Date: January 5, 2019

WJC Day 11 roundup

Kaapo Kakko gives Finns gold

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Finland 3, United States 2

Kaapo Kakko scored the winner with 1:26 left as Finland edged the U.S. 3-2 in the 2019 World Junior gold medal game on Saturday night.

Anton Lundell won the draw in the U.S. zone and defenceman Henri Jokirharju got the puck at the blue line. Lundell couldn’t bang in the rebound from Jokiharju’s shot, but Kakko backhanded it past the outstretched right pad of U.S. goalie Cayden Primeau.

Jesse Ylonen and Otto Latvala had Finland’s other goals.

Alexander Chmelevski had a goal and an assist and Josh Norris also scored for the Americans, who came back from a 2-0 third-period deficit. Noah Cates added two assists, and Jack Hughes, the top-rated 2019 NHL Draft prospect, had one assist, matching his output in his previous three games.

However, this night will be remembered for the big goal by Kakko, who is projected to be drafted after Hughes. It was his second goal of these World Juniors.

It’s the third gold medal in six years and fifth in tournament history for Finland, one more than the Americans. The Finns previously triumphed in 1987, 1998, 2014, and 2016. Winning is becoming a habit now.

At Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, the Finns killed off five man advantages against the U.S., which entered the final clicking at a tournament-high 31.8 percent. Shots favoured Finland 31-28, and Primeau and Finnish starter Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen were both heroic.

Despite the loss, the silver-medal Americans extended their World Junior medal streak to four straight years. They won bronze in 2016 and 2018 and gold in 2017.

With five U.S. returnees and seven Finnish returnees from last year, there was no shortage of motivation. The gold medal game was played at a high tempo befitting two of the tournament’s best skating teams.

In a scoreless first period, the Finns outshot their opponents 13-9, but the story was the high-quality chances around Luukkonen’s net.

The U.S. got the first power play when a forechecking Rasmus Kupari caught Josh Norris with an elbow in the corner midway through the opening frame. The Americans thought they’d opened the scoring at 9:45. Luukkonen deflected Ryan Poehling’s shot off the glass and it bounced out in front, enabling Oliver Wahlstrom to fire the loose puck in during a scrum. However, the goal was waved off since Chmelevski was in the crease. Video review validated the on-ice call.

On the second U.S. man advantage, the Finnish goalie made a fabulous stick save on Chmelevski at the side of the net. Late in the period, Luukkonen dazzled again after Cockerill raced in, deked around Jokiharju to the outside and centred it from behind the goal line to Chmelevski for a Grade-A chance.

Flirting with danger, the Finns killed off two more second-period U.S. power plays before Evan Barratt was dinged for interfering with Luukkonen. Ylonen opened the scoring for Finland with an absolute howitzer at 11:31, one-timing Laaksonen’s feed from just inside the blue line over Primeau’s glove. Ylonen got the lone Finnish goal in the 4-1 New Year’s Eve loss to the Americans in Victoria.

With Teemu Engberg off for tripping up Chmelevski, Sami Moilanen nearly tipped in a glorious shorthanded chance on the rush. Before the penalty expired, Kakko and Lundell failed to finish off a 2-on-1 break.

In the third period, the Finns stayed patient and supported the puck well as the Americans pushed for the equalizer.

At the six-minute mark of the third period, Latvala gave Finland a 2-0 lead when his wrister from near the centre point sailed through traffic and beat Primeau on the stick side.

The Americans stayed resilient. They struck back just 1:01 later on a broken play. Jack Hughes attempted a shot that was blocked by Laaksonen, and the puck squirted to Chmelevski, who scored from a bad angle to Luukkonen’s right.

The U.S knotted the score at 8:47. Chmelevski grabbed a loose puck in the left faceoff circle and backhanded it to Josh Norris, whose one-timer flew past a sliding Luukkonen.

With 10 minutes left in the third, Luukkonen smartly denied Jack Hughes on a breakaway. With the Americans coming on strong, he foiled Wahlstrom from the slot four minutes later.

Captain Aarne Talvitie’s efforts to play in the third period were hampered by an injured ankle. The Finns tried to gut it out as the Vancouver crowd of 17,206 chanted: “Let’s go, Finland!” And Kakko delivered.

