Fight to the finish

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:30 AM ET

Nobody is going to work tomorrow in Finland. Well, maybe the few non-hockey fans in that Nordic nation, but a guy who would know speaks in terms paralleling Canada's most important hockey game when discussing tonight's World Cup final between Canada and Finland.

For Finns, "it will be the biggest international game ever," says Kaarlo Koskiala, station manager for Western's CHRW 94.7. The game starts at 2 a.m. in Finland.

To Finns, this is Canada's pivotal eighth game against the then-Soviet Union in 1972, a game that shut down Canada and left the majority of Canadians able to recall vividly where they were and what they were doing when Canada won.

Wait a minute. Finland won the world championship in 1995. Surely that transcends whatever might happen this evening.

It's a relative thing, says Finnish-born Koskiala, who is plugged into Finnish sports as well as he is the football Western Mustangs, for whom he does play-by-play on CHRW.

That was a major triumph, he says. He didn't have to add that beating arch rival Sweden for the gold medal provided a rich lustre to the victory.

But Finns are like Canadians. They know the difference between the best and the best of players not playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"This is what makes it so big; this is Finland's best against Canada's best," he said.

There are other considerations. Finland has had a strong tournament and was absolutely prepared to defeat the U.S. Friday. Moreover, only a completely unyielding Canadian nationalist would not agree Canada was fortunate to beat the Czech Republic in the other semifinal.

There is a sense Canada can be had, in other words. While some Canadians might prefer to play traditional rivals such as Russia and the U.S. in the final, this is the perfect matchup.

However much his players might dislike taskmaster coach Raimo Summanen, it is obvious he and his staff have engineered their team through a difficult tournament masterfully. At least Pat Quinn and his assistants have a template from which to work -- the game film of their tenuous win over the Czechs.

That's the way the Finns almost assuredly will play the game, by stifling Canada and turning miscues into extreme offensive pressure in the Canadian zone. The evolvement of the tournament to this final was as natural as a Martin Brodeur glove save.

Speaking of goalies, it inevitably will come down to that in what is sure to be a tight-checking, physical encounter. Will he or won't he?

Brodeur, that is. Will his injured catching wrist allow him between the pipes or will it be Roberto Luongo, who shook off some rust to prove alternately brilliant and suspect in the 4-3 overtime win over the Czechs?

Whoever it is, he will be facing a guy whose superb playoff performance in a losing cause for Calgary has merely continued on in this tourney. Among other claims to fame, Miikka Kiprusoff apparently never conceded a practice goal to Calgary teammate and Canadian sparkplug Jarome Iginla.

But just as Brodeur can, so can Kiprusoff turn a game on his own.

You'd have to say the pressure is about equal on both teams. Canada is expected to perform, but is used to it; Finland enjoys the underdog role, but has to know what a victory tonight would mean at home.

In a nation a sixth the size of Canada (population 5.2 million) with a tenth the number of registered hockey players (52,000), it would be the Suomi version of Miracle on Ice.

And who is my friend Kaarlo rooting for?

"I'm hoping for a good, clean, exciting game," he said, diplomatically.

CHHAMPIONSHIP

Tonight's game

At Toronto: Finland vs. Canada, 7 p.m. (CBC)


Videos

Photos