Team Finland got off to a great start to their tournament, beating Austria 8-4. Despite an early scare that saw them fall behind 1-0 just 36-seconds into the game and then again at 2-1, they slowly took control of the game and ran away with it.
Among the players staring for Finland, Florida Panthers center Alexsander Barkov, who is the youngest player in the tournament at 18-years old. Some wondered if playing against the world’s best might be too much for the young forward, but after his debut – he quickly put all of that to rest.
Lined originally with Mikael Granlund and Teemu Selanne (who left the game after the first with an ‘upper-body’ injury), Barkov was a force all over the ice and showed amazing chemistry with Granlund – both playing in their first Olympic game.
Barkov used his big body to cause havoc in front of the net, screening the goalie on one goal, but showed his stick-handling work along the boards – at times deking around a player in close quarters. His ability to draw attention from the defenders allowed Granlund to run free, which he did – a lot.
Tournaments can be won and lost on how quickly teams can come together, and it was apparent within the first shift that their top line was clicking together. Even after Selanne left the game, it didn’t matter who was plugged in the top line – as long as Barkov and Granlund was there – it clicked.
But his biggest highlight was his lone point, an assist on Jarkko Immonen’s power play goal. With the puck behind the goal line, Barkov showed great patience waiting for Immonen to get in perfect position and then dished a perfect pass past the defender right onto the waiting Immonen’s stick who ended up with two goals on the night.
Along with the assist, Barkov had a few opportunities to score himself, but was denied, and he was also a plus-3 on the night. But in all, Barkov showed the kind of impact a player could have even when he doesn’t light up the scorecard.
He excelled in the faceoff circle, winning 11-of-13 draws he took and played 18:16 – the third highest total on the team. His 7:29 of ice time in the third period was the most by any skater.
With Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula both missing the Olympics due to injuries, scoring depth was a concern but thanks to the efforts of Barkov and Granlund – attention is now on the defense, who showed that work is needed if they are going to win the group.
Watch Barkov and the rest of Team Finland tomorrow at noon (much more convenient huh?) as they look to improve to 2-0 against Norway.
Anthony Murphy is the Editor of The Rat Trick. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.