It is always a dream to win a prestigious international tournament on home soil, or in this case, home ice. The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 World Junior Championship is no exception to this.
Last year, Canada was able to live that dream by winning the gold medal with the tournament co-hosted by Toronto and Montréal.
This year, Finland was able to do the same thing in Helsinki.
On Tuesday, the day before a national holiday, Finland hosted rival Russia with a chance for national bragging rights in the junior hockey world. Russia got out to a quick 1-0 lead over the Finns on the powerplay in the first period. After a scoreless second period, 2016 NHL Draft prospect Partik Laine got the Finns on the board early in the third period, and brought the crowd at Hartwell Arena into an uproar. Russia came back to regain the lead just 1:17 later, but the Finns were not done there.
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Jesse Puljujärvi set up linemate, Sebastian Aho to tie the hockey game, 2-2 at the halfway point of the third period. Russia kept shooting themselves in the foot by taking penalties against the tournament’s top team on the powerplay.
With just 2:09 left to go in the game, and on the powerplay, team captain Mikko Rantanen re-directed a point shot from Vili Saarijärvi to give Finland the late lead. In the process, Russian captain Vladislav Kamenev got himself ejected from the game after arguing with officials and smashing his stick along the boards and cutting an off-ice official’s hand.
With no captain, and falling behind playing in the opponent’s building, many would think Russia was dead in the water. But the unthinkable kept happening. The Russians would pull goalie, Alexander Georgiev for the extra attacker in the dying seconds of the game. Russia was relentless, as they have been all tournament, and pressure the Finns until the dying seconds. Finally, with 6.9 seconds left on the clock, a point show from defenseman Ivan Provorov bounced off the leg of forward Andrei Svetlakov, and the Russians tied the game.
For the eighth time in the history of the tournament, the gold medal game would go to a 20-minute, sudden death overtime.
The overtime would not last long, as Finnish forward, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Kasperi Kapanen ended the game with a wrap-around goal to give Finland its second gold medal in three years. The players, and the fans went crazy and sent Hartwell Arena into a frenzy which lasted well into the night.
The gold medal game could have been the game of the tournament, but this tournament, as a whole, was one of the more fun tournaments to watch and follow over the course of eleven days.
Here is how the standings ended up after group play concluded on December 31:
|Rank||Team||Wins||OT Wins||OT Losses||Losses||Points||Goals For||Goals Against|
|Rank||Team||Wins||OT Wins||OT Losses||Losses||Points||Goals For||Goals Against|
The tournament started off with a clash of bitter rivals between the United States and Canada. After both Canada and the U.S. exchange a couple of goals each, the United States took a 3-2 lead late in the third period thanks to defenseman, and Minnesota Wild prospect, Louie Belpedio. Less than a minute later, top prospect in the 2016 NHL Draft, Auston Matthews put the game on ice with a rebound goal that Canadian goalie, Mason McDonald could not handle. Team USA would get its first win of the tournament over its arch-rival, and it would set the tone for the rest of the tournament for both teams.
Two days later, the U.S. were shutout at the hands of goalie, Linus Söderström and Sweden. Söderström stopped all 46 shots thrown his way by the Americans, and Sweden got a second period goal from 2016 NHL Draft prospect, Alexander Nylander to give the U.S. its first loss of the tournament.
Later on that day, it was the first matchup of the eventual finalists in the tournament. In this game, Finland got out to a 3-1 lead on the Russians in the second period. However, the Russians would storm back to take a 5-3 lead, and would go on to win the game 6-4. Little did we know that these two teams would have met again for all the marbles.
As for Canada, after a dominating win over Denmark, almost suffered the upset of group play against Switzerland. The Swiss got out to an early 2-0 lead on Canada, and looked like the faster and better team in the early going. Arizona Coyotes prospect, Dylan Strome brought Canada to within one before the end of the first, and Detroit Red Wings prospect, Joe Hicketts would tie the game in the second period. Switzerland, however, continued to play up to Canada’s pace, and the game would eventually head to overtime. After the extra five-minutes solved nothing, Canada was able to get past the Swiss and grab two out of three points.
The next day, the Swiss had to face the United States, trying to continue its impressive play. However, they came in to the game exhausted, and was crushed by the high-flying U.S. team by the final of 10-1. Both Matthews and 2016 NHL Draft prospect, Auston Matthews with two goals in the game helped the U.S. demolish the Swiss and send them to the Relegation Round against Belarus.
Team USA would finish the tournament with a matchup with Denmark on New Year’s Eve. Halfway through the first period, Denmark got out to a 1-0, and held the lead for over seven minutes against the Americans. But the Danes were unable to hold the lead, as Matthews would lead the comeback for the Americans. He finished the game with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win to finish as the second seed in Group A.
In the final big matchup of group play, Canada was looking to grab a much-needed win over the top team in the group in Sweden. Canada would get behind 2-0 early, and tried to climb its way back into the contest, but would fall to the tournament’s top team in group play, 5-2. Canada would not only finish third in Group A, but they would have to face the Finns in the quarterfinals.
