Monday, March 1, 2010

Finland comes back to win Bronze Medal

Slovakia's first ever Olympic Hockey Medal will have to wait at least another 4 years after the Slovaks good start where after Slovakia was up 3-1 going into the 3rd period with 3 2nd period goals by Slovak Superstars Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Pavol Demitira all on the Special Teams (2 PP, 1 SH). After the 2nd intermission, Slovakia's fans were looking to celebrate the teams best ever hockey success.

However, Finland proved that they are still among worlds hockey elite when the Finns scored 4 goals in the 3rd period, inclduing 3 in 3 and a half minutes by Niklas Hagman and 2 by Olli Jokinen to turn the tide midway through the 3rd period. Despite playing better in the game and with shots being nearly equal with the excption of the 1st period to keep the game going.

Slovakia had a great effort starting with with 1:38 left in the game when Slovakia pulled Jaroslav Halak including a couple of great saves by Finnish Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff who despite being crushed in the 1st period of the Semifinal against the U.S.A., he was able to big when he needed to be.

Then with just 11 seconds left when Valtteri Filppula scored the Bronze Medal Winner to end the game 5-3 to win 3rd place and Slovakia who finished 4th with that being the best finish ever for Slovakia in the Olympic Games.

Despite the stagness of the team, hopefully this can put the SVK Hockey Assocation back on track and contuine to help grow the number of players that can make the NHL and make org. like the SVK Extraliga and the Junior Teams to help contuine to play and be successful in the Winter Olympics in the near future.

The problem for Slovakia right now is that they haven't had any big time players that have developed and been able to make it big. Players like Marian Gaborak, Marin Hossa are on the back side of their careers and this was probably they last Olympic WInter Games parctipation.

Will the Slovaks be able to successfully turn the page and help out the next generation of Slovak Hockey Players do well in the NHL, the Olympics and other big international events, or will the federation be on the down slide when making the Olympics will no longer be a given, that maybe an issue they may have to deal with is Olympic Qualification with teams like Germany, Norway, Denmark and Austria amongst others who are looking to get in or improve in 2014 in Sochi Russia.

Finland came short of redeeming themsevles for Olympic Gold, but they still have a great finish of Winning a Hockey Medal in back to back Olympics on the Men's side, and the First Olympic Hockey Medal on the Women's side since 1998. Finns still have a great mix of youth and experience to help them out to build up on this for both the U18 World Championship coming up in April and bring the nations first World Championship in over a decade when the tournament heads to Germany in May.

Last season, the Finns won Bronze at the U18 World Championship last season and they looking to get back after a few years of poor performances. Which includes a 7th place finish in 2007 when they hosted the tournament.

Then at the recent U20 World Championship, a 5th place finish was a nice step up, but they still got elinmated in the Quarterfinals. The Finns do a great job of getting ready their teams for international events reguardless of the level or age group and they looking to get back on the Medal Podium. Not just at the Olympics, but covering the board as much as possible.

After a Bronze Medal here, they will contuine to a world power at the different tournaments to follow and will contuine to play well at both the club and international level. Also the fact that despite losing to Sweden in the Group Stage, they were able to still be the best of the 2nd place teams and get the last of the 2nd Round Byes.

Reguardless of the Medal, hockey in Finland is still the top sport for the most part. But just imagine it would have been if the Finns could have brought home Finland's 1st ever Olympic Hockey Gold Medal after coming so close in 2006.

Finland VS. Slovakia Bronze Medal Game Photos:

Finland VS. Slovakia Bronze Medal Game Summary:

From Lucas Aykroyd of the International Ice Hockey Federation Website:

It was an historic night at Canada Hockey Place, as Finland earned a 5-3 comeback win in its inaugral Olympic Meeting with Slovakia on Saturday to claim the 2010 Bronze Medal.

The gutsy Finns trailed 3-1 heading into the 3rd period, but Olli Jokinen scored a pair of 3rd period goals, including the game winner with 11:19 left in the game. Sami Salo, Niklas Hagman, and Valtteri Flippula also scored for Finland.

For Finland, Saku Koivu, Jere Lehtinen and Ville Peltonen all succeded in tying Vladislav Tretiak, Igor Kravchuk, and Jiri Holik for the most Olympic Medals with 4, the three battle-hardened Finns now have a Silver in 2006 and three Bronze Medals (1994, 1998, 2010).

"I think that shows a lot about them and Finnish Hockey", said Koivu's younger brother, Mikko. "There are always people who question our team and our talent before these tournaments. This achievement shows our character and the strenth of our team."

"When you see players like Lehtinen and Peltonen and Koivu sacrificing their bodies and blocked shots, you realize how many leaders we have," added Finnish forward Tuomo Ruutu. "I'am so incredibly proud of them and honored to be on this team."

Pavol Demitra, a crowd favorite as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, lead the Slovak Attack with a goal and two helpers. He is now first in Olympic Scoring (10 PTS), and shares the tournament lead in assists with 7 with Canada's Jonathan Towes. Marian Hossa added a goal and an assist, and Marian Gaborik had the other Slovak Goal.

This was Finland's 5th Olympic Medal since 1988. Finland has won a medal of shade-though never gold-at four of the last 5 Olympics. The Finns have also taken 3 World Championship Bronze Medals (2000, 2006, 2008) and seem particulary proficient in 3rd place games.

