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2021 Worlds: Team Finland preview

Will the Finns finally taste gold?

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 2 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There’s no more room for debate. The Finns are a top-tier international team on level ground with the North American titans: Team USA and Team Canada. Finland is home to some of the best players on the globe, including its best defender. The passion for hockey in Finland burns bright, which is why a country with a population roughly equal to the state of Minnesota can go toe-to-toe with the U.S. and Canada on the ice.

2019 Worlds

So. Where do we start? We all know how the 2019 Worlds ended for Finland. We often hear how silver can taste worse than bronze in these tournaments — after all, you at least finish with a win when you claim bronze. Something tells me Finland’s silver was as bittersweet as they come.

The Finns performed as expected in the group stage, losing only to the U.S. and Canada while making easy work of the Swiss and Russians. In the quarterfinal, Finland bested the Czechs by a score of 3-1 after allowing the first goal of the game. That victory paved the path to a rematch with Canada after the Canadians crushed the Finns by a score of 6-1 in the group stage.

Finland found revenge in the semifinal with a historic 4-2 victory over Canada that punched their ticket to the final. In the gold medal game, Finland appeared to have won their first tournament in overtime only to have the game-winning goal taken off the board after a celebration and lengthy review. It was, in a word, controversial. And it all happened in Finland in front of a crowd that had their eruption of joy replaced with heartbreak after the U.S. won the game and the gold medal in a shootout.

Jenni Hiirikoski and Noora Räty were named the best defender and goaltender of the tournament, respectively. Hiirokski also earned MVP honors thanks in part to piling up 10 points in seven games. Michelle Karvinen joined them both as a tournament All-Star.

Roster

Forwards: Sanni Hakala, Elisa Holopainen, Michelle Karvinen, Julia Liikala, Petra Nieminen, Matilda Nilsson, Tanja Niskanen, Jenniina Nylund, Sofianna Sundelin, Susanna Tapani, Noora Tulus, Viivi Vainikka, Sanni Vanhanen, Emilia Vesa
Defenders: Jenni Hiirikoski, Aino Karppinen, Sini Karjalainen, Nelli Laitinen, Rosa Lindstedt, Ronja Savolainen, Minnamari Tuominen, Ella Viitasuo
Goalies: Meeri Räisänen, Jenna Silvonen, Anni Keisala
Head Coach: Pasi Mustonen

The Finns have a good balance of experience and potential on their roster but that is to be expected. The squad is primarily made up of players who are stars in the SDHL, Naisten Liiga, and three youngsters who are currently honing their skills in NCAA DI. The Finns will have at least three lines that can score and a future Hall of Famer leading the blue line in Jenni Hiirikoski.

Story to Watch | Goaltending

Depending on who you ask, Noora Räty is the best goaltender in the world. She will not be on Finland’s roster in Calgary. That is the bad news.

The good news for Finland is that they have Meeri Räisänen, who also happens to be one of the best goaltenders on the planet. As far as backup plans go, this one ain’t bad.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 2 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Räisänen posted a .924 Sv% in the Naisten Liiga with HPK and also played in Finland’s U18 Mestis boys’ league. At 31, she’s as sharp and on top of her game as ever and will be the favorite to start the bulk of Finland’s games. She’s been good enough to be Finland’s primary starter for the past decade or so but that hasn’t always been in the cards. With that said, there will be a lot of pressure on Räisänen, Anni Keisala, and Jenna Silvonen to deliver with Räty out of the picture.

Keisala, 24, is a big goaltender coming off of a strong season in the Naisten Liiga with Ilves. She’s made one appearance at a senior Worlds tournament heading into this tournament and won bronze with Finland in 2019. Silvonen, 22, has been developing in the NCAA at Mercyhurst University and won silver with Finland at the 2019 Worlds but has yet to make an appearance in a senior World Championship game. She was outstanding for Finland in U18 Worlds competition and has a .915 Sv% through two seasons of NCAA DI hockey.

Key Player | Michelle Karvinen

Karvinen played in the Swiss League this season after plans to join the KRS Vanke Shenzhen Rays in Russia fell through. It is no secret that the SWHL is a step down in speed and skill to the SDHL where Karvinen helped make Luleå a powerhouse for half a decade before joining HC Lugano in Switzerland. So, she might take a few games to get up to speed but that is about as far the concerns should go. After all, she averaged 3.06 Pts/GP in the SWHL. And she’s Michelle Karvinen.

Even with all of her awards it still feels like Karvinen has never gotten the respect she deserves from North American hockey media. Simply put, she’s one of the best forwards and players on the planet. She averaged 19:44 TOI/GP in Espoo at the 2019 Worlds and finished the tournament with five points at even strength — three of which were primary. She led all Finnish forwards in scoring but was second to Hiirikoski for the team lead (10).

Karvinen is the Finnish player opposing defenders will be studying the most because she’s the first line of attack for Naisleijonat.

Key Youngster | Elisa Holopainen

If you don’t know the name Elisa Holopainen, you soon will. Still a teenager, she averaged just 9:45 TOI/GP — an average of 16 shifts — at the 2019 Worlds but still scored two goals and picked up an assist. She’s coming off of a masterful season in which she scored 39 goals and earned 25 assists in 25 games in Naisten Liiga with KalPa. Holopainen had 20 more goals than KalPa’s second-highest goal-scorer and 20 more points than the second-highest scoring skater in Naisten Liiga.

IHOCKEY-WC-IIHF-US-FIN Photo credit should read MIKKO STIG/AFP via Getty Images

Holopainen was named Naisten Liiga’s MVP for her performance. She’s one of the most exciting rising young stars in the game. This just might be the tournament where she establishes herself as a household name. Look out, world.

All data from EliteProspects.com, Their Hockey Counts, and respective league sites.