World Juniors Recap Day 9: Finland’s third gold in six years puts them among World Junior elite

Russia pushed just a little more to come away with bronze in another fantastic game.

This probably could have gone in the actual recap itself, but I didn’t have anything else to discuss here instead. After Russia’s devastating loss to the United States on Friday, Klim Kostin (St. Louis) was visibly distraught during the awards ceremony. He was fighting back tears and did not want to participate in the ceremony (though he was named one of Russia’s best players of the tournament).

Kostin took to Twitter after the game to apologize:

I didn’t think he really had anything to apologize for — it was an emotional night — but I thought it was a very classy gesture. Go Kostin.

Onto the games!

Game One: Russia 5, Switzerland 2
SOG: RUS - 39, SUI - 21
PP: RUS - 0/3, SUI - 0/7
Players of the Game: RUS - Kirill Slepets, SUI - Simon Le Coultre

After Switzerland’s loss to Finland in the semi-final, head coach Christian Wohlwend said that his team would need to play with a particular, uh, feeling if they were to win bronze:

Unfortunately, Switzerland was not “horny” enough to win this game, especially in the first period.

Luca Hollenstein (Anaheim) rebounded in a big way from being lit up for 4 goals in 8 shots against the Finns, robbing Russian Grigori Denisenko twice in the opening minutes.

Then a crazy bounce off the end boards saw the puck land in the crease, which Hollenstein swiped off the goal line. He had a very busy first five minutes.

Kirill Slepets (undrafted, but he shouldn’t be come June) beat Hollenstein five hole and gave Russia a 1-0 lead early:

The Swiss defense was extremely holey (pardon the pun) on this goal — Slepets walked in clean with all the time in the world. It took Switzerland nearly 12 minutes to get their first shot on goal and by then the shots were 9-1 Russia.

Hollenstein robbed Slepets on a 3-on-1 (he elected to shoot) before Saveli Olshanski went off for interference. Russian goalie Pyotr Kochetkov stopped Sven Leuenberger on the doorstep. Pavel Shen (Boston) took down Matthew Verboon, which was met with boos from the crowd — and there was no call. With Olshanski’s penalty expiring, the Russians came down the ice and Nikita Shashkov ripped a shot past Hollenstein:

Philipp Kurashev (Chicago) and Nando Eggenberger got some sustained time in the Russian end, but that ended when Simon Le Coultre took a slashing penalty. It didn’t last long, though, as Kostin took down Ramon Tanner five seconds later and we got some 4-on-4 hockey.

In the dying seconds of the first, Kurashev deked out a couple of Russian defenders before being hauled down. The Russians lost control of the puck and it squirted back out to him, but Kurashev was so exhausted that he couldn’t do anything before Kochetkov poke-checked him.

Switzerland came alive in the second (I’m sure Wohlwend had some choice words about their lack of, well, anything in the first). After Le Coultre made a great play, Valentin Nussbaumer (2019) got the Swiss on the board with a spinorama move:

Minutes later, the Swiss came pressing again and Le Coultre nearly tied the game. Then, Kurashev nearly came in alone on a breakaway, but the stretch pass missed him by inches. Their momentum ended when Eggenberger took a penalty. But Hollenstein was solid, stopping Kostin. Leuenberger made a tremendous block as well, but the Russians regained momentum. Slepets got speared in the face after he’d fallen to the ice but there was no call.

Then Kostin made it 3-1 with a rocket from the slot that beat Hollenstein blocker-side (much to the crowd’s displeasure). He made sure the crowd knew he didn’t care what they thought of him:

The Swiss were down by two again, but they would not wither away. Kurashev hit another post. And then this happened:

In my own words, I thought Kochetkov channeled his inner Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Yannick Bruschweiler channeled A-Rod. On subsequent replays, however, we actually saw that Justin Sigrist hit the post on his second chance:

Same, Pete. Same.

Switzerland headed into the third with all the momentum in the world, and actually started the last period really strong. Nussbaumer, Sigrist, and Bruschweiler had been Switzerland’s most dangerous line all game and Bruschweiler almost tied it at 3. The Eggenberger-Kurashev line had a great follow-up shift, including drawing a penalty on Vitaliy Kravtsov (Rangers).

Switzerland looked dangerous until a neutral zone turnover saw Slepets slip through the Swiss defenders, which cost them for good:

That was the third of four goals that beat Hollenstein five-hole. It was also Russia’s first shot of the period.

Sandro Schmid took a high-stick that drew blood. Russia killed off the entire four-minute powerplay, that included a couple of posts. Kostin tripped up another Swiss player afterwards to put Switzerland back on the powerplay. They pulled Hollenstein with four minutes to go, but Slepets put the game out of reach with a shorthanded, empty-netter to complete the hat trick:

And that was game. Russia won their eighth World Junior bronze, and a much happier Kostin celebrated with his teammates in the medal presentation ceremony:

Congratulations to Russia on a well-played game. They did give the Swiss chances to crawl back, but they came out on top. Kochetkov and Slepets both had tremendous games, and an NHL team needs to draft Slepets. While Kravtsov and Kostin have led the way offensively, Slepets has quietly gone under the radar. He could stand to bulk up a bit more (5’10”, 146 lbs), but his skill-set will greatly benefit an NHL team.

It was also great to see Kostin happy at the end of this game. He did take a couple of unnecessary penalties, but give credit where it’s due: he got up for this one, and it showed right off the bat. When it mattered, the Russian captain led the way, and they ended back up on the podium because of it.

