Team USA

Associated Press

Kakko scores late, Finland wins third WJC in past six years

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Revenge is sweet, especially when it’s shrouded in gold.

Just ask Finland, who sought out and tasted retribution’s sweet nectar in a thrilling 3-2 win against the United States in the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver on Saturday.

Kaapo Kakko, who will be high on the draft board in the upcoming the 2019 NHL Draft, scored with 1:26 left in the third period to break a 2-2 tie, giving the Finns their third WJC win in the past six years (fourth total) while simultaneously cementing the Scandinavian nation as the crème de la crème in hockey development over the past several years.

The U.S. seemed to have a limitless number of tools to beat any team put in front of them. If one well ran dry, they could tap into the next, or the one after that. No situation was too tough to handle. No deficit too big.

Coming into Saturday, all of those wells were overflowing. Their speed was too much for anyone not named Sweden to handle, and in the medal round, Sweden was nowhere to be found.

Their power play was tops, operating above 30 percent. Their penalty kill was nearly impenetrable, successful well over 90 percent of the time. And when all else failed, the Americans would just outskate you to death.

Finland knew.

They were beaten convincingly back on Dec. 31, when the Americans trounced them 4-1. What it meant for Finland at the time was simple and daunting: they’d have to through Canada on home soil — a place they had never failed to medal — if they wanted to win their third gold medal in their past six tournaments.

But it was in that game that Finland found their stride. They sent Canada crashing out of the tournament in a 2-1 overtime win. They carried that through to the semis, dispatching Switzerland 6-1 to set up their chance to right the wrong they endured as 2019 neared.

And they were well on their way to that in the third period on Saturday.

Finland opened the scoring in the second period when Jesse Ylonen fired home just after the midway mark of the game. That lead was doubled four minutes into the third period when Otto Latvala let loose to put Finland in the driver’s seat up 2-0.

But a collapse was about to happen.

The Americans reached the final by taking down the Czech Republic 3-1 in the quarters and then edging the Russians 2-1 in the semis.

They were nearly perfect throughout the tournament, only dropping an overtime decision to Sweden in the preliminary round.

They benefitted from ridiculous, undefendable speed, that deadly power play and a penalty kill that only allowed one goal all tournament.

So going down 2-0 wasn’t as daunting as it might seem, and the deficit didn’t last long.

Alexander Chmelevski pulled the U.S. to 2-1 just 61 seconds after Latvala’s insurance marker. With the momentum now swung violently in favor of the Americans, Josh Norris tied the game on a one-time 1:46 after Chmelevski gave the U.S. life, completing the hasty comeback.

The matchup between the two teams wasn’t exactly new. They had met 33 times beforehand, with Finland owning a 16-15-2 record. But they had never met in a gold medal final — somewhat surprising given that both teams are responsible for five of the past nine goal medals.

The U.S. just needed more of the same coming into the game if they were to be successful.

For the Finns, it was about neutering as many of the American’s threats as possible while capitalizing on the momentum they had created for themselves.

The Finns just seemed to want it more.

The U.S. had four power plays inside the first 30 minutes of the game, and five total in the game. That should have been a death sentence for Finland, but instead, the Americans struggled to find opportunities, and when they did, Finland’s best player on the night — goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen — shut the door.

The U.S. went 0-for-5.

Luukkonen was a beast throughout the tournament. The Buffalo Sabres second-round selection in 2017 entered the game with a .933 save percentage, and once again proved his worth in Saturday’s final, turning aside 26 shots.

Kakko, with his late game-winner, was named the player of the game.

The best goalie of the tournament was handed to Russia’s Pyotr Kochetkov, who had a .953 save percentage and a 1.45 goals against average with four wins, including one in the bronze medal game earlier on Saturday.

The best defenseman was Russia’s Alexander Romanov, who had one goal and seven assists in eight games, and the top forward was Team USA’s Ryan Poehling, who finished with five goals and three assists in eight games.

Poehling was also named the tournament’s most valuable player.

2019 WJC All-Star Team:

G: Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, FIN

D: Alexander Romanov, RUS

D: Erik Brannstrom, SWE

F: Grigori Denisenko, RUS

F: Philipp Kurashev, SUI

F: Ryan Poehling, USA


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canada hangs on for 2-1 win over U.S. in Olympic women’s hockey game

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — The Canadian women’s hockey team kept its perfect record intact at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Thursday with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the rival United States.

Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., and Hamilton’s Sara Nurse scored for Canada in the second period, while Kendall Coyne countered for the U.S. in the third.

Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., made 44 saves in Canada’s net and stopped Jocelyne Lamoreux-Davidson on a penalty shot in the second period.

American goaltender Maddie Rooney turned away 21 of 23 shots.

Both countries had already booked berths in Monday’s semifinals having won their first two games in Pool A.

Finland and the Russian team will play quarter-final games Saturday against Switzerland and Sweden.

With her 16th goal in her fourth Olympics, Agosta moved into second all-time behind Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser (18).

