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Road to World Cup

Team Finland has history of strong finishes

Won bronze at 2014 Olympics, finished second in 2016 World Championship

NHL.com @NHL

World Cup history (1996-present): Lost in quarterfinals in 1996, runner-up in 2004.

Canada Cup history (1976-91): Finished sixth in 1976, sixth in 1981, did not participate in 1984, sixth in 1987, third in 1991.

World Championship history (2012-16): Finished fourth in 2012, fourth in 2013, second in 2014, sixth in 2015, second in 2016.

Olympic history (since 1998): Finished third in 1998, sixth in 2002, second in 2006, third in 2010, third in 2014.

Olympic medal history (overall): Gold 0, silver 2, bronze 4

Finland was one of the last of Europe's winter-sports nations to embrace hockey, but it's become the only team sport that the country can compete regularly for medals at the Winter Olympics and the IIHF World Championship. Hockey has worked its way to the top of Finland's sporting hierarchy. It is the nation's most popular sport and occupies a more prominent place on the sports scene than in any other European country.

Hockey was introduced in 1927 by Yrjo Salminen and Walter Jakobsson, chairmen of the Finnish Skating Association, but it wasn't until after World War II that it surpassed bandy (field hockey on ice) as Finland's most popular winter team sport. The first rink with artificial ice was built in Tampere in 1956 and the first indoor ice arena didn't open until 1965, in time to hold the World Championship.

It wasn't until the late 1980s that Finland became a medal contender in international play, taking home the silver at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and defeating the Soviet Union for the first time. Since then, Finland has won the silver medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics, and the bronze in 1994, 1998, 2010 and 2014.

By then, Finland had long since been sending most of its top players to the NHL. Forward Matti Hagman was the first Finnish-born NHL player when he played for the Boston Bruins in 1976; he became the first Finnish player to compete in the Stanley Cup Final a year later. But the first NHL star from Finland was forward Jari Kurri, a five-time Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The highest-scoring NHL player from Finland is Teemu Selanne, who retired after the 2013-14 season with 684 goals and 1,457 points.

Finland earned its first gold medal in international competition by winning the 1995 World Championship and got its second when it won in 2011. In the past 20 years, Finland has won the silver medal six times and the bronze medal three times. It lost the final to Canada this year.

Finland advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, but lost 5-0 to Russia. It defeated the United States 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2004 World Cup and overcame two one-goal deficits against Canada in the championship game before losing 3-2.

Finland's World Cup team in 2016 will rely on its goaltending; Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne are among the NHL's best and will be supported by a team that plays Finland's physical, north-south style. Finland may struggle to score, but it could get a boost from Patrik Laine, the No. 2 player taken in the 2016 NHL Draft and the most valuable player at the 2016 World Championship after scoring seven goals and 12 points in 10 games.

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