Hall of Famer, MVP and Vettel have Finns thinking gold

Wed Feb 5, 2014 8:40am EST
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By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - A Hall of Famer, an all-world netminder and Sebastian Vettel's trainer have the Finnish women's ice hockey team believing anything is possible at the Sochi Olympics.

While it would take an upset of David and Goliath proportions for any team other than the Canada and the United States to skate away with gold on February 20, the Finns have arrived in Sochi targeting a medal and have not ruled out their own Miracle on Ice.

"It (gold) is possible yes," Finland coach Mika Pieniniemi told reporters on Wednesday.

"But we have to take this tournament game-by-game, not eat the whole cake in one time, just pieces. Play good, concentrate good and anything is possible."

If they are to win any medal, the Finns will lean heavily on Noora Raty, their world championship most valuable player netminder and the experience of 40-year-old Riikka Valila, one of a handful of women enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, who returned to the ice this season after a decade away from the game to raise a family.

The leading scorer at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where Finland won bronze, Valila showed time has done little to dull her touch around the net, scoring the winning goal against Sweden on her return to international competition last year.

"There is always a chance, it's not big, we know the realities, Canada and the USA are strong but you always have a chance that is why we are playing," Valila said.

"I think we are playing really well this season. We have Noora the world's best goalie, we can trust in her otherwise we are a strong team with three lines capable of scoring goals."   Continued...

Finland's goalie Noora Raty deflects a shot on net from Russia's Yekaterina Lebedeva during the second period of their bronze medal game at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship in Ottawa April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Blair Gable