COLOGNE – Three months ago, when Russia and Canada clashed under the bright lights of the Canada Hockey Place, some ten kilometers further west, Finland and the Czech Republic were getting ready for their quarterfinal at the UBC Thunderbird Arena.
Finland advanced to the semi-finals thanks to a hot goalie who recorded a shutout, and a powerplay goal late in the game, by an underrated forward who ended the tournament leading the team in scoring.
“This game is a completely different game, compared to the Olympics. On both teams, there are different players, I would compare it more to the Euro Hockey Tour games that we play during the season,” says the Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka.
The teams have played four games against each other on the Euro Hockey Tour - an unofficial European tour for Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic - splitting the wins 2-2.
However, while the names may change, Finland’s recipe for winning doesn’t.
What Miikka Kiprusoff did in Vancouver, Pekka Rinne can do in Cologne. Jarkko Immonen can don Niklas Hagman’s cape and be the hero. Rinne’s goals against average, 1.67, is good enough to give the team a legitimate chance to win, while Immonen has emerged as Finland’s leading goal scorer in the tournament, with three in six games.
Then again, Tomas Vokoun can be just like Tomas Vokoun and Jaromir Jagr, well, Jaromir Jagr.
"The most important thing is how the goalie makes his team feel, if he gives them extra confidence. He doesn’t even have to be the best in the world, if he makes his teammates more confident," Jaromir Jagr said after the Olympic quarterfinal.
In Cologne, Tomas Vokoun has made the Czech team feel confident. In their last game against Canada which the Czechs, pushed against the wall, won 3-2, Vokoun. Also, his save percentage in the tournament, 93.28, is better than Rinne’s 92.06.
“Tomas Vokoun is a great goalie, he must be in the top five in the NHL,” says Tomas Rolinek, the Czech captain.
“Our tournament has gone up and down but we’ve played some good teams here and we’re ready to beat the Finns in the quarterfinal,” he adds.
Rolinek is tied for lead in team goal scoring with three in five games. Tied with Jagr, the team’s undisputed leader, its leading scorer with three goals and six points, and a player the Finns will have to have an extra eye on.
“Jagr will surely be a challenge but we haven’t decided whether will make any special arrangements with him. We try to make sure that we can keep him off the puck. Having said that, the players know how difficult these things are,” says Finland’s coach Jukka Jalonen.
“We know that they’re a dangerous transition game team. Also, their special teams are really good, absolute world class. Defence may be their Achilles’ heel,” he adds.
Ruzicka didn’t expect big surprises from the Finnish team.
“We know how the Finns play because we play them a lot during the season,” he says.
The Finns have scored 12 goals in six games in the tournament, the Czechs have lit the red light 18 times in six games. That ranks the Finns tenth in scoring in the tournament. Of the eight teams qualified for the quarterfinals, only Germany has scored fewer goals, ten.
Ruzicka doesn’t think it gives his team any edge.
“We’ve had problems with scoring, too,” he says.
The officials for the game are: Referees: Chris Savage (CAN) / Patrik Sjöberg (SWE), linesmen: Daniel Bechard (CAN) / Peter Sabelström (SWE).