 in the championship game. 

Granlund was on both of those teams. 

"The one thing about Finland, it's always about the team. Never about individual things," Granlund said. "That's why everyone here feels important and we have [good chemistry]. It's just a really close group and we play for each other and want to win for each other. It's a small country and every player knows each other because we grow up playing with and against each other, so it's a lot of fun -- on the ice and off the ice too."

While disappointed in the Wild's early exit from the postseason, Granlund is hoping the world championship will provide a better end to his season. 

"They way I see it, I can either play here or I can be practicing and working out at home and I'd rather be playing," said Granlund. "It's much more fun and hopefully things go well here and it gives you a little boost and get you excited again about training for next year.

"Winning a medal wouldn't be bad either."

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