Here is how the rest of the tournament shaped up for the ten competing teams:
|3||Belarus||RELEGATED||Switzerland||N / A|
|1||4A - Denmark||3||1B - Russia||4 (OT)|
|2||4B - Slovakia||0||1A - Sweden||6|
|3||3A - Canada||5||2B - Finland||6|
|4||3B - Czech Republic||0||2A - United States||7|
|1||2B - Finland||2||1A - Sweden||1|
|2||2A - United States||1||1B - Russia||2|
|Bronze Medal Game:||United States||8||Sweden||3|
|Gold Medal Game:||Finland||4 (OT)||Russia||3|
Denmark and Russia squared up for the first game of the quarterfinals, which almost saw the Russians get eliminated early on. The Danes had a 3-2 lead over Russia heading into the final minutes of the third period. With 44-seconds left in the game, Kamenev took a rebound off of a partially fanned on shot and beat Thomas Lillie to tie the game 3-3. In the overtime period, Kamenev was the hero again at the 5:00 mark as he put home a pass from Provorov in front of the net to send the Russians to the semifinals.
Slovakia was no match for Sweden in the quarterfinals, as the Swedes beat up on the Slovaks 6-0 to advance to the semifinals.
Same story for the Americans as they take care of the Czech Republic, 7-0. Matthews was, once again, electric in the game as he finished the game with the hat-trick and also registered an assist.
As for the last game, it was a back and forth tilt between the Canadians and the Finns. Canada would jump out to a quick 2-0 lead on Finland with goals from Strome and Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Travis Konecny. But if there was one lesson to learn from this tournament, never count out the Finns.
At the 7:20 mark of the second period, Canada went up 3-2 over Finland looking to maintain the lead. However, Finland made a move to bench goalie Veini Vehvilainen in favor of Wild prospect, Kaapo Kähkönen. This move would turn out to be the best move for Finland all tournament, as Kähkönen would come in and stop the last 22 of 24 shots faced against the Canadians.
From there, both teams continued to go back and forth, until the 14:10 mark of the third period. Tied 5-5, Canada got themselves into penalty trouble and the Finns were on the powerplay. It was time for Finland’s Laine to shine, as he ripped a one-timer through the five-hole of Canadian goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood. From there, Canada would apply the pressure, trying to tie the game up late, but Kähkönen would slam the door shut to eliminate the defending champions in the quarters.
On to the semifinals, it was Finland playing its other arch-rival in Sweden in a rematch of the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game. Sweden got out to an early 1-0 lead in the first period, but Finland was determined to get to the gold medal game on home ice. In the second period, goals from Roope Hintz and Antti Kalapudas were enough for Kähkönen and the Finns. In the third period, Sweden could not get the equalizer, and the Finns would advance to the gold medal game for the second time in three years. Sweden would have to play for the bronze against the loser of the United States and Russia matchup.
In the other semifinal game, it was a similar outcome from the first one. Team USA got out to an early 1-0 lead in the first period thanks to a goal from Coyotes prospect, Christian Dvorak. But the Russians would dominate the second period, as they forced the U.S. to play on its heels for a majority of the period. Russia would take a 2-1 lead thanks to goals from Pavel Kraskovski and Yegor Korshkov just 2:48 apart. In the third period, the U.S. would get some good chances, however the Russians would shut down the Americans with some strong defense. The Russians would beat the Americans for the third straight season, and would play for gold against Finland.
Finally, on to the bronze medal game between the United States and Sweden. Team USA was determined to come away from the 2016 World Junior Championship with a medal, and made a statement against the Swedes. After the U.S. got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Swedes would come back to tie the game heading into the first intermission. In the second period, the U.S. stormed out to a four goal lead, and it was all but over at that point. The Americans would add two more goals in the third period, and would beat the Swedes, 8-3 to claim the bronze medal.
Here is the list of the tournament’s best players, as selected by the media and directorate of the tournament:
|Position:||Name:||Country:||Current Club:||Drafted Team:|
|LW||Patrik Laine||Finland||Tappara (Liiga)||2016 Draft Eligible|
|C||Auston Matthews||United States||ZSC Lions (NLA)||2016 Draft Eligible|
|RW||Jesse Puljujärvi||Finland||Kärpät (Liiga)||2016 Draft Eligible|
|D||Zach Werenski||United States||University of Michigan (NCAA)||Columbus Blue Jackets (2015)|
|D||Olli Juolevi||Finland||London Knights (OHL)||2016 Draft Eligible|
|G||Linus Söderström||Sweden||HC Vita Hästen (Allsvenskan)||New York Islanders (2014)|
|D||Zach Werenski||United States|
|Tournament MVP:||Jesse Puljujärvi||Finland|
Puljujärvi finished the tournament as the leading scorer with five goals and 12 assists in seven games played in the tournament. Aho was right behind Puljujärvi in scoring with five goals and 14 points in his seven games played.
As for the leading goal scorer in the tournament, it was a two-way tie between Finland’s Laine and the United States’ Matthews, each with seven goals. Laine would finish tournament with 13 points overall, while Matthews registered eleven points.
