Teemu Selanne has a souvenir from the last time he crossed paths with the United States on Olympic ice. His two front teeth.
Derian Hatcher collided with the Finnish Flash, cutting his lip and leaving him a few teeth short of a full set.
Selanne and his Finnish teammates got the last laugh as they beat the Americans, 4-3, in the quarterfinals on their way to the gold-medal game.
“Of course I’m disappointed to lose two teeth,” Selanne said after the game in Torino, speaking through a cut lip, “but that’s an okay sacrifice for the gold. You can always get new teeth.”
Goaltender Ryan Miller faces yet another strong offensive team Friday in the semifinals.
Four years later, Hatcher is enjoying retirement, but Selanne is still going strong. The 39-year-old is competing in his fifth and final Olympics, and loving every minute of it.
His assist in a 5-0 blanking of Germany gave him the Olympic record 37th point, passing Russia's Valeri Kharlamov, Canada's Harry Watson and Czechoslovakia's Vlastimil Bubnik.
He will look to pad those stats when Finland faces off against the U.S. in the semifinals on Friday.
“It seems like Selanne keeps getting better,” said U.S. forward Zach Parise, who is 14 years younger than his Finnish counterpart. “I’ve been watching him on TV and he gets faster every time you see him.”
When the two teams hit the ice, it promises to be a tight-checking affair that will come down to great goaltending and capitalizing on turnovers.
One thing that is for certain, there won’t be any surprises. The two countries have met 11 times on Olympic ice with the U.S. holding the advantage with a 6-3-2 record against the Finns.
“They have great speed, they’re a great transition team and a tough team,” said U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson. “It’s going to be a great game. There are no secrets or tricks or anything. Just two tough teams going at it.”
This semifinal showdown promises to be a battle of two great goaltenders. The Finns are led by Miikka Kiprusoff, who leads all goaltenders with a 94.67 save percentage, slightly ahead of American Ryan Miller, who has a 94.44 mark. Miller leads the tournament with a 1.25 goals-against average, while Kiprusoff is sporting a 1.33 GAA. Both goalies are coming off of 2-0 victories in the quarterfinals.
With two great netminders, it promises to be a tight game, where shots on goal are at a premium, and good scoring chances even rarer.
“From my experience from playing Finland they’re always a gritty, hard-nosed team,” said Johnson. “They’re not going to back away from physical play, and we don’t expect them to. It’ll be a hard fought game with a fast pace, just like the rest of them.”
Fellow U.S. defenseman Erik Johnson expects to see the fleet Finnish defensemen being a vital part of the Finnish offense, which will pose problems for the U.S. blueliners, but could lead to odd-man rushes the other way.
“They are really active in the offensive zone,” Johnson said. “That will be a little more of a challenge. We’ve only played Canada that likes to involve their [defensemen] so we will have to be really aware of it.”
Up front the Finns are led by Niklas Hagman, who was recently traded by Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke to the Calgary Flames. Burke is also the GM of the U.S. Team. Hagman has three goals and two assists to rank among the leading scorers in the tournament.
Corralling Hagman and the rest of the Finnish forward will require discipline from every member of the U.S. team, which has tightened up defensively as the tournament has gone on.
“We’re always trying to eliminate turnovers when you have a new team thrown together,” said Jack Johnson. “I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to our game plan and not falling into the frustration trap that the Swiss were setting up for us. We never got down on ourselves, we never got negative. That’s one of the strengths of our team. We’re pretty resilient mentally.”
They will need all that mental toughness if they are going to climb over the final hurdle to reach their goal of playing in the gold-medal game. To a man, the U.S. team is confident, even though that last barrier is a very tough team.
“I think we all believe in a common goal,” Erik Johnson said. “We have one more team in the way and hopefully we’ll have a chance of gold.”
Harry Thompson is the editor of USA Hockey Magazine and will be covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for www.USAHockey.com. You can also check out his Olympic blog and Twitter posts at www.USAHockeyMagazine.com.
Tag(s): 2010 - Vancouver, BC