"After the other night it would have been tough to go home in 4th place," said Jarkko Ruutu, alluding to the 6-1 loss to the Americans. "4th or 8th- it dosen't matter, but Bronze really means something."

Instead of going with their backup goalies, as international teams usually do in 3rd place/Bronze Medal Games, both countries stuck with their starters. Finland's Mikka Kiprusoff rebounded after a horrific semi-final performance against the Americans, where he allowed 4 goals on 7 shots. Jaroslav Halak suited up against Slovakia, which he was outshot 33-22 in the game.

The 4th place finish was Slovakia's best ever in Olympic Competition. It came in 5th in Turin in 2006. Slovakia's previous senior IIHF medals at World Championships: Gold in 2002, Silver in 2000 and Bronze in 2003. Still it was disappointing for the Slovaks, who missed a chance to win their countries first ever Olympic Medal. After beating Russia and Sweden and giving Canada a scare in the Semifinals, they head home after empty-handed.

It was probably the final Olympic appearance for veteran stars on both sides: Slovakia's Demitra, Zigmund Palffy, Miroslav Satan, and Finland's Kiprusoff, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu Ville Peltonen and Jere Lehtinen, to name a few.

"I played my first national team game 23 years ago," noted Selanne who also said that this would be likely his final NHL Season. "Five Olympics, finishing with Bronze is a dream come. When you win your last game, it's huge. I really rank this very high. Any time you play against the best and can get this kind of medal, it's unbelievably huge."

Selanne also noted that the Bronze Medal was sure the heaviest medal in his collection, and that he'd be open to being "Jarri Kurri's right handed man", in retirement, but not a coach.

Although this game got off to a cautious start, there were several highlights in the early going. Kiprusoff made some sharp saves during an early Slovak Power Play with Niklas Hagman off for holding. Miroslav Satan dazzled the crowd with a spin-around move while going one-on-one with Finnish Defensemen Joni Pitkanen, but fired high and wide. Then Halak Stymied Lehtinen from point-blank range in the slot.

Finland picked up the pace as the time wore on, and Salo finally opened up the scoring with the man advantage with 1:10 left in the 1st period. The Vancouver Canucks defensemen delighted the home crowd when he unleashed his trademark howitzer, which screamed over Halak's left arm. It was Salo's first goal of the tournament.

The Finns Continued to press in the first half of the 2nd period, but it was Gaborik who tallied the Power Play Equalizer for the Slovaks midway through the game. Showing superb patience, Demitra controlled the puck on the sideboards before sending a centering pass to Gaborik, who zinged a shot over Kiprusoff's right shoulder.

The Slovaks couldn't contrubite on a couple of odd man rushes. But they did capitzlized on a breif 5-on-3 advantage with 4:22 left in the 2nd period when Hossa, standing on the edge of the crease, managed to kick the puck from his skate to his stick and bang it in past Kiprusoff's left skate.

Two minutes later, Branko Radivojevic inadvertently whacked Olli Jokinen in the head with the stick and went off for a four minute high sticking penalty. Yet even shorthanded, the Slovaks found a way to take advantage. After a backward pass by Salo in the Slovak end went bad, Hossa burst right wing on a 2-on-1 and fed the puck across Demitra, who made no mistake, putting it in past Kiprusoff right off a post for a 3-1 lead at 18:45 of the 2nd period.

The Slovaks seemed to be in control. But they ran into penalty trouble in the 3rd period, and this time the Finns made them pay. At the tail end of the extended two-man advantage, Kimmo Timonen's shot tipped twice en route to the net, going off Hagman to make it 3-2 at 5:06. The Finns were fired up now, and they struck quickly for the tying goal at 6:49 when Olli Jokinen wheeled into the high slot, taking a feed from Jarkko Ruutu and whipping it past Halak's blocker side.

Jokinen wasn't done. Taking a long pass from Joni Pitkanen, he split the Slovak defense on a power play solo rush and tucked a backhand shot neatly Halak's legs to put Finland up 4-3 at 8:41.

Three Finnish goals in less then 4 minutes-it was a blow from which stunned Slovaks couldn't recover.

"We didn't get it done in the 3rd period," Palffy admitted. "We took some penalties and let them back in the game. It was very disappointing."

The Slovaks pulled all the stops on a late penalty to Pitkanen, but Kiprusoff made a game saving stop on Richard Zednik at the edge of the crease with a minute and a half left. Twenty seconds later, Demitra nearly snucked one in with sneaky slider from the line. Yet luck wasn't on Slovakia's side.

Flippula sealed the deal with an empty netter with 11 seconds left.

"We have lots of character," said Peltonen. "We reminded each other to trust ourselves, trust our game. It was tough to play after yesterday, which was a total nightmare, but we pulled together."

Selanne ends his Olympic Career as an all time morden day points leader (37), one ahead of the Soviet great Valeri Kharlamov. However, Kharlamov is still the all time assists leader (22), one ahead of Saku Koivu.

Retired Canadian Mark Messier elicited both cheers and boos when he was shown on the big video screen. Messier will serve as Canada's GM at the 2010 IIHF World Championships in Germany. However, he was a longtime foe of the Canucks with the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, spolied Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup Hopes in the 1994 finals with the New York Rangers, and didn't lead the team to glory when he played with them from 1997 to 2000.

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