One of the most storied rivalries in sport has only heated up in recent years. Canada may have won four straight Olympic gold medals, but the United States has claimed seven of the last eight world championships.

After a scoreless first period, Canada struck twice in the second and Lacasse stoned Lamoureux-Davidson late in the period.

But Coyne beat Lacasse between the pads 23 seconds into the third to halve Canada’s lead.

After a review, officials decided Haley Irwin kicked in the puck and ruled no goal midway through the period.

Irwin was also called for closing her hand on the puck in a goal-mouth scramble at 16:08 of the second. Lacasse deflected Lamoureux-Davidson’s penalty-shot attempt wide.

Agosta elbowed a U.S. defender in the face less than a minute later, but the Canadians killed off the penalty.

Nurse’s wrist shot off Rooney’s right shoulder deflected into the top of the net at 14:56 of the second.

Agosta scored a power-play goal at 7:18 on a backhand feed from Natalie Spooner at the corner of the U.S. net. Rooney got a piece of Agosta’s shot, but not enough to prevent the goal.

Canada spent most of the opening five minutes of the game in their own end as the Americans pressed. Lacasse stoned an all-alone Hilary Knight four minutes after faceoff.

Canadian defender Brigette Lacquette roofed a backhand over Rooney late in the period, but the whistle was already sounding for players in the crease and it was quickly waived off.

Canada went 5-1 against the Americans in a six-game exhibition series this winter, although the U.S. beat Canada twice to win November’s Four Nations Cup tournament in Florida.

Thursday’s game was their first meeting since Canada edged the U.S. 2-1 in overtime Dec. 17 in Edmonton.

Both teams were clearly fatigued in that game as players on both sides were in full-fledged training mode. They hadn’t yet started their taper to peak for the Games.

Canadian head coach Laura Schuler played all three goaltenders in the preliminary round.

Ann-Renee Desbiens posted an 18-save shutout against Russia in her Olympic debut Sunday. Veteran netminder Shannon Szabados had 22 saves in Canada’s 4-1 win over Finland on Tuesday.

The Olympic hockey schedule has all teams, men’s and women’s, starting games at varied hours.

The Canadian women have had puck drops at 9:10 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. and Thursday’s game started just after noon local time.

“Throughout the year, we actually have made sure with our game times and our practice times that we varied them,” Schuler said.

The women played their final exhibition game before the games — against a university men’s team in Incheon, South Korea — at 10 p.m.

Report: Eichel invited to join Team USA at Worlds

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Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey are hoping to join Team USA at next month’s World Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic.

Eichel is of course expected to be one of the top two picks at June’s NHL Draft. The 2015 Hobey Baker winner led Boston University to the final of the frozen four where they fell 4-3 to Providence on Saturday.

Vesey, a third-round pick of the Nashville Predators (66th overall in 2012), just completed his third year at Harvard.

Meanwhile, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports Tyler Ennis and Cody Eakin are both headed overseas to represent Canada at the tournament.

Ennis has represented Canada internationally at the Under-20 tournament while it’ll be Eakin’s first time playing for Team Canada.

Rishaug also reports Ryan Johansen, Logan Couture and Jamie Benn have declined invites from Hockey Canada.

Report: Jackets’ Todd Richards to coach Team USA at Worlds

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The Columbus Blue Jackets conclude their season Saturday night when they visit the New York Islanders. However, Jackets’ head coach Todd Richards may have a little more coaching to do before enjoying the offseason.

According to Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch, Richards is expected to be named Team USA’s head coach for the World Hockey Championships.

Richards is no stranger to the international game. The 48-year-old Minnesota native served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. He was also an assistant coach of the U.S. team at the 2010 World Championship in Germany.

On Wednesday Hockey Canada announced its management staff for the tournament, which begins May 1.

PHT Morning Skate: Berglund’s scoring touch is back

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Patrik Berglund’s Swedish eyes are smiling after scoring six goals in the past eight games, including two against Nashville on Saturday. (The Post-Dispatch)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,200 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s late NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $275. Starts Monday at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

With all the injuries the Detroit Red Wings have, they need Jimmy Howard to be their savior. (Detroit Free Press)

That Nail Yakupov is such a bad teammate, you guys. He’s so bad that coach Dallas Eakins loved seeing him come to help out Matt Hendricks when dealing with some Hurricanes in a scuffle. This sarcasm doing anything for you? (Edmonton Journal)

The Tampa Bay Lightning will be erecting a statue for former captain Dave Andreychuk. Winning a Stanley Cup gets you some pretty great perks. (Tampa Tribune)

Give it up to Team Canada women’s team goalie Shannon Szabados who made her ECHL debut. Awesome stuff. (NHL.com)

Big time kudos to the United States Paralympic hockey team that took gold at the Paralympics in Sochi. (USA Hockey)

Finally, check out the video tribute the Buffalo Sabres played for Thomas Vanek who played in his first game in Buffalo since being traded back in late October. Vanek said after the game: “My previous experience when someone else came back, they didn’t do much so I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it was very nice and very classy of them.” Take that, Darcy Regier.