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World Cup of Hockey provides glimpse of Finland’s rising star power

Finland v Canada - 2016 IIHF World Championship Ice Hockey: Gold Medal Game

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 22: Patrik Laine #29 of Finland and Mikko Rantanen #96 look on during the award ceremony. The 2016 IIHF World Championship gold medal game at the Ice Palace on May 22, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Canada defeated Finland 2-0. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)

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Look, Finland might not fare that well at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Bovada gave them middle-of-the-pack odds, and even with the wave of injury ask-outs in mind, there are some issues with that team.

(As there are with any squad that isn’t Canada, really.)

Still, the tournament looms as yet another showcase for the rising power that is Finland.

Established names like Mikko Koivu, Tuukka Rask and Sami Vatanen make it so Finland isn’t just a different-flavor under-23 team, but it’s those futures that makes this group so exciting.

Aleksander Barkov is a rising star. More than a few people entertained the notion that Patrik Laine might not be that far behind Auston Matthews. Rasmus Ristolainen is already racking up points at the NHL level.

So, yeah, that will be exciting.

You can also view Finland’s rise merely by glancing at the upper ranks of the 2016 NHL Draft. Laine went second overall, people were stunned that Jesse Puljujarvi “dropped” to fourth and then Olli Juolevi went fifth. Finland churned out three of that year’s top five picks, and the likes of Barkov mean that it wasn’t just a one-year wonder.

Watch Laine light up scoreboards and dislodge Gatorade bottles is more fun than considering how a nation takes the next step ... but the story of Finland’s rise is still pretty fascinating.

Seriously though, Laine should be fun to watch. He’ll also be fun to listen to.

“In my opinion I’m funny, but I don’t know what everybody else says—maybe sometimes funny,” Laine said to Sportsnet in a Q & A. “And the kind of guy who if he decides to do something, he will do it. And the kind of person who wants to win and who never quits. That’s me.”

From baby steps to leaps

For some time, Finland felt like a solid, grinding machine that also happened to pump out goalies with disproportionate success.

As the Hockey News’ Matt Larkin found out, the nation began to generate more high-end types in part thanks to a summit cited by Goran Stubb, the NHL’s director of European scouting.

“They changed the way of training, so now the Finnish players, the coaches, are trying to teach the young Finnish players more individual skills than before,” Stubb said. “And of course, that was exactly what Sweden did 10 years ago. They are delivering the most players from European countries nowadays, so it’s kind of a Swedish model that the Finns have taken.”

(Gasp, Finns following a Swedish model?)

Twenty-eight full-time skills coaches really helped propel that growth, too, according to this interesting Canadian Press article. It makes you wonder if other struggling hockey nations would be wise to spring for similar “summits.”

Then again, the rise might have a lot to do with what makes Finland tick.

Ken Campbell details how Finland generates rather inane Olympic medals per capita in this Hockey News article, but you can’t really top this specific paragraph:

There’s a lot we know about Finland. It has the highest child literacy rate in the world. It’s the only country that fully repaid its debt from World War II and it did so in an incredible seven years. It is home to the greatest number of off-the-grid world championships in the world – including global tournaments in wife carrying (where the winner gets his wife’s weight in beer), mobile phone throwing, mosquito catching, swamp soccer, sauna and air guitar. It was the first country in the world to make internet access a legal right and it is a global leader in recycling, which explains why Teemu Selanne kept making all those comebacks.

Everyone, prepare for the reign of our swamp soccer-loving, air-guitaring overlords.