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World Cup of Hockey 2016: The case for Finland

A youth movement on the ice and behind the bench can propel the Finns to World Cup glory.

Russia vs Finland - 2016 IIHF World Championship Ice Hockey: Semi Final Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images

Only one team is younger than Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. The Finns boast 13 players born in the 1990s, the most of any team not named ‘North America.’ One of that team’s main requirements? Being under the age of 24 by October 1st.

Other than the North Americans, the Finns have arguably the best collection of young talent on their roster. Of the 13 players born in the 90s, six were drafted in the first round, including 2016 second-overall-pick Patrik Laine. Draft position can often be undeserved, but it speaks to how touted Finland’s young talent is.

Laine is particularly representative of Finland’s promise. After dominating the World Juniors, he was called to represent Finland at the senior level at this spring’s World Championships and continued to dominate. With 12 points in 10 games, Laine was named the tournament’s most valuable player and best forward. Laine’s likely the most talented Finn, but is not alone up front either, as he’s surrounded by ten forwards that scored at least 30 points in the NHL last season, including 28-goal-scorer Aleksander Barkov.

But the most intriguing aspect of Finland’s youth may not be on the ice, but behind the bench. Head coach Lauri Marjamäki is the World Cup of Hockey’s youngest head coach, and is eight years younger than his closest tournament counterpart. Marjamäki has risen quickly through the ranks in Finland, leading Kärpät to the league title in two of his three years with the club, and a third place finish in the year they did not win.

Yet despite the youth, Marjamäki and his team have a lot of international experience, Nine players return from its bronze medal-winning team at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where Marjamäki served as an assistant in Sochi and has twice been an assistant for the national team at the senior level. He also coached Finland to a sixth-place finish at the 2011 World Juniors.

There’s significant NHL and international experience despite Finland’s relative youth. The Sochi experience on the roster is vital, as the Finns were able to upend Russia and the United States, and lose narrowly to Canada and Sweden, albeit on a larger ice surface. The Finns know how to handle the best teams in the tournament, which should not be underestimated. They’ll need to rely on that experience to emerge from a challenging group.

But with plenty of experience doing just that and promising young talent? Finland shouldn’t expect anything less.