Yesterday morning Finland defeated the United States 5-0 to win the bronze medal. Although I am an American and will always root for my country, there was one particular Finn that I enjoyed seeing succeed. This player is a wily veteran who is a great man on and off the ice. He has the heart of a warrior and is a leader in every locker room that he steps into. This was his final trip to the Olympic games and this is likely his final NHL season. No, I’m not talking about Teemu Selanne, I’m talking about Kimmo Timonen.
Timonen has been a staple of the Philadelphia Flyers blue-line since 2007. He has now played in five different Olympic games stretching back to 1998. In his six games in Sochi, Timonen averaged 18:02 of ice time while skating on the team’s top pairing with Sami Vatanen. Timonen registered nine shots on goal in the tournament and earned two assists. Timonen’s stellar play was encouraging, but will it help him (and the Philadelphia Flyers) down the stretch? Yes, no doubt.
Timonen may be almost 39 years old, but he is still a very good defenseman. He has lost a step in terms of speed and relies more and more on obstructionary penalties, but he is as savvy as anyone in the league. Timonen’s ice time shows that he was trusted by the Finnish coaching staff, and the team’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Although about 18 minutes a game is not much by NHL standards, it was substantial for team Finland. The Finnish squad dressed eight defensemen each game and Timonen was one of the top two defensemen in ice time in all but one of them. The Vatanen-Timonen pairing was the undisputed top pairing for Finland.
I understand the logic that says Timonen (because of age, durability, etc) should have stayed home to rest, but all Olympians still get a break. Timonen did not play today and will not see game action again until Thursday. He has four days now to rest up and be prepared to take on the rest of the season. No, his team did not win gold, but Timonen was able to skate off the ice a winner in his last game in Sochi. The bronze medal game, and all of the emotions that followed, will surely motivate Timonen to have a strong stretch run.
One final note: Sami Vatanen is not a big defenseman. He is listed on NHL.com as 5’10″ and 183lbs. The duo was a further testament to the fact that “undersized” defensive units can be effective in all three zones. Towards the end of last season Timonen was paired with Erik Gustafsson and they had a similar effect. Timonen is no speedster, but being paired with an effective puck-mover like Vatanen or Gustafsson makes up for his lack of speed and allows Timonen to use his defensive awareness and guile. I do not wish to knock the Coburn-Timonen pairing, which has been effective for years and is still the Flyers best duo. I just wish to indicate that a defensive pairing does not have to have to fit the “one small puck-mover/one big stay-at-home” model to be effective. This idea works the other way as well. Alex Pietrangelo (6’3″, 201lbs) and Jay Bouwmeester (6’4″, 212lbs) both have tremendous size, yet they make up one of the most effective defensive pairings in the NHL. Although these thoughts may not have a lot to do with the Flyers at this time, it could help their decision making in the future as they introduce their defense prospects into the NHL. Also, with Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm in their system, I wonder if Anaheim would be willing to part with Vatanen? I have not heard any reports or rumors, but I loved what I saw out of the kid and would LOVE to see him in the Orange and Black.
Watch Timonen when he returns to Philly this Thursday to play San Jose for which you can find Flyers tickets here.