Spree pundits opine on the local
Feb 25, 2010
01:44 PMState of Play
Don't be shocked to see a gold for Finland
The patriotic part of me wants an American victory. The reactionary part of me sees imminent triumph for the Canadians, given the way they ground, cased and packed Team Russia like mass-produced sausage Wednesday night.
But the neutral hockey observer in me; the impartial, emotionless dude just soaking in these fantastic 2010 Winter Games, sees a Finnish sun meandering its way over the horizon. (Not that I know what a Finnish sunrise actually looks like, nor would I look directly into it, I suppose. Just play along, OK?)
Readers of this post should also proceed with caution: you're about to see enough double-Ks, Ps, Ts, and Is to induce a seizure and vertigo for non-Finno/Hungarian brains. You've been warned...
Where was I? Oh yeah: I think it's Suomi's time for gold, especially now that their longtime bogeyman, Sweden, was unexpectedly ousted Wednesday by Team Slovakia. Having their Scandinavian big brother—and for the Finns that has meant far too many on-ice wedgies and swirlies over the years—out of the picture paves a now-sparkling-clear path toward gold in Vancouver.
Since the Swiss, Slovaks and Americans have all started the upset ball rolling from Day One, it seems to me quite logical that Finland can build on that theme by claiming its hegemony on the international scene. That means a victory over the US Friday and ultimately a gold-medal showdown with host Canada. There, I said it.
I postulated earlier this week that the US crew upset Canada in the preliminaries by virtue of icing more of a lunchpail group, a stark contrast to the Canadian dream team. The American squad is one whose final product is better than the sum of its parts. Assembling an all-star lineup of individuals, as opposed to bringing together the best team, sure has its pitfalls. Just ask the star-studded Russians and Swedes, or even the Canadians themselves, who still can't comprehend last weekend's loss to their American tormentors.
The same train of thought gives me the audacity to predict Finland to go all the way. There's a wonderful mix here of Pritti Freekkin' Skaarii skill, speed, tenacity and experience. Need scoring? I offer the Koivu boys (Saku and Mikko), along with Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen. How about grit, digging and ferocious checking? That's the job of the Ruutu brothers (Tuomo and Jarkko), both absolutely miserable to play against. Solid two-way play is plentiful with Jere Lehtinen, Antti Miettinen, and Ville Peltonen, who always seem to make the smart play and excel at disrupting the opposition's flow.
What's impressive about the Finns' forwards is that with the obvious exception of the shamelessy cherry-picking Selanne, none seem to be too one- dimensional. All of them appear to be well-versed, complete players who play well in most situations: leading, trailing, one man down, one man up ... you name it.
The Finnish blue line has the perfect balance of scoring, defense and depth, with slick gunners like Kimmo Timonen and Joni Pitkanen and steady rearguards like Toni Lydman and Sami Salo. And when you consider the world-class tandem of Mikka Kiprusoff and Niklas Backstrom (no, the other one!), is it all that much of a stretch to believe they can do it?
Kiprusoff has had his shabby moments, sure, but so have Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, and Marty Brodeur (Sunday's loss to the Americans, anyone?) at different times. As any non-Xenopobic Flames fan will attest, when he's on his game, "Kipper" can singlehandedly carry his team.
Sure, every reflexively irate Canadian and American will think I'm out of my head. And I'll concede that, especially if the US topples the Finns Friday. I will naturally pull for my countrymen with my heart, but I'm using my brain to determine who I believe is the best team in these Olympics. The Finns can match the hard-checking, gutsy, meat-and-potatoes formula that's gotten the US this far, and quite possibly exceed it with their own blend of in-your- face intensity.
And Canada? Of course it's a brilliant team with megastars at most positions, buoyed by the 7-3 bloodying of the Russians' nose. But should the True North meet up with Team Finland in the gold medal game, it might be shocked to find that unlike Russia, the Finns won't be intimidated by hitting, elbowing and trash talk (you heard me, Ryan Getzlaf). On the contrary, from what I've seen the Finnish skaters thrive on that stuff and react with the kind of surliness you'd see at a South Buffalo pub when someone hits the lights at 4 a.m.
Instead of having Max Afinogenov try to foolishly dangle through a Sargasso Sea of bodies and sticks at the blueline, they'll be confronted with guys like Koivu and Jokinen, dumping and chasing like a Michael Vick-sponsored pit bull. As the unbelievable pressure continues to get heavy on Team Canada's back, their Finnish foes will be out there simply having fun.
And come on, fellow Americans—should our boys lose to the Finns, will you honestly be cheering for the Canadians in the gold medal game? I didn't think so. I might've given my nothern neighbors my support until I witnessed them yelling and screaming for Switzerland during the American quarterfinal victory on Wednesday. Jeez, not since Old Man Potter cheerily stole the Bailey Savings & Loan cash have we seen such spitefulness. When it comes to hockey and their new-found nationalism, I'm tiring of this cacophony of self-righteous Canadian vitriol and snobbery.
Not that this influenced my choice of Finland for the gold medal. I just think they're the better team. (Ouch, Canada!)