2024 Worlds Preview: Finland

Naisleijonat is looking to get back to the podium after a disappointing fifth-place finish at last year's Worlds. This year, they could just get there.

2024 Worlds Preview: Finland
Photo by Joakim Honkasalo / Unsplash

Where They've Been: Close, But Not on the Podium

Historically, Finland has always been competitive in international play; however, the past few years have not been kind to them, particularly during Worlds. The recent upsurge from Team Czechia has resulted in Finland not seeing a bronze medal since 2021, and in fact last year the Czechs were the only team the Finns lost to all tournament. Add in Switzerland continuing to hang into the mix on their defensive strength, and Finland ended up finishing fifth in 2023 almost by default.

Offensively, the Finns landed just behind the U.S. in goals forced and in the top three nations with the best power play efficiency. They were also tops in fewest goals allowed with just 1.15 per game, good for a 93.39 save percentage. On paper and in practice, they've been better than the teams who have finished ahead of them. So ... what gives?

Where They Are Now: The Roster

Forwards: Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko; Elisa Holopainen; Michelle Karvinen; Julia Liikala; Petra Nieminen; Jenniina Nylund; Julia Schalin; Sofianna Sundelin; Susanna Tapani; Noora Tulus; Viivi Vainikka; Sanni Vanhanen; Emilia Vesa

Defenders: Jenni Hiirikoski; Oona Koukkula; Nelli Laitinen; Krista Parkkonen; Sanni Rantala, Eve Savander; Ronja Savolainen; Siiri Yrjölä

Goalies: Sanni Ahola; Anni Keisala; Tiia Pajarinen

Veterans Karvinen and Tapani are back in the lineup after each missing last year's Worlds, Karvinen having just been omitted from the roster (inexplicably) while Tapani played a season with RNK Raisio in Finland's SM Ringette league. Holopainen, back from injury, also returns fresh off of a 57-point season with KaiPa. Each should provide a huge boost and anchor for what was a young forward corps last year and only add depth to complement the offensive prowess of Nieminen (who was second in scoring last year to Caroline Harvey), Tulus, and Laitinen.

Defensively, Yrjölä is back after missing last year's Worlds to illness, and Savander makes her return for the first time in literally years. As a member of the bronze medal-winning team in 2015, her inclusion back into the fold might be indicative of just where the Finnish federation's mind is heading into this tournament.

Meanwhile, in net, Ahola is coming off another huge year backstopping St. Cloud State University in the NCAA (1.72 GAA, .935 save percentage) and is likely to repeat her performance from last year in Brampton, where she led in save percentage with a stunning .67%. Keisala's numbers haven't looked as good on paper, but she's still a capable netminder, and having one of the best blue liners in the world — Hiirikoski — in front of her can only benefit her game.

Who to Watch

Nieminen led the Finns in scoring last year, and I think she's poised to do it again this year even with the added firepower in the lineup. She's an incredibly versatile forward, and just this past season for Lulea, she and Tulus combined for 28 playoff points to win another SDHL championship title (Tulus' seventh, in fact).

Tulus, for her part, topped the league's lists in assists, points, and faceoff percentage, while also matching her personal best in goals (22) with last year's total.

These two are huge when it comes to offense, and I foresee both of them being all over the ice and the scoresheets in Utica. Overall, this entire roster looks amazing and totally ready to give anyone else in Group A a very hard time.

Game Schedule

Finland opens its round robin against (who else) Czechia in Group A play on April 3. Here's the full schedule for pool play:

FIN vs. CZE: April 3, 3 p.m.

CAN vs. FIN: April 4, 7 p.m.

FIN vs. USA: April 6, 7 p.m.

SUI vs. FIN: April 8, 3 p.m.

All times are local to the host city (EDT). TSN will stream games for Canadian viewers, while the U.S. is able to watch via ESPN+ and NHL Network.