One year ago Finland took home its second gold medal in three years at the World Junior championships thanks in large part to its incredible trio of Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho, the top-three scorers in the tournament.
With all three players now in the NHL (Laine and Puljujarvi were two of the top-four picks in the 2016 draft to Winnipeg and Edmonton respectively; Aho, a second-round pick in 2015, is having a wonderful rookie season in Carolina) the roster for the 2017 tournament was obviously not going to be quite as good.
Other than maybe Canada, there probably is not another junior hockey program in the world that can lose a trio like that and come back with a team that is anywhere near as loaded.
But nobody expected Finland to be in the position it finds itself in now.
Thanks to Switzerland’s come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win against Denmark on Friday evening, Finland not only failed to advance to the quaterfinal round of the 2017 tournament, but it now finds itself in the relegation round of the tournament where it will have to play a best-of-three series against Latvia for the right to return to the tournament in 2018.
The loser gets relegated to Division I Group A for next year.
It is a stunning fall for Finland and marks the first time in the history of the tournament that a country has won the gold medal one year, and then had to play in the relegation round in the next tournament (via Mike Morreale of NHL.com).
Again: This is a program that has won this tournament in two of the past three seasons.
To this point Finland has yet to win a game in this year’s tournament, losing a pair of one-goal games to the Czech Republic and a surprising Denmark team, and then losing to Sweden 3-1 on Thursday.
All of that put Finland into a situation on Friday where it needed Denmark to beat Switzerland to set up what would have been a huge game on Saturday against Switzerland that could have helped Finland advance out of the preliminary round and avoid potential relegation.
For a while it seemed as if Finland was going to get that help. Denmark actually held a pair of three-goal leads on Friday evening against Switzerland (3-0 and 4-1) but could not hold on as the Swiss rallied to send the game to a shootout, where it was able to win it 1-0 thanks to a goal from Marco Miranda.
Finland’s preliminary round game against Switzerland on Saturday is now completely meaningless.
The big issue for Finland this year was a stunning lack of offense that saw the team score just four goals in its first three games. Finland scored 18 goals through the first three games a year ago, with 10 of those goals belonging to Laine, Puljujarvi, Aho and Mikko Rantonen.
All four players are currently in the NHL, with Laine currently sitting among the league’s top goal scorers.