Team Finland, who opened the World Cup of Hockey (WCH) exhibition games with a win against Team Sweden, visits Verizon Center tonight, eager to take on Team USA. Team Finland is the bridesmaid of international hockey, having won the silver medal six times and the bronze medal three times in the past 20 years.
Last week the Finns defeated Team Sweden 3-2 in overtime in their first exhibition game in Helsinki, before falling to Sweden in the second game 6-3, in Gothenburg. In both games, the Swedes effectively neutralized Team Finland on the power play, limiting them to nine shots on seven power play opportunities in Game 1, and 14 total shots on goal in Game 2 – only two of those shots came during the third period.
As Team Finland begins looking for some redemption, they are up against a fast and physical Team USA tonight. Jori Lehtera (Blues), forward for Team Finland, believes the Finns are ready: “It’s all about preparation here.” But most importantly the exhibition games are about preparing for the tournament, “It is important to get a North American style of hockey in there to prepare us for Sunday”, Lehtera said.
With two highly physical games under its belt, Team USA has established a mark for their heavy, physical play. Lehtera acknowledged that style. “I think there’s different types of physicality. Hockey is a physical game and obviously, there’s going to be some bodies thrown around, which is normal. We’re all used to it and all the stuff after the whistle, we’re going to try to take that away and just try to focus on playing hockey.”
Other key elements to Team Finland’s success tonight are the ability of their very young blue line to contain Team USA’s fast and hard charging forwards, and tonight’s starting goalie, Pekka Rinne’s ability to stop pucks at the net. Tuukka Rask (Bruins) is a healthy scratch for tonight, after giving up 5 goals on 28 shots in Team Finland’s second game against the Swedes.
Overall, Lehtera believes this will be a fun game to watch. “Team Finland has a pretty good chemistry going on in the locker room and we try to build on that.”
By Stephanie Judge