Now we take a look back at some of the notable headlines of the 2016 World Junior Championships:
Biggest Surprise – Canada’s 6th place finish
The defending champions of this tournament came to Finland with no Connor McDavid, Curtis Lazar, Max Domi, Sam Reinhart, or Anthony Duclair, but they still had a good group of talent to lead the team this year. Guys like Jake Virtanen, Lawson Crouse, and Brayden Point were expected to lead this team as returnees to Team Canada for the 2016 tournament. Other players like Strome, Mitchell Marner, and Mathew Barzal were expected to be the next group of young stars to carry Canada to glory.
While playing in a tough group with Sweden and the United States, Canada has advanced to the semifinals of the tournament for the past 17 years. The last time the Canadians failed to advance to the semifinals was in 1998, when the tournament was held in Helsinki, Finland.
The opening game against the U.S. was certainly a shocker, but the biggest shocker was their almost-upset loss against the Swiss. Canada did not look like a powerhouse team that they have been in the past, and it showed heading into the quarterfinals against Finland.
Where the problems were for the Canadians was their lack of scoring, and shaky goaltending. Strome and Marner would finish the tournament as the leading goal scorers and point scorers, players like Virtanen, Anthony Beauvillier, and Brayden Point were, at times, absent throughout the tournament.
After the quarterfinals loss to the Finns, many placed the blame for the loss on Virtanen, as he took three penalties in the game, and two late in the contest to give the Finns a chance at the win. In the tournament, Virtanen was held to just one assists, only 10 shots, while taking five penalties in the tournament.
Overall, just two wins in the tournament is a disappointment in itself. And to finish sixth out of ten teams, and manage just 13 goals in the group play is unacceptable in Hockey Canada’s eyes.
There could be some changes in the World Junior team and staff for Canada come next season, but they will certainly look to correct what went wrong in this year’s tournament.
Biggest Disappointment – Sweden’s lack luster effort vs. United States
Yeah, it is disappointing to end up playing for a bronze medal at the end of a tournament like the World Juniors. A team comes so close to playing for gold, but come up one game short and has to settle for third place.
Simply put, it sucks.
However, to completely give up and pack it in during the last game is completely unacceptable.
That is exactly what Sweden did in the second period after a goal was taken off the board due to a high stick. Sweden’s Nylander tipped a puck into the USA net, however his stick was above the crossbar, which is not allowed in any level of hockey.
At the time, the game was only 4-2 in favor of the United States with 13:32 left to go in the second period. If Nylander’s goal had counted, it would have been a 4-3 game. Either way, Sweden had plenty of time to make a comeback against the United States, who they had beaten earlier in the tournament.
Instead, Sweden looked depleted, as though they had lost the game already right after the no-goal call. Team USA would go on to score four more goals in the game and claim the bronze by an 8-3 score.
To see a powerhouse team like Sweden quit the way they did in the second period, and play uninterested in even trying to come back is an embarrassment. However, Sweden did the same thing in the 2015 tournament when they played Slovakia in the bronze medal game. Apparently, the Swedes learned nothing of their performance from last year, and outdid that performance with an even more embarrassing loss in 2016.
Maybe it is time for a shake up in the Swedish National Program after two years of embarrassment in the bronze medal game. It was also the first time the Swedes have not medaled in two consecutive years since 2006 and 2007.
Best Game – Finland vs. Russia (Gold Medal Game)
No questions needed for this game, as Finland and Russia may be one of the most unrecognized rivalries in all of hockey.
So what was the second best hockey game then?
Next Best Game – Canada vs. Finland (Quarterfinals)
It was, perhaps, the most back and forth game of the tournament with Canada and Finland constantly exchanging leads throughout the contest.
Finland came out of the gate slow, and was not helped out by the play of Vehvilainen in net. The turning point of the game was when the Finns would turn to Kähkönen in net after falling behind again 3-2.
In the third, Canada tied the hockey game, only to trail once again just 1:07 later. But Finland would take a penalty just seconds after the go-ahead goal, which set up the Canadians to come back and score on the powerplay to tie the game, 5-5.
But there was no stopping the Laine-Aho-Puljujärvi line and the Finnish powerplay. With 5:50 left on the clock, Laine rips a shot through the five-hole of Blackwood to give the Finns a 6-5 lead. From there, Kähkönen was lights out, and Finland was off to the semifinals.
Next year, the tournament will come back to North America. Canada will host the tournament once again in the cities of Toronto and Montréal, with Montréal playing host to the medal rounds.
Here is a look at what the 2017 tournament will look like from a group perspective:
|Group A:||Group B:|
Belarus was relegated from the top division of the tournament, and Latvia will be promoted to the top division for the first time since the 2013 World Junior Tournament that was held in Ufa, Russia.
Can Finland defend its title, or will Canada reclaim gold on home soil? Or, will another team, like the United States or Russia, play spoiler and claim the gold on foreign ground?
The 2017 World Junior Championships will begin next year on December 26.
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