While many fans in the United States will be cheering for their countrymen in ice hockey, fans in the upper peninsula of Michigan will also be cheering for Finland (Suomi).
At the turn of the 20th century many Finns migrated to the Upper Peninsula to work in the copper mines. Up there names like Kukkonen, Timonen, and Filppula are almost as common as Smith and Jones in the lower United States. This one’s for the Yoopers.
With wins over Russia and China, Finland’s women qualified for the semifinals. In a physical game Sunday, Finland’s women’s beat Russia 5-1, and on Tuesday they beat China 2-1. China’s goal came in the first period when team captain Wang Linou scored a shorthanded goal. Both of Finland’s goals came in the second. Karoliina Rantamake tied the game and Venla Hovi scored the winning goal.
Finland and the United States women will be unbeaten in 2010 Olympic competition when they meet on February 18 to play for the Group B championship. The United States has a history of beating Finland. In an exhibition game in Colorado Springs just prior to the Olympics, the United States were victorious 5-1. Thursday’s game may have a similar outcome, but look for Finland to give the United States a closer game than either Russia or China managed to do.
Canada and Sweden, who are also unbeaten, will play today for the Group A championship. Canada, Finland, Sweden, and the United States will play in the semifinals. In all likelihood Canada and the United States will play for the gold and silver medals, while Finland and Sweden will battle for the bronze. However in the Olympics, strange things have been known to happen, and the underdog sometimes wins.
Finland’s men’s team should be competitive too. The International Federation of Ice Hockey currently ranks the Finnish men’s hockey team fourth in the world. For the Vancouver games, 19 of the 23 players on their roster play in the NHL, so they certainly have the ability to win a medal for Finland. But they’ve never won gold.
At the 2006 games in Torino, they fell to Swedish team in the championship, going home with silver. In 1994 and 1998, Finland won bronze.
Jukka Jalonen coaches Team Finland and has built the Finnish team based on a strong defense. He will start either Niklas Backstrom or Miikka Kiprusoff at the goalie position, and Kimmo Timonen will lead the defense. On offense, watch for Teemu Selanne to create some scoring excitement.
Finland plays in Group C with Belarus, Germany, and Sweden. After a 5-1 win over Belarus, they look ahead to another challenge when the Finns play Sweden on February 21.
One fan at the Finland-Russia women’s game wore a shirt displaying the word sisu, which literally translated means “to have guts.” Players with sisu demonstrate the will to persevere in the face of adversity and possess the determination to win. Finns needed sisu to work in the mines of the Upper Peninsula over 100 years ago and to survive their cold snowy winters. The Finnish hockey teams will also need sisu to win medals in Vancouver.