Every previous gold medal game in the 2010’s has been decided by no more than two goals, and this tense thriller completed the pattern. Finland is proud to return to the medal podium after a disastrous ninth-place finish in 2017 and an underwhelming sixth-place run in 2018.

The result shows how much Finnish hockey has grown since the last time they played for a World Junior medal in Vancouver. In 2006, goalie Tuukka Rask stole the show for the Finns with his quarter-final heroics versus Sweden and bronze medal-winning performance against the Americans. Thirteen years later, Suomi is on top of the world.

This was the first IIHF gold medal game played at Rogers Arena since Sidney Crosby scored the 3-2 overtime winner against the Americans in the 2010 Olympic final. The arena also hosted the 2006 World Junior final, where Canada blanked Russia 5-0.

An added bonus for Vancouver fans was watching three future Canucks prospects in the final. Defenceman Quinn Hughes was a minutes monster and forward Tyler Madden also played a big role for the U.S. during the tournament. Finnish defenceman Toni Utunen, who broke Canadian hearts with his 2-1 quarter-final overtime winner against the host team, also showed good upside.

These young men are the future in Vancouver, and with hard work and good fortune, they could become as beloved as Henrik Sedin or Jyrki Lumme, who attended the final and got rousing cheers when they were shown on the big screen.

With this exhilarating tournament in the books, the eyes of U20 hockey fans now turn toward the Czech Republic, where the Finns will aim to defend their title at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ostrava and Trinec.

The Russian players pose for a team photo with their bronze medals.

Russia 5, Russia 2

Russia beat Switzerland 5-2 in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game on Saturday, as world-class skill and opportunism won out over a never-say-die attitude.

In the early game in Vancouver, the underdog Swiss hung tough with the Russians till the end, but just couldn’t come up with enough offence.

“Not a bad finish for a big tournament,” said Russian captain Klim Kostin, who was the target of booing at Rogers Arena, but scored the eventual winner midway through the second period.

Kirill Slepets led the way with a hat trick, and Nikita Shashkov also scored for Russia.

“I don’t think I was so good in the whole tournament, but in this game I was able to score three goals and help the team,” said Slepets.

Valentin Nussbaumer and Yannick Bruschweiler replied for Switzerland, which outshot Russia 36-24.

“It was pretty surprising for us, but at the end, we’re not going home with a medal and that’s pretty disappointing,” said Swiss defenceman Davyd Barandun.

Goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, who plays for the VHL’s HK Ryazan and remains undrafted by an NHL club, made some fantastic saves to keep Russia ahead, honoring the number 20 on his jersey. It was made world-famous by IIHF Centennial All-Star Team member and Ice Hockey Federation of Russia president Vladislav Tretiak.

While coach Valeri Bragin’s team is disappointed about failing to win Russia’s first gold since 2011, returning to the podium is a creditable achievement in itself. Russia medaled for seven straight years before finishing fifth in Buffalo last year.

“We had a meeting only with the guys,” said assistant captain Dmitri Samorukov. “We talked about it. We tried to say something about what we should do today. And it worked, because we won.”

With an assist, forward Grigori Denisenko took over the tournament points lead (4-5-9). Alexander Romanov’s assist padded his lead as the top-scoring defenceman (1-7-8).

It was a good run in Vancouver and Victoria for the Swiss. They won their one and only bronze medal in 1998 in Helsinki, thanks principally to David Aebischer’s great goaltending. This was the third time they’ve finished fourth after 2002 and 2010.

“It was our goal for the tournament that we wanted to reach the semi-finals,” said Switzerland’s Nico Gross. “But not just the semi-finals. We wanted to go further. We wanted to play for a medal. We’re really disappointed we didn’t get a medal.”

With a solid but unremarkable-looking roster, Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend got his team to compete hard in every preliminary round game and upset Sweden 2-0 in the quarter-final. The Swiss can go home with their heads held high.

“I think we’re getting better and better,” Barandun added. “Our coaches are getting better. Every year, Switzerland’s going to play on top.”

At the end of the day, this bronze-medal score is about what most observers would have predicted after Russia lost 2-1 to the U.S. and Switzerland 6-1 to Finland in the semi-finals.

