World Junior Hockey Championship

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

Bad luck sends Finland to semis, Canada out at WJC

Associated Press
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Oh, Canada.

No, not the country’s national anthem, but rather their rotten luck in overtime of their quarterfinal game against Finland at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Vancouver on Wednesday night.

Both teams fought to a hard 1-1 draw through the first 60 minutes of the game, forcing a sudden-death overtime frame.

Canada has never come up empty-handed at a WJC when played on home soil, but all good things must come to end eventually. But maybe a country could have been let down a little easier?

Canada was given a golden opportunity to end the game when they were awarded a penalty shot just after the one-minute mark of the extra frame. Step up Maxime Comtois, Canada’s captain:

OK, back to the drawing board.

Their second golden opportunity to send themselves to the semis came shortly after.

Noah Dobson of Canada had the game on his stick after a beautiful cross-ice pass Vegas Golden Knights prospect Cody Glass. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was nowhere to be found in the Finnish crease. All Dobson had to do was get good wood on it and Canada was moving on.

Instead, this happened:

How much are those sticks worth again?

Utunen’s shot went off the stick of Glass, past Vancouver Canucks prospect goaltender Michael DiPietro, sending Finland into a frenzy and Canada into the can.

Ouch.

Finland moves onto the semifinals against Switzerland, who provided the first big upset of the day by defeating Sweden 2-0 in the other quarterfinal.

The United States was up 2-0 in the third period against the Czech Republic in the third quarterfinal game of the day.

Russia, meanwhile, will face Slovakia later on Wednesday.


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

Switzerland earns two penalty shots on same sequence at WJC

TSN
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Did you think that you had seen everything the sport of hockey has to offer?

Were you worried that you’d never be surprised again by the coolest game on earth?

Fear not, friends. The World Junior Hockey Championships was a new source for wackiness on Sunday night.

Yes, the game between Switzerland and Russia produced something that may not be seen again for a long, long time.

Two penalty shots. One play.

And if that wasn’t crazy enough, the lucky Swiss who benefitted from the madness went on to miss on both of those attempts.

Here’s why two were called:

The play was so bizarre, that even the IIHF was unsure of what the ruling was.

One tweet suggested that the two fouls on one play means a penalty shot followed by a two-minute power play, in this case for the Swiss.

But that wasn’t the call on the ice and the IIHF then tweeted this:

The misses have proved to be a big difference in the game. The Game was tied 3-3 in the second when Switzerland was awarded the shots.

Now in the third, they trail Rusia 4-3.

Here’s the missed, by the way.

File this under things that probably won’t happen again in your lifetime.


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

McDavid: ‘There’s always moments of doubt’

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TORONTO – Connor McDavid has an opportunity to help Team Canada capture a gold medal at a world junior hockey championship for the first time since 2009 when the Canadians meet the Russians on Monday.

However, the top rated prospect for June’s NHL Draft admitted following Sunday’s semifinal victory over Slovakia that this opportunity was in doubt.

McDavid suffered a fractured bone in his right hand during a fight in an Ontario Hockey League game on Nov. 11. The initial diagnosis pegged the 17-year-old to miss 5-6 weeks.

At the time of the injury he had 16 goals and 51 points in 18 games.

“I mean there’s always moments of doubt. Even when the doctor said kind of at the beginning it’s going to be close, there’s a couple weeks where you don’t know and then kind of at the end you realize it’s going to be a possibility,” said McDavid. “It was a long, long recovery, but it feels good to be where we are today.”

McDavid had two goals and five assists through the first five games of the tournament.

He added three assists as Canada defeated Slovakia 5-1 Sunday to advance to Monday’s final.

“I think I’ve been getting better each and every game,” he said. “It’s just natural when you’re missing that much time. I’ve never come back from an injury as a hockey player. It’s really hard to explain and it’s weird when you first get back, but I thought it’s been getting better.”

A visit to the doctors early in the recovery process had McDavid hopeful that he’d return in time for the Boxing Day start of the tournament.

“Kind of around the one week mark of the injury, week and a half. I went back for a check up and the doctor said it was already healing faster than he would’ve expected,” said McDavid. “That’s obviously good news. Long, but not as long as it could’ve been.”

McDavid finally returned to action in an exhibition game for Team Canada on Dec. 21 – 39 days after suffering the injury.

“The game feels different, everything happens really fast especially jumping into a world juniors,” said McDavid of the biggest adjustment. “A lot of stuff happens fast. Just the speed of the game, stuff happens fast.”

Monday will likely be McDavid’s one and only shot at a gold medal at the U-20 tournament. He’s eligible to play at both the 2016 world juniors and the 2017 tournament; however, chances are the NHL club, which selects him in June won’t be releasing him.

Hockey Canada will ‘look at everything’ regarding WJC attendance issues in Montreal

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TORONTO – – Holding the annual Under-20 IIHF Wold Junior Hockey Championship in Canada is supposed to be a success regardless of which city hosts it.

However, Hockey Canada appears to have hit a wall selling the tournament in Montreal.

The Bell Centre, which plays home to the Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs, are the two venues for this year’s tournament.

Though Canada’s quarterfinal match versus Denmark on Friday night drew 18,448 at the ACC, which has a capacity of 18,819, attendance numbers in Montreal were disappointing at this year’s event.

Canada’s four games at the Bell Centre, all wins, drew an average crowd of 15,222 well under the capacity of the arena, which has a capacity of 21,287 for Canadiens games.

“We’ll look at everything for sure, but we’ll do that when the tournament is over,” Hockey Canada’s President and CEO, Tom Renney, told PHT.

According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, fans at the Canada-U.S. Dec. 31st game were offered the opportunity to move down from the upper bowl, to the lower bowl, to make it appear that seats were full. That game had an announced attendance of 18,295.

The game that followed at 8 p.m. ET had just 3,991 fans to see Finland blank Germany 2-0.

When asked if he had an idea of why attendance was lacking in Montreal, Renney responded: “I do, but I’ll share that at a later date. It’s not really necessary to talk about that just yet. I think as much as we all have to work to be a solution to what might happen in Montreal moving forward. We’ll concern ourselves with that when the competition is over.”

Montreal and Toronto will split the U-20 tournament again 2017.