Tuukka Rask didn’t hold many expectations for his first Olympic experience with Team Finland. Aside from the formidable responsibility of playing goaltender for a homeland known as a goalie factory, it’s all downhill after that.
Everybody around the world expects the Finnish netminders to be aces between the pipes and the Bruins goaltender will get his chance to prove that positive hockey stereotype again when he gets the starting nod for Finland against Austria on Thursday.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” said Rask. “Either you’re getting 10 days off -- which is awesome -- or you’re going to the Olympics like I am, which is great too. It’s a great honor playing for your country, and with your countrymen.
“It’s something I haven’t done in adulthood; I was on the World Junior team the last time. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
It’s the latest honor for a goalie who was rewarded with an eight-year extension worth $7 million a year last summer that signified his standing as one of the best goalies in the NHL. Once Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne came down with the hip infection that has sidelined him all season, it opened the door wide open for Rask in a competition with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
Rask put up a 25-13-4 record with five shutouts, and a 2.11 goals-against average and .928 save percentage for the Bruins in the first five months of this season, coming off the run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. Still, Rask has also been in a bit of a rut since Jan. 1, with a 5-4-1 record and .915 save percentage while battling a bit of midseason fatigue. The hope is that the Olympic experience can energize him.
“The dream first is to make the NHL, and then once you make the NHL it’s to make the Olympics,” said Rask. “When [I was] growing up Finland always had so many goalies, that you knew you didn’t have a chance to get to the Olympics unless you made it to the NHL. My goal and dream was always to make the NHL first.”
Now the Bruins goaltender gets to live out another life aspiration while stopping pucks in Teemu Selanne’s sixth and final go-round for Finland in a competitive field of hockey teams. Team Finland will need strong goaltending if they hope to make a mark, and Rask gives them their best chance.