Anybody planning to get a win against Finland is going to have to work for it, figures head coach Doug Shedden.
Shedden, a former NHLer from Wallaceburg, Ont., has spent the past three years coaching in the Finnish SM-Liiga.
“They don’t have to be pushed, on or off the ice — there’s never anybody who has an attitude back to you about, ‘Why are you doing this? How long are we doing that?’” Shedden said. “They just go to work, and they work as hard as they can.”
Shedden, who is a former coach of the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs, has more than just strong work habits at his disposal at the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship at the Metro Centre.
He has the best front-line talent of any team, other than Canada, that is playing its round-robin games in Halifax.
Leading the way is Hockey Hall of Fame-bound Teemu Selanne — and the 1,158 career NHL points that come with him — and Florida Panthers forward Olli Jokinen, who has averaged 37 goals and 84 points over the past three seasons.
Selanne, a late addition after his Anaheim Ducks were knocked out of the playoffs, was a big boost. The Finnish Flash is considering retirement and could go out with a bang.
“It’s huge,” Shedden said. “Teemu’s bigger than life in Finland. He’s a great guy, a great player, and for him to take the time to come play for his country, for what could be the last time … I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.”
Selanne will provide both offence and leadership, while Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and Niko Kapanen round out the more notable NHL names up front.
The loss of Joni Pitkanen to a knee injury was a big hit defensively, and leaves Finland with no NHL defencemen on the roster. But the addition of Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom will help soften the blow.
Last year’s Finnish squad won a silver medal, upsetting Russia in the quarter-finals and falling 4-2 to Canada in the final.
“We looked at it and this team might be a little bit better (than last year’s team),” the 47-year-old Shedden said. “The Finns are a type of team where they don’t look like much sometimes, but they’re always a tough team to play against.”
Finland hasn’t won gold at the world championship since 1995, but has found a way over the past 15 years to work itself into medal contention at most international tournaments.
“I don’t know that there’s a country outside of Canada that plays to a system and plays as a team so well,” Shedden said. “They’re a strong team. They’re strong-willed guys.”