By Allan Muir
Finland wasn't considered a gold medal favorite coming into the Sochi Games, but the country's history of disciplined team play and outstanding goaltending hinted at a team capable of coming home with some hardware.
Those chances look considerably bleaker today after both Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu and Tampa Bay Lightning star Valtteri Filppula were forced to pull out of the Games due to injury.
Koivu injured his ankle in a Jan. 5 game against the Washington Capitals and underwent surgery the next day in an attempt to make it back on time to represent his homeland. He recently began skating with the Wild, but was not given medical clearance to return to game action.
Filppula's loss might be even more disappointing. The top Finnish scorer in the NHL with 20 goals and 41 points, he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his ankle during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
There's no way to sugarcoat these losses for the Finns. The duo was expected to center the team's top two lines. Now, Team Finland is left with Winnipeg's Olli Jokinen and Minnesota's Mikael Granlund as its best options down the middle. That won't cut it against the top teams in the tournament.
Finland dipped into the KHL to find replacements, naming Jarkko Immonen and Sakari Salminen
to the squad. Immonen, a national team vet, has tallied 13 goals and 23 assists this season, while Salminen has scored 18 goals and added 26 assists. Both skate for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo.