Let’s play trivia with quizmaster Teemu Selanne. The category is men’s Olympic hockey, and the question is: In the NHL-Olympic era, which began in 1998, which country has won the most hockey medals?
Selanne has the answer, and he’ll wager that you might not. It’s Finland, with two bronze medals (Nagano and Vancouver) and one silver (Turin) in the four previous Olympics with full NHL participation. The Finns haven’t won the big prize yet, but they are in the mix every year, thanks to excellent goaltending, timely scoring and playing that underdog card as hard as they can play it.
“We know, but if you ask all the hockey people in North America, nobody knows that,” Selanne said of the Finns’ Olympic success. “That’s our strength. We have really nothing to lose. Nobody expects us to win.
“Obviously, it’s a big challenge when you play against the big teams like Canada, the U.S., the Russians too. But in one game, we can take anybody.”
The Finns are actually the top-seeded team in Group B, ranked No. 2 by the International Ice Hockey Federation, followed by No. 5 Canada, No. 8 Norway and Austria, a qualifier. On paper, it’s the weakest of the three tournament groupings, and it has played out that way, with both Finland and Canada rolling to 2-0 records, setting up Sunday’s game to decide top spot in the group and a bye in the quarter-finals.
Under the playoff Olympic format, the top three teams in the round robin automatically advance to the quarters, along with the second-place finisher with the best record. All other teams need to play a qualifying-round game in order to advance. So there’s a lot at stake on Sunday.
“Those guys are super-dangerous,” Selanne said of the Canadians. “Those guys have four all-star lines. It’s going to be a big challenge. It’s going to fun.”
These are Selanne’s sixth Olympics. He made his debut in 1992 in Albertville, France, and he entered the current tournament as the all-time leading scorer in Olympic hockey history, with 37 points. He had an assist in the opener versus Austria, an 8-4 victory, before injuring his neck slightly and leaving the game for precautionary reasons.
Selanne was back Friday night and scored the opening goal in the 6-1 victory over Norway. That made him the oldest player in Olympic history – at 43 years, seven months and 11 days – to score a goal. The records, achievements and milestones keep piling up, and Selanne, who is the Finnish captain for the first time, is simply soaking it all up.
“When you know it’s your last one, you try to take everything in,” said Selanne. “You see things differently. It’s just been an unbelievable journey in my national career, and ending it here, it’s a perfect way.”
“Teemu is very important for us,” coach Erkka Westerlund said. “He’s our captain and he sets a good example for the younger players. He’s also a good person, so it’s a good atmosphere all the time on our team. Teemu’s mind is so young.”
The Finns are playing without the injured Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, who would be two of their top centres, and they lost Aleksander Barkov to an undisclosed injury in the win over Norway. Westerlund didn’t have an update about Barkov’s availability for the game against Canada.
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