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2022 Worlds Preview: Team Finland

Ice Hockey - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 10
 Defender Sini Karjalainen #2 of Team Finland blocks a shot in front of goalkeeper Anni Keisala #36 of Team Finland in the second period during the Women’s Ice Hockey Playoff Semifinal match between Team United States and Team Finland on Day 10 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Wukesong Sports Centre on February 14, 2022 in Beijing, China.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Lady Lions are on the prowl for another medal to add to the program’s storied history in Denmark. Anything less than bronze would be a tremendous disappointment and anything more would be a massive achievement — a situation that is unique to Team Finland, Europe’s top team.

Last Time Around

The Finns took bronze both at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and the 2021 Worlds in Calgary. The world had high hopes for the Finns after their bittersweet silver finish in Espoo 2019, but the last two major tournaments have been decided by the North American superpowers in the gold medal game. In Denmark, the Finns are looking to prove that the greatness they flirted with back in 2019 was no fluke.

Finland looked significantly better in the group stage at the 2021 Worlds than they did at the 2022 Olympics, as evidenced by a +5 goal differential in the former and a -9 differential in the latter. However, they still proved they can be comfortably counted in the top tier with Team USA and Team Canada with their performance in the playoffs. Finland dominated Japan 7-1 before losing 4-1 in the semis to Team USA, which landed them in a bronze medal match with the Swiss.

In that highly anticipated medal game, the Finns proved their superiority with a classic 4-0 win wherein they out-shot the Swiss 47-15. It left little doubt that the Finns were very much still the best team in the world outside of North America. Petra Nieminen and Susanna Tapani led the way with 8 points each in the tournament. Both played key roles in the team’s 36 percent success rate on the power play, which was second only to the historically dominant Team Canada’s PP.

This team can score, it can defend, and it has great goaltending — it has all the ingredients required to chase gold.

Three players to watch

Anni Keisala | Goalie

Keisala is one of the top goalies in the world and will be the key to Finland upsetting USA, Canada, or both in Denmark. She finished the Olympics with a .915 Sv% against an average workload of 30.27 SA60. Her 0.244 GSAA/60 (all situations) was very strong, especially for a Group A goalie facing the best offenses in the world.

Now 25, the role of starting goalie is Keisala’s to lose. Finland will be hoping she can be as brilliant as she was in Calgary where she dazzled with a .949 Sv%. She wasn’t quite as great in Beijing but that could also be said of Team Finland as a whole. After the 2022 Worlds, she’ll be joining HV71 to play her first season in the SDHL but her main focus right now is adding another medal to her list of achievements.

Petra Nieminen | Forward

One way or another, Nieminen’s name will be painted all over the box scores in Denmark. Michelle Karvinen is no longer the most dangerous Finnish forward. That title now belongs to her 23-year-old understudy.

Nieminen had 8 points in 7 GP in Beijing and 7 points — 6 of which were goals — in 7 GP in Calgary at the 2021 Worlds. She’s also coming off a 55-point (in 34 GP) 2021-22 season in the SDHL with Luleå. Nieminen is an absolute terror with the puck and will be a huge part of Finland’s offense and overall success. She’s at the stage of her career where we expect greatness whenever her blades are on the ice.

Nelli Laitinen | Defender

Laitinen had 7 points in 7 GP at the Olympics, which made her Finland’s highest-scoring blueliner. You have to be a very special player to pile up more points than Jenni Hiirikoski when you’re on the same blue line as she is. That is all the reason you need to watch Laitinen every time she’s on the ice.

A true all-situations defender, Laitinen averaged 18:06 TOI/GP in Beijing. We can expect big things from her in Denmark at both evens and on special teams. With that said, keep a close watch on Laitinen’s ability to move the puck and make plays on the power play. She picked up four primary points on the PP in Beijing.

Storyline

The main storyline of this Worlds may very well be the passing of the torch by Jenni Hiirikoski, Michelle Karvinen, and other veterans to Finland’s new young core.

Both Hiirikoski and Karvinen still have a future with the national team beyond this tournament, but with each passing year, Finland will need to lessen their workload and put the next generation of stars into bigger roles. We have already begun to see that with the emergence of Nieminen and Karvinen transitioning to more of a playmaking, set-up role.

Maybe we will see the Finns spell Karvinen a few shifts at EV so she can work her magic on the power play. And maybe we’ll see the same with Hiiri- oh, who are we kidding. Jenni averaged 27:37 TOI/GP in Beijing. There’s no slowing her down. But, seriously, there are rising stars on this roster who need to step into bigger roles. This may be the tournament where we see it truly start to happen.

Schedule

All times are in ET.

  • Aug. 25, 1 p.m. ET vs Canada
  • Aug. 27, 1 p.m. ET vs USA
  • Aug. 29, 9 a.m. ET vs Japan
  • Aug. 31, 10 a.m. ET vs Switzerland