Tuomo Ruutu was already wildly successful in international competition. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics only bolstered that fact, as Team Finland took home a bronze medal.
Ruutu has now medaled in each of the 11 major international competitions in which he’s competed. In addition to his bronze medal from Sochi, the Finnish national team took home bronze at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and a gold medal at the 2011 IIHF World Championship.
“I wish I had 11 gold medals, but I don’t,” joked Ruutu, who said he felt better than expected after spending 16 hours flying from Sochi to New York to Raleigh and back up to Buffalo for the start of the Canes’ road trip.
So, what is the secret to his international success?
“The secret is it’s always been about the team, and I’ve been on great teams, like in this tournament,” he said.
Prior to leaving for the Olympic tournament, Ruutu said the key in Finland’s continued achievement on the international stage was that the country had knack for assembling a tight-knit, familiar bunch. That was no different in Sochi.
“I think so, and I hope that people watching the games could see that. You shoot for the gold, but I thought we had a pretty good finish at the end,” Ruutu said. “To succeed, you have to be a really good team, and I think it’s always been our strength. I thought it was our strength in this tournament as well.”
En route to capturing their third straight Olympic medal, Finland cruised past Austria (8-4) and Norway (6-1) before dropping a closely contested 2-1 game to Canada. The Finns then decidedly handed a disorganized Russian team a 3-1 loss in the quarterfinals before dropping another close 2-1 decision to the eventual silver medal-winning Swedish national team in the semifinals. Finland then drummed the United States 5-0 to capture bronze.
In six tournament games, Ruutu posted five points (1g, 4a), ranking tied for second among all skaters with a plus-6 rating and tied for third in assists (4). Ruutu’s lone goal was the then-tying goal in Finland’s preliminary round match-up with Canada, as he redirected an Olli Maata point shot on his 31st birthday.
In all, the Olympic stretch showcased Ruutu at his best, and that’s what the Canes will need going down the stretch of the regular season.
“I’ll just try to do my best and help the team in any way I can. I know I can help the team. I’ll just take it game-by-game. It hasn’t been an easy season for me so far, but the only way I can go forward is try to help the team succeed in every game,” Ruutu said. “That’s all I can do right now.”
“He was starting to really play his best hockey right before he went over, and it was a nice carryover for him to go into the Olympics. It’s got to be a confidence builder for him,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s going to have a big role here, and we expect him to come in with his veteran leadership and play hard.”
“He took his game to another level. He’s been working his way back from his surgery, and it takes some time,” said President and General Manager Jim Rutherford. “I thought prior to the Olympics for about three weeks, you could really see his game coming. And then at the Olympics, he took it to another level, so that’s a good sign.”
Ruutu got to share the bronze medal-winning moment on the ice with ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, who, at 43 years young and skating in his sixth Olympic games, was named MVP of the tournament.
“It was just amazing. I didn’t even know what to say,” Ruutu said. “As a player, it’s really special to watch him play and play on the same team. He’s a great teammate and a great example for younger guys. I think that’s why we’re so united. He treats everybody the same. It doesn’t matter if you play on the first line or the fourth line or if you’re one of the equipment staff or whoever, he treats everyone the same way and leads by example on and off the ice.”
Though this was very much likely Selanne’s Olympic swan song, considering he’s set to retire after his 22nd NHL season comes to a close in a few months, Ruutu playfully suggested that Selanne could return at age 47.
“You never know, he might be playing in the next Olympics. I think he could, to be honest,” Ruutu said. “If he wants to, he can.”
Away from the rink, Ruutu, a self-described sports fanatic, was able to see short track speed skating live in Sochi. Other events he caught on television.
“I was watching TV pretty much the whole time,” he said. “I was eating, I was playing and I was watching TV.”
Did he sleep? He laughed.
“A little bit.”
For Ruutu, the Olympic experience itself is unrivaled.
“It’s so cool to watch these people who play different sports. It’s so cool when you know that they’re devoted and done everything they can to be in that event,” he said. “It’s so cool to see somebody win, and you know all the hard work that’s behind them. At the same time, it’s sad to see someone not do so well, but that’s part of sports. I think that’s the greatest thing about the Olympics.”
As far as the accommodations in Sochi were concerned, Ruutu echoed what Canes teammate and Slovakian Olympian Andrej Sekera said when he returned.
“It was great. They did a great job hosting the whole tournament,” Ruutu said. “I have nothing to complain about. Everything was first-class for us as players.”
With a bronze medal – which Ruutu said was “really heavy” but “nice and well-designed” – adorning his neck, Ruutu returned to North America, his international resume even more impressive than it was two weeks ago.
“Best of all, it was just great to play with the guys, and you feel like you’re really united,” he said. “They do anything they can for you, and you try to do that for them as well. That’s a special thing and probably the greatest feeling in the sport.”
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