Unbeaten Finland recalls top Soviet teams LILLEHAMMER '94

February 23, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Some international hockey experts are comparing Finland's team to some of the great Soviet teams.

U.S. hockey coach Tim Taylor isn't about to argue.

The United States (1-1-3), fourth seed in Pool B, will play Finland (5-0-0), top seed in Pool A, today in the opening game of the eight-team quarterfinal round.

The medal round, as it's called, is single elimination.

"So far in the tournament, Finland has made the fewest mistakes," said Taylor. "I think you've got to give Finland a lot of credit for the state of mind they've brought into this tournament.

"They're playing with a great deal of confidence. If they're as good as the Russians, I don't know. The proof will be in the final analysis. But they're unbeaten right now, so people can say whatever they want."

The Finns are being compared with the Russians because they play outstanding defense and have a solid goalie. Finland recorded consecutive shutouts against Russia (5-0) and Norway (4-0).

Goalie Jarmo Myllys has a 3-0 record with an 0.67 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.

"They employ a very aggressive defensive trap," said Taylor. "They do it with a lot of skating and a lot of motion. We know that it's very difficult to get shots on the Finnish goalie, but I don't think their goalies have really been tested in this tournament."

Finland has not been tested in any way. The Finns have outscored their opponents 25-4 and outshot them 179-62.

"So far, we have played the best hockey, but in a game like the quarterfinals, you also need luck," Finnish coach Curt Lindstrom said. "You can't say we will win, but like every other team, we have also the possibility to take the gold. It is very open."

Six members of Finland's team have NHL experience: forwards Janne Ojanen, Raimo Helminen and Mikko Makela, defensemen Timo Jutila and Hannu Virta and Myllys. Helminen leads the attack with one goal and five assists.

"They're very good, but I don't think we'll be intimidated," said Peter Ciavaglia of the United States. "I think any of the eight teams in the medal round can win the whole thing."

The United States will try to ride the momentum from Monday's 7-1 victory over Italy. The U.S. offense was overpowering in that game, scoring five goals in the first period.

"It has to help us that we were already in a playoff situation against Italy," said forward Peter Ferraro. "I don't think the pressure is on us, but them. They have the best record."

Today's game will be the ninth time the United States and Finland have met in Olympic competition. The United States leads the series 5-1-2, including a 4-1 victory in the 1992 Olympic Games.

The United States also beat Finland, 4-2, in the 1980 gold-medal game.

But this Finnish team is a lot older and more experienced than previous teams.

"We've got a lot of emotion going for us now," said Taylor. "We feel pretty good after a solid win over Italy. We proved a lot to ourselves. Both teams are going to have to prey on the other's mistakes. The hay is in the barn as far as the X's and O's. . . . It's going to come down to mental strength and who makes the fewest mistakes."

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