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2022 Olympics Preview: Team Finland

Are they destined for bronze again, or can they crack the code to beating the North American teams?

Olympics: Ice Hockey-Women Team Bronze medal match - FIN-OAR Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Finnish team has had a rough go of constantly falling short of matching up with the North American powerhouses of women’s hockey. After practically tasting a gold medal in 2019 and with so many seasoned players determined to not retire quietly, Finland is ready to put up the biggest fight of their life and make a statement on the grandest of stages. They’ll need to keep their goaltending in check and stay disciplined on the ice but Team USA and Canada can and should be looking over their shoulders.

Last Time Around

In 2018, Finland landed where the typically do, right behind USA and Canada, on the podium but on the lowest tier. They took home a bronze medal after beating the Olympic Athletes of Russia in PyeongChang.

At the World Championships in Finland in 2019, the team came the closest to a gold medal as they ever had, and arguably more than anyone could without actually winning it. Making waves across the hockey world with controversy, they took home a silver medal after a stunning goaltending performance by Noora Räty, and an overtime game-winning goal...that was overturned. Resulting in a shootout, USA ultimately took home gold leaving Finland hungrier than they’ve ever been.

With the 2020 championship cancelled, the team had another year to wait on redemption for that loss, but ultimately took home bronze again in 2021 after beating Switzerland in their first appearance in a medal game since 2012.

Roster

Forwards: Elisa Holopainen, Sanni Vanhanen, Petra Nieminen, Sanni Hakala, Viivi Vainikka, Julia Liikala, Jenniina Nylund, Emilia Vesa, Michelle Karvinen, Sofianna Sundelin, Noora Tulus, Tanja Niskanen, Susanna Tapani
Defenders: Sini Karjalainen, Jenni Hiirikoski, Sanni Rantala, Ella Viitasuo, Nelli Laitinen, Minnamari Tuominen, Ronja Savolainen
Goaltenders: Eveliina Mäkinen, Meeri Räisänen, Anni Keisala

3 Key Players

Jenni Hiirikoski: This will come as a shock to no one, but the first person to note is the oldest member of the team, most seasoned veteran Jenni Hiirikoski. Her Elite Prospects page is about a mile long to represent her career in which she’s done anything and everything...except win a gold medal. This three-time SDHL champion is coming off of a 41 point season, and is one of he best puck movers and playmakers in the game. Her record high assists number will bode well for any teammate who can find the net. She is also the key to Finland’s defense.

Petra Nieminen: Hiirikoski’s Luleå HF teammate, Nieminen is on pace for her best professional season yet. She also had her best World Championship performance in 2021 with 6 assists which was massive for the team fighting to make it to the podium. Despite still being young, Nieminem is a huge presence on the ice and has already proved to be an integral part of Team Finland. She is capable of playing anywhere she needs to be and be the glue the team needs to make it far in this tournament. She has the ‘Hockey IQ’ as they say, of someone well beyond her years.

Michelle Karvinen: Another player who is a veteran of the team and has seemingly played everywhere, Karvinen brings a lot of experience and confidence to this team. She is a big playmaker, coming off of a 6-assist World Championship last year. She pretty regularly averages over a point per game wherever she goes and has the accolades to prove she can hang in with the best of the best. Actually no, she is the best of the best. I have no doubt that she will come up big in these Olympic games no matter where Finland ends up.

Story to Watch

Goaltending: The story here isn’t as much about what to watch and more about what you won’t be watching, unfortunately. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering where Noora Räty is in all of this, and the truth is, nowhere. She was shockingly left off of the Olympic roster after reported ‘conflict’ with Head Coach Pasi Mustonen. Often considered one of, if not the greatest goaltender in women’s hockey history, coming off of a fantastic professional season with a .954 save percentage, and an amazing run at Worlds last year, it seems frankly, ridiculous to not have her on the roster.

Unfortunately, that means we may have already seen the last of Noora Räty in a Finland jersey. It also means the rest of the team, goalies especially, have massively huge shoes to fill.

Schedule

  • Feb 3 vs USA at 8:10 a.m. ET
  • Feb 4 vs CANADA at 11:10 p.m. ET
  • Feb 7 vs SWITZERLAND at 8:10 a.m. ET
  • Feb 8 vs ROC at 8:10 a.m. ET

What Success Looks Like

If you ask the players, I’m sure they would tell you success looks like flying home with gold medals around their necks. At this point, especially for the older players, years of only getting bronze has to be frustrating. In actuality, without Räty, maintaining their spot in third behind the North American teams while fighting off an impressive Swiss squad threatening to break up the medals race, would be a success to me. If they can catch a team on an off day and claim silver, even better.

Unfortunately, this is likely a few players final shot at gold in the Olympics and I just don’t think it’s in the cards for them.