Switzerland did let this game get away from them with a sleepy start to the first, but they have so much to be proud of. Plus, they’ll have 11 players eligible to return next year, including both Hollenstein and Akira Schmid (NJD). Add quote-machine Wohlwend to that, and they’ll be a force again next year.

The bronze medal game has often been a blowout, a one-sided affair, and somewhat painful to watch. But even though the final score wasn’t close, both Russia and Switzerland played a fantastic game of hockey. There were so many chances for both teams, and despite never climbing out of that hole, Switzerland never gave up — nor did they look out of it until the very end. The pace was incredible, the crowd was very engaged (especially when Nussbaumer scored), and it really did set the tone for the final game to come.

Gold Medal Game: Finland 3, United States 2
SOG: FIN - 29, USA - 27
PP: FIN - 1/3, USA - 0/5
Players of the Game: FIN - Kaapo Kakko (2019), USA - Sasha Chmelevski (SJS)

Wow, this game was amazing. It was kind of nice to not be stressed out for a gold medal game at this tournament, for once! Shoutout to Finland for that.

USA had good jump early in this one. Logan Cockerill, who had a monster of a semi-final game, drove to the net with the game’s first good scoring chance. Rasmus Kupari (Los Angeles) elbowed Josh Norris (Ottawa) to put USA on the powerplay.

This game had some controversy early. It looked like the Americans scored on the man-advantage. Sasha Chmelevski (San Jose) drove to the net and got taken down, but Oliver Wahlstrom (Islanders) put the rebound past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo).

The goal was waved off because Chmelevski was nailed for a crease violation, but the referee didn’t blow the play dead until after Wahlstrom had scored. The whistle should have gone when Chmelevski was in the crease. But because play continued, and Wahlstrom scored after Chmelevski had been dragged out of the crease, there was debate as to whether it should be a goal.

(Keep in mind that Russia had a controversial goal disallowed due to stricter IIHF rules on skate goals and lost.)

According to the official IIHF rulebook:

“If an attacking skater establishes position in the goal crease, play will be stopped and the ensuing faceoff will take place at the nearest faceoff spot in the neutral zone.” — IIHF Rule 184 (i) []

Chmelevski was in the crease. The play should have been blown dead, but it wasn’t. However, it didn’t matter:

“If an attacking skater establishes position in the goal crease, obscuring the goaltender’s sightline but making no contact, and a goal is scored, it will not count.” — IIHF Rule 186 (iv) []

So, no goal!

That was huge for Finland, because they’d been on their heels for much of the first.

Anton Lundell (2020) drove to the net after picking up a loose puck, but was stopped by Cayden Primeau (Montreal). It was Finland’s first good chance. Then, Anttoni Honka (2019) tripped up Evan Barratt (Chicago) to put USA’s number one powerplay to work.

Chmelevski was robbed by Luukkonen and then the post, and the Americans peppered the Finnish netminder with a flurry of shots until the powerplay expired. Then, Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) hooked Kaapo Kakko (2019) to put Finland on a powerplay.

Unfortunately, Finland’s captain Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey) got crushed along the boards by Mikey Anderson (Los Angeles), and his right ankle caught an edge on the ice:

Talvitie could not put any weight on his leg as he skated off and hobbled to the locker room. He would return to the game, but he did not look all right.

Chmelevski came in with a shorthanded chance, but was stopped by Luukkonen. A very entertaining first period ended with no (official) scoring.

USA came right back out flying in the second. Tyler Madden (Vancouver) came in with Ryan Poehling (Montreal) on a 2-on-1, but Luukkonen stopped Madden. Joel Farabee (Philadelphia) made a great move, couldn’t beat Luukkonen, but drew a penalty. The Finns would kill it off, but Otto Latvala took an interference penalty to put USA right back on the man-advantage.

When it was all said and done, USA had five straight powerplays. The tournament’s most lethal powerplay couldn’t capitalize on any of them — though Poehling had a nice chance here:

Barratt ran into Luukkonen and was called for goalie interference, and Finland made no mistake on their second powerplay opportunity:

Prior to Jesse Ylonen’s (Montreal) goal, the Finns put up furious pressure on Primeau. Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida), Linus Nyman, and Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) all unleashed shots that Primeau had to fight off. Unfortunately for him, there was no stopping Ylonen’s rocket, and Finland was up 1-0.

Teemu Engberg tripped up Chmelevski, but Sami Moilanen rushed in on Primeau with a glorious shorthanded chance to put Finland up by two. Kakko and Lundell got in on the shorthanded action too with a 2-on-1. The Americans looked less and less dangerous with every subsequent powerplay they were given, and Finland’s penalty kill put on a clinic.

Kakko got tripped up by Wahlstrom and the Finns headed back to the powerplay. Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo) laid out to block a bullet from Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville), who was still searching for his first goal of the tournament:

USA entered the third down just one goal. After a dominant shift from the Hughes brothers, Jack Drury (Carolina) and Chmelevski fought for the loose puck in the crease. Luukkonen stood his ground.

Talvitie brought the puck in over the blueline (he still did not look steady on his skates), and Primeau stopped Kupari’s shot. However, Talvitie was still fine enough to steal the puck from Poehling to help turn the play the other way:

There were three Americans screening Primeau and none of them were able to get a piece of Latvala’s shot. But 61 seconds later, a turnover in the Finnish end would get USA on the board:

That’s one hell of a shot from a difficult angle by Chmelevski. He had a monster game. With that, USA was down by one goal again. Wahlstrom missed a wide-open cage, banging the puck off the post:

But it was Chmelevski again, this time feeding Norris for the one-timer