After trips to Canada and Sweden, the Sochi injury bug has apparently taken up residence with Team Finland.
Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who was to follow in brother Saku Koivu‘s footsteps and captain the Suomi, had to withdraw from Sochi, as did Tampa Bay Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula, who was enjoying a breakout season in his first season with the Bolts.
Both players are missing the Olympics with broken ankles. They join Canada’s Steven Stamkos, along with Sweden’s Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin, as players who have had to pull out of Sochi with injuries.
Koivu hasn’t played since breaking his ankle on January 4 against the Washington Capitals, so it was an uphill battle to get healthy in time for the Olympics. The 30-year-old Turku native was having a season consistent with the rest of his career, having posted eight goals and 27 assists in 44 games before going down.
Sochi would have been Koivu’s third time representing Finland at the Olympics, having played in 2006 in Italy, along with the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Losing Koivu is a big blow to Finland, as he has been one of the best Finnish players in the NHL in recent years, ranking second behind Teemu Selanne in scoring by Finnish players since the start of the 2010-11 season. His competitive fire on the ice will also be missed.
Meanwhile, Filppula was enjoying one of his best seasons in his first year in Tampa Bay after spending his first eight NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.
The 29-year-old from Vantaa has 20 goals and 21 assists in 56 games with the Lightning so far this season, just the second time he has reached 20 goals in a season.
However, Filppula suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right ankle on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he will miss two to three weeks, according to Lightning beat reporter Missy Zielinski.
Looking ahead to Sochi, Finland had some interesting options to replace Koivu and Filppula from leagues around the world. According to ProHockeyTalk, Finland has decided to call on former NHLer Jarkko Immonen and Sakari Salminen, both of whom play for Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod of the KHL.
While they may not be the most skilled options out there, Immonen and Salminen may be smarter logistical choices for Finland, as they wouldn’t have to travel nearly as far as an NHL player would in order to get to Sochi.
Sean Bergenheim comes to mind as an NHL player who probably warrants consideration, though my first replacement choice would have come from Finland.
Teuvo Teravainen, who captained Finland to the gold medal at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships, would have been an interesting selection had head coach Erkka Westerlund called on him.
The 19-year-old is a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, and he is averaging nearly a point per game with Jokerit in the SM-Liiga.
It could have been a great opportunity for a youngster like Teravainen to learn from a veteran like Selanne before he eventually heads to Chicago, not to mention continuing the development of the Finnish national team program.
Alas, we’ll see how these moves pan out for the Finns.