January 26, 2022

Beijing 2022 Ice Hockey: Team Finland Preview



3 min readby Zoë Hayden



Beijing 2022 Ice Hockey: Team Finland Preview

2018 Olympic finish

Bronze medal, 3-2 over Olympic Athletes from Russia in the bronze medal game.

2021 IIHF Women's World Championship finish:

Bronze medal, 3-1 over Switzerland in bronze medal game. After nearly upsetting the known order of women's hockey at the 2019 IIHF Women's Worlds, Team Finland had a more average performance at the 2021 tournament, adding to their litany of bronze medals.

IIHF World Ranking:

3rd overall

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

Defense

Sini Karjalainen, Jenni Hiirikoski, Sanni Rantala, Ella Viitasuo, Nelli Laitinen, Minnamari Tuominen, Ronja Savolainen

Goaltenders

Eveliina Mäkinen, Meeri Räisänen, Anni Keisala

Goaltender discourse: Noora Räty rejoined her national team in 2021 and put on a shutout performance in an exhibition series against the Czech Republic, but she was left off of Finland's Olympic roster amid rumors of conflict with head coach Pasi Mustonen. TSN's Meaghen Johnson spoke to Team Finland GM Tuula Puputti, who said that the decision to leave Räty off the roster was because she "isn't a backup", and Anni Keisala earned the starting position at Worlds. Make of this explanation what you will, of course, but it seems slightly bizarre to have arguably the best goaltender in the world available to you and leave her at home. At age 32, it's unlikely that Räty will be available for a subsequent Olympics as well. If the 2019 Worlds will ultimately be the last time we will see Räty with Team Finland in a top-level tournament, that is just ridiculously unfortunate.

Head coach

Pasi Mustonen has been at the helm of Finland's senior women's team since 2014.

Keep an eye on

Jenni Hiirikoski will provide key offense from the back end and is a power play quarterback to be reckoned with. Petra Nieminen and Susanna Tapani have a history of scoring both beautiful one-timers and dirtier rebound goals from down around the crease, both of which will likely be necessary in this tournament. Michelle Karvinen should also be providing essential playmaking around big goals when they come. Her 6 assists at Worlds were a team best.

Also keep an eye on 19-year-old Nelli Laitinen, who is committed to the University of Minnesota in 2022-23 and is very much the next generation of talent on Finland's blueline. Moving to a highly competitive NCAA conference will be an interesting step in her development and she could make a significant impact in the WCHA as well as future senior squads from Naisleijonat.

Anni Keisala's 1.43 GAA and 0.949 save percentage over 5 games at Worlds made her one of the best goaltenders in that tournament and she will be relied on heavily in Beijing provided she stays healthy. She has big shoes to fill and Finland's success will depend on her consistency. Meeri Räisänen will also likely see several starts and need to be solid when she does.

Prediction

It's going to be tough for Finland to crack Team USA or Team Canada. The main weaknesses in Finland's game have typically been conditioning over 60 minutes of play and finding offense, but we saw them overcome those issues in 2019. That was also thanks to Räty being able to completely shut down scoring chances on her end. To have a chance at finishing higher than bronze, Finland would have to get absolutely flawless performances in net, match pace with and physically challenge Team USA and Team Canada, and take every shot on goal that they can find. This is no easy task.

Finland does have some offensive firepower on this squad, though, and if they can possess the puck and capitalize on the opportunities they do get (especially special teams), anything is possible. The biggest concern though will be the conditioning aspect of their game, as they have had a history of slowing down considerably even after a strong start, making it hard to protect a lead should they get one against potent offenses like Team USA's and Team Canada's.

Finland typically hasn't had much difficulty against lower-ranked teams, but if there's any possible upset team in the knockout stage, it could be the Czech Republic. Finland only beat them by a 1-0 margin at Worlds in the quarterfinals and it was largely thanks to Keisala and luck. They'll need to be more aggressive on the puck at these Olympics than they were in Calgary this past August.

Finland as a team knows that they have the potential to do better because they have done it, and the gold medal game will obviously be their stated goal. Adding another bronze to their collection is still the most likely outcome for this squad, though I'd be delighted to be wrong.

(Photo: Leijonat/YouTube)



Filed under: team finland; ice hockey; beijing 2022; 2022 olympics

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