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He Brings Fight to the Finnish

Clutch goaltending by Kiprusoff has lifted Finland into World Cup final against Canada.

September 14, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — In his day, Jari Kurri played on Finnish teams that boasted waves of swift, skillful forwards and smart defensemen -- but had limited international success.

The emergence of Miikka Kiprusoff has given Finland the clutch goaltending it has long lacked -- and should give his team a strong chance against Canada in the championship game of the World Cup of Hockey today at the Air Canada Centre.

"Our goaltenders have been always good, but we've had some letdowns in big games," said Kurri, who built a Hall of Fame career with the Edmonton Oilers and Kings and is an assistant coach with Finland. "We knew that Kiprusoff, from the year he had in Calgary, we can count on him."

The bearded Turku native hasn't faltered after posting an NHL-best 1.69 goals-against average last season and leading the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals. He has compiled a 1.18 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in carrying the defense-minded Finns to a 4-0-1 record.

"He's a strong person. He battles hard," Kurri said. "Coming from Europe, he plays the toughest spot to take in Canada or the U.S., and he's done a great job."

Kiprusoff, a backup in San Jose until Calgary acquired him last November, is equally calm whether facing a barrage of shots or reporters' questions.

"He's never nervous," winger Teemu Selanne said. "He's been unbelievable."

He must retain that composure in an arena filled with partisan Canadian fans and against a gritty team that will try to rattle him with traffic around the net. His Stanley Cup success won't help him much, he said Monday.

"This is a new season now, and a huge game for Finnish hockey," he said. "I don't think too many people thought before the tournament we would play in the finals.... We just have to think about our own things and can't think too much about Canada."

The Canadians won the coin flip for home-ice advantage and the last line change, allowing Coach Pat Quinn to get his checking line of Kris Draper, Shane Doan and Joe Thornton against Finland's skilled trio of Selanne, Jere Lehtinen and Saku Koivu. However, Quinn expects little matching.

"We're not so afraid," he said. "I feel confident that any of our lines can play successfully."

Canada's prospects may depend on goalie Martin Brodeur, who sat out the team's semifinal victory over the Czech Republic on Saturday because of an injured left wrist. The tape on his catching hand will limit his trademark puckhandling, but he said he could catch shots without pain. He practiced Monday and said that barring any relapses, he'd play today.

Given the importance of the game -- and knowing it may be the last for a while if the NHL locks out players when the labor agreement expires Wednesday -- it would take a lot to keep him out.

"This is something pretty special that we're going to go through," he said. "We have one mission [today], and it's winning that game."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Facts

* What: World Cup championship game between Canada and Finland.

* Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto.

* When: Tonight, 4, ESPN2.

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