Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Phil Davies on 09/28/10 at 09:25 PM ET
If there was ever a National team program historically greater than the sum of its parts, it would be Team Finland. Despite not having the offensive depth of many of their Elite Seven rivals, the Finnish National Team has repeatedly fared well in recent international best-on-best competition. After enduring many decades of lopsided defeats internationally at the hands of Canada, the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and longtime nemesis Sweden, the Finnish hockey program made great strides in the 1990’s, culminating with a World Championship in 1995. In addition, Finland has won more Olympic Hockey medals (1 silver, 2 bronze), than any other nation, since the introduction of NHL players to the Games in 1998.
Finland’s success can be attributed to a strong emphasis on teamwork and the fact that unlike their European rivals, hockey is indisputably the number one sport in their homeland, which has led to the implementation of adequately funded development programs and a strong domestic league in SM-liiga. More than any other European team, Finland employs a fast skating, tight forechecking, North American style of play, augmented by strong defensive zone coverage and consistently elite goaltending. The rinks in Finland have been adjusted to enhance the tight forechecking style of play, by adopting a size that is halfway between the dimensions of NHL and IIHF standards. Furthermore, in an effort to aid the National Team’s development programs, numerous goaltending schools have been created, and often led, by the country’s top puck stoppers. This has led to the emergence of many elite young goalies in the NHL, such as Tuukka Rask, Pekke Rinne, Antti Niemi and perhaps Kari Lehtonen, if he can find health and consistency in a Dallas Stars uniform.
Despite the growth of the National program, the recent international economic crisis has greatly affected domestic hockey in Finland, as one of their top teams; the Espoo Blues, announced a fire sale of players due to financial constraints during the 2009/10 season. How the economic crisis affects Finnish and other European hockey programs, will greatly determine their stature on the ice for years to come. For now, a more pressing concern is the changing of the guard on the National Team, as legendary players Teemu Selanne, Jere Lehtinen, and team captain; Saku Koivu reach the twilight of their careers. However, not all is lost with the emergence of Saku’s brother Mikko Koivu, as well as Tuomo Ruutu and Olli Jokinen as elite National Team members.
Filed in: Non-NHL Hockey, International Hockey, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: antti+niemi, dallas+stars, espoo+blues, iihf, jere+lehtinen, kari+lehtonen, mikko+koivu, olli+jokinen, olympic+hockey, pekke+rinne, saku+koivu, sm-liiga, teemu+selanne, tuomo+ruutu, tuukka+rask
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