However, it’s now fair to say the Finns – who won the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia and earned the silver medal in 2021 in Latvia – have as good of a chance as anybody with their 2022 Beijing roster under legendary coach Jukka Jalonen and GM Jere Lehtinen. Finland has never won an Olympic gold medal before.
There will be no surprises in terms of their relentless two-way effort as five-man units. But it will feel a little surprising if the 2022 Finns succeed where the 2006 Finns – led by Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu – fell short against Sweden in the Turin final.
Not only are the blue-and-white boys loaded with KHL talent for these second straight non-NHL Olympics, but they have the mutual familiarity to gel even more quickly than Finnish teams usually do. There are five Jokerit Helsinki players and three apiece from SKA St. Petersburg and Vityaz Podolsk, plus two apiece from Liiga’s Karpat Oulu and the Swiss NLA’s Geneve-Servette HC.
The squad unveiled on 20 January – including seven returnees from PyeongChang – is a veteran one, to say the least. In fact, the youngest player is 26-year-old Jokerit forward Hannes Bjorninen. That alone distinguishes this Finnish team from its 2018 Olympic predecessor, for whom teens like leading scorer Eeli Tolvanen (3+6=9) and elite defenceman Miro Heiskanen stepped up. The 2018 team finished sixth, losing 1-0 to Canada in the quarter-finals.
All-time, the Finnish men have two Olympic silver medals (1988, 2006) and four bronze medals (1994, 1998, 2010, 2014).
In Beijing, Jalonen boasts a weapon that he lacked in Riga last spring: Salavat Yulaev Ufa’s top line of Markus Granlund, Sakari Manninen, and Teemu Hartikainen. The creative troika combined for 63 goals in 2020-21 and has 40 goals so far this season. Granlund, a 19-goal scorer with the 2016-17 Vancouver Canucks, has rejuvenated his career in the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, while Manninen has built on the legend he forged by scoring the 5-4 overtime winner on Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist in the 2019 Worlds quarter-final. Their chemistry could prove invaluable.
Other potential offensive catalysts include Niko Ojamaki (Vityaz Podolsk), a 2019 World Champion who leads all KHLers with 29 goals in his first season in Russia, and his playmaking linemate Miro Aaltonen, who’s on pace with 42 points for a career KHL year. Hard-working Iiro Pakarinen (Jokerit) is worth watching after he tied for the team lead in goals (4) at the last Worlds. Toni Rajala (EHC Biel) and Harri Pesonen (SCL Tigers) are seeking the Swiss NLA goals lead with 17 goals apiece.
For veteran leadership up front, look to 1980’s-born forwards like ex-NHLers Valtteri Filppula (Geneve-Servette HC) and Leo Komarov (SKA St. Petersburg). Don’t forget the towering, beloved Marko “Morko” Anttila (Jokerit), whose 2019 medal-round goals were decisive factors.
Finland’s defence is a workmanlike gang. That said, Sami Vatanen (Geneve-Servette HC) is showing flashes of his 2015-16 NHL peak (38 points for the Anaheim Ducks). The 30-year-old has 27 points in 25 games in Switzerland and should see power-play duty in Beijing. Another 30-year-old, Valtteri Kemilainen (Vityaz Podolsk), is a dark horse contributor. The Jyvaskyla-born rearguard has never repped Finland in IIHF play before, but earned his Olympic spurs with 26 points in 37 games in his first KHL season.
Ex-Toronto Maple Leaf Mikko Lehtonen (SKA St. Petersburg), who led all 2019 Worlds Finnish blueliners with seven points, should see an expanded role after getting into just one Olympic game in 2018. Factor in the physicality and shot-blocking of Petteri Lindbohm (Jokerit) and Atte Ohtamaa (Karpat), and the Finns won’t be easy to play against in their own end.
Goaltending-wise, Jalonen has taken an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, bringing back his big, reliable, 30-something duo from Riga. Jussi Olkinuora (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) likely has the inside track after making the 2021 Worlds all-star team (1.39 GAA, 94.3 save percentage) as Finland’s starter. Yet if he falters, ex-NHLer Harri Sateri (Sibir Novosibirsk) also shone in that second-place run (0.95 GAA, 95.5 save percentage) and could easily take the reins. First-year KHLer Frans Tuohimaa (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk), a former Edmonton Oilers prospect, makes his IIHF debut.
If things play out according to form, Finland should exploit its speed and physicality to vie with Sweden for first place in Group C and a bye to the quarter-finals. To take Slovakia or Latvia lightly, though, would be a mistake. This is a quality group with no easy games.
For Finnish fans who like to dream big, it’s not unimaginable 2022 could be the year when their nation joins Sweden (2006) in the “double gold” club by winning the Olympics and Worlds in the same year. With Tampere and Helsinki hosting the Worlds in May, Finland is likely to enjoy a strong roster bolstered by available NHLers.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, of course. The defending champion Russians, the Swedes, and the Canadians – among others – won’t roll over and concede the Olympic gold medal. But the sky’s the limit when the logo on front of the jersey truly is more important than the name on the back, and that’s how Finland rolls.
Jussi Olkinuora, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (RUS)
Harri Sateri, Sibir Novosibirsk (RUS)
Frans Tuohimaa, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (RUS)
Niklas Friman, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN/KHL)
Juuso Hietanen, HC Ambri-Piotta (SUI)
Valtteri Kemilainen, Vityaz Podolsk (RUS)
Petteri Lindbohm, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN/KHL)
Mikko Lehtonen, SKA St. Petersburg (RUS)
Atte Ohtamaa, Karpat Oulu
Ville Pokka, Avangard Omsk (RUS)
Sami Vatanen, Geneve-Servette HC (SUI)
Miro Aaltonen, Vityaz Podolsk (RUS)
Marko Anttila, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN/KHL)
Hannes Bjorninen, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN/KHL)
Valtteri Filppula, Geneve-Servette HC (SUI)
Markus Granlund, Salavat Yulayev Ufa (RUS)
Teemu Hartikainen, Salavat Yulayev Ufa (RUS)
Joonas Kemppainen, SKA St. Petersburg (RUS)
Leo Komarov, SKA St. Petersburg (RUS)
Saku Maenalanen, Karpat Oulu
Sakari Manninen, Salavat Yulayev Ufa (RUS)
Niko Ojamaki, Vityaz Podolsk (RUS)
Iiro Pakarinen, Jokerit Helsinki (FIN/KHL)
Harri Pesonen, SCL Tigers Langnau (SUI)
Toni Rajala, EHC Biel (SUI)