Slepets opened the scoring for Russia at 4:25. The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl forward got all kinds of time and space as he stickhandled off the right side boards and popped a forehand deke through Swiss starter Luca Hollenstein’s pads.

“He’s pretty quick!” Samorukov said of Slepets with a smile. “I didn’t know that. We talked about how he was going to score one-on-one with the goalie.”

Two seconds after a Swiss man advantage ended, Shashkov scored high to the stick side on a 2-on-1 to make it 2-0 at 13:44.

The biggest Russian defensive breakdown of the first period saw Philipp Kurashev, Switzerland’s leading scorer with six goals, left alone in front of the net with under a minute left. However, Kochetkov denied him with a poke check that would have made Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower proud.

“First period, terrible,” said Wohlwend of the Swiss. “Terrible. I couldn’t understand it, the whole coaching staff couldn’t understand it. Such a great chance and we were sleeping. We played scared, we played slow with no courage and then, yeah, I had to get loud a little bit in the dressing room. Then it worked.”

In the second period, Switzerland jacked up its urgency and got on the board at 4:54. The Russians unwisely left another Swiss forward, Nussbaumer, unguarded at the crease. He accepted defenceman Simon le Coultre’s pass from the blue line, pivoted to the forehand and tucked it past Kochetkov.

The red-and-white, predominantly Canadian fans urged the underdogs on with chants of “Let’s go Switzerland!”, plus “Defence!” during a mid-game Russian power play.

Kostin, who issued an apology on social media for behaving disrespectfully after the semi-final loss to the U.S., tallied his third goal of the tournament from the slot to put his team up 3-1 at 12:53. The 19-year-old celebrated by plugging his ears.

“The crowd was booing the Russian team and me personally,” Kostin said. “When I scored, it was automatic. I did it automatically, but I didn’t want to offend anyone.”

Commenting on his spectacular play, Kochetkov said: “After the CHL Canada-Russia series, the annual series in November, I received a boost of confidence that I could also be good at the international level.” He had a superb 0.67 GAA and 97.8 save percentage versus the best of the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL.

Early in the third period, the Swiss kept coming, but Kochetkov barred the door. And Slepets, in a classic display of Russian opportunism, split the Swiss defence in the neutral zone for a breakaway and slid a backhander through Hollenstein’s legs at 6:33.

Pavel Shen was a hero on New Year’s Eve when he scored the winning goal against host Canada, but he had goat potential when he took a high-sticking double minor with under 10 minutes to play. Still, Kochetkov remained as impregnable as the Kremlin walls.

“We tried our best,” said Gross. “It just didn’t work out for us.”

With Russia shorthanded, Slepets completed his hat trick into an empty net for his fifth goal of the tournament with 2:01 left.

“It feels pretty good,” said Samorukov. “You win your last game, right? So it feels like gold. We can’t find the words for it. You’re family when you meet for two weeks, three weeks. It’s unbelievable just to see guys and all this stuff. It’s pretty special.”

Including the Soviet period, this is the eleventh Russian World Junior bronze medal of all time.

WJC Day 10 roundup

U.S. holds off Russia, will play Finland in final

By NHL.com

United States 2, Russia 1

Cayden Primeau made 34 saves, and the United States advanced to the championship game with a 2-1 win against Russia in the semifinals of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship at Rogers Arena on Friday.

Oliver Wahlstrom (New York Islanders) and Alexander Chmelevski (San Jose Sharks) scored for the United States, which eliminated Russia for the third straight year (semifinals in 2017, quarterfinals in 2018) and will play Finland, a 6-1 semifinal winner against Switzerland, on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN).

“It’s a pretty emotional tournament and obviously a game like that is pretty emotional, so just not trying to get too high, not trying to get too low is key,” Primeau said. “The goal is gold, so we’re not quite finished yet. The battle is still there, so it’s an honor and to do it with this group is something special.”

The United States is 8-1-0-12 against Russia in the tournament.

Grigori Denisenko (Florida Panthers) scored and Pyotr Kochetkov made 25 saves for Russia, which lost for the first time in six tournament games and will play the loser of the Finland/Switzerland game for the bronze medal.

“It’s a big disappointment, but a new day is [Saturday], a new game,” Russia forward Kirill Slepets said through a translator. “Our team is one of the best here. We were a little bit unlucky. We will fight for the (bronze) medal.”

Denisenko appeared to have given Russia a 1-0 lead at 12:13 of the first period, but a video review determined he redirected the puck into the net with his skate, which is not allowed according to IIHF rules.

Wahlstrom gave the United States a 1-0 lead at 14:29 of the first with a one-timer from the right circle off a pass from Logan Cockerill (Islanders).

Chmelevski made it 2-0 with a power-play goal off a pass from Jack Hughes (2019 NHL Draft eligible) at 4:20 of the second period.

“It was a little nerve-racking in the end, and they’re really hard to play against because they have a lot of high-end skill,” Hughes said. “It was nice to come away with the win. We’ll need to have the same effort [Saturday].”

Denisenko cut it to 2-1 at 13:36 from low in the right circle on a shot that beat Primeau (Montreal Canadiens) over his left shoulder.

Russia forward Klim Kostin (St. Louis Blues) almost tied the game 1:12 into the third period when his shot on the power play trickled behind Primeau, but United States defenseman Philip Kemp (Edmonton Oilers) cleared the puck away with his stick just before it crossed the goal line.

“I saw a guy take a shot and then it hit Primeau and I kind of lost if for a bit,” Kemp said. “Then I saw it drop down, and I knew I had to beat that guy’s stick who was in the crease, so I just tried to get a low position and dig it out.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking, it was just instincts. I don’t know if it was from practice, muscle memory or what not from just digging them out on the crease, but it was a huge play for us.”

Primeau made 15 saves in the third period to preserve the lead.

“He’s provided comfort for us when we’ve needed him,” United States coach Mike Hastings said. “When you play a team as good as Russia, they’re going to get their chances and you need that last line of defense to be there for you, to allow you time to catch your breath at times.”

Russia entered the game 5-for-16 on the power play (31.3 percent) but went 0-for-2 against the United States, which has the top penalty kill in the tournament (12-for-13, 92.3 percent).

“Your best penalty killer needs to be your goaltender, and [Primeau] was [Friday],” Hastings said.

Finland 6, Switzerland 1

Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey Devils) scored twice, and Aleski Heponiemi (Florida Panthers) had one goal and three assists to help Finland defeat Switzerland 6-1 in the semifinals of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship at Rogers Arena on Friday.

Finland will play the United States on Saturday for the championship.

“Of course they are the favorites, but I think we have a good chance if we battle hard and we are the guys who control the puck,” Finland coach Jussi Ahokas said. “We played better and better after every game.”

Rasmus Kupari (Los Angeles Kings) had a goal and two assists, Jesse Ylonen (Montreal Canadiens) and Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks) scored, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo Sabres) made 16 saves for Finland, which outshot Switzerland 33-17.

“We got a couple of goals straight from the beginning, so it gave us confidence to play through the game,” Talvitie said. “It was good we scored some goals. It was a boost on our confidence.”

Philipp Kurashev (Chicago Blackhawks) scored his tournament-leading sixth goal for Switzerland, which plays Russia for third place Saturday.

“The team that wants it more will win and we’ll leave it all on the ice,” Switzerland defenseman Simon le Coultre said.

Switzerland made the semifinal with a 2-0 upset of Sweden and 41 saves from Luca Hollenstein, but the 2019 NHL Draft-eligible goalie was pulled after four goals on eight shots in 7:43 Friday.

Ylonen, a second-round pick (No. 35) in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 40 seconds into the game, and Talvitie, picked in the sixth round (No. 160) of the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 2:01 apart to make it 3-0.

Jokiharju, who was picked No. 29 in the 2017 draft and played 32 games for the Blackhawks this season, scored on a power play to make it 4-0.

Akira Schmid (Devils) made 23 saves in relief for Switzerland, which won its only WJC medal in 1998 (bronze). Russia defeated Switzerland 7-4 in the preliminary round; the game was tied 3-3 after two periods.

“We played a good 40 minutes,” le Coultre said. “Now we have to play 60.”