In the third of our country-by-country series of Olympic previews, we sought the views of Team Finland General Manager Jere Lehtinen about putting together the roster, the role of the sixteen KHL players in the team, and the nation's hopes and expectations from the upcoming tournament.
The Olympic hockey tournament runs from the 14th to the 25th of February, and the Finns will face the Swedes, Norwegians and Germans in the group stage.
“I won't say who will be our number one, as all our goalies have done well this year. They are all among the finest goalies in your league, Metsola has a great season with Amur, Ramo is an NHL-class player who has finally returned to full fitness, and Koskinen had been solid as a rock for us in two consecutive World Championships in addition to winning the Gagarin Cup. The top troika of Finnish goalies in all Europe.”
Mikko Lehtonen, Tappara Tampere (Finland); Tommi Kivisto, Jokerit; Lasse Kukkonen, Karpat Oulu (Finland); Sami Lepisto, Jokerit; Juuso Hietanen, Dynamo Moscow; Miro Heiskanen, HIFK Helsinki (Finland); Miika Koivisto, Karpat Oulu (Finland); Atte Ohtamaa, Ak Bars.
“We didn't take Juuso Hietanen on this year's Eurotour, but we know what he's capable of on the ice; he showed what he can do during the second half of the season, and that's why he earned his call-up. Sami Lepisto is one of the best defensemen in the KHL, and is a real leader in the team. Ohtamaa and Kivisto are similar in type, although Atte has a more offensive side to his game while Kivisto is a real warrior and a useful guy for killing penalties.”
Marko Anttila, Jokerit; Julius Junttila, Karpat Oulu (Finland); Eeli Tolvanen, Jokerit; Joonas Kemppainen, Salavat Yulaev; Jani Lajunen, HC Lugano (Switzerland); Jonas Enlund, Sibir; Petri Kontiola, Lokomotiv; Mika Pyorala, SC Bern, (Switzerland); Jarno Koskiranta, SKA; Oskar Osala, Metallurg Magnitogorsk; Sakari Manninen, Orebro HK, (Sweden); Teemu Hartikainen, Salavat Yulaev; Jukka Peltola, Tappara Tampere (Finland); Veli-Matti Savinainen, Ugra.
“Anttila is a very big guy who has been excellent all season. He's skating better and has become a vital player for Jokerit, who are getting better and better. We know all about Tolvanen, and while recently he hasn't been as prolific as he was earlier in the season, he is still young, and he is learning every day. He certainly knows how to score, and while last month wasn’t a good one, he is still carving out chances. I would worry if the chances dried up, but they haven't.
Hartikainen and Kemppainen have performed very well for Salavat Yulaev. Kemppainen is an accomplished center who loves to score. Hartikainen is a natural with the puck, dangerous in the corners, and difficult to stop. We are lucky to have this pair. Enlund surprised us greatly. We watched him a lot this season. He was on his way back from injury, but now he is fully recovered and is one of the best players in the KHL, especially at uneven strength.
Koskiranta didn’t get much ice time this year, but he’s a big powerful guy, good in the face-off, and with experience of winning trophies. The same goes for Oskar Osala, another forward who didn't really fulfil his potential this season. Kontiola has also battled with injuries, but he is fit again and ready to help the team pick up points. Veli-Matti Savinainen has racked up a lot of minutes playing against top stars in the KHL, and he’s the kind of player you always want in your team.”
“There are bound to be surprises.”
At Sochi 2014, the Finns won the bronze for the fourth time in the past six Olympics. The Finns won the silver - thiir best result - at Torino in 2006 and at Calgary in 1988.
“When we go to any tournament, we want to win it. But we should take each game as it comes. This Olympics will be a very close and tough tournament, and there are bound to be surprises. The Russians are the favorites, but all the competing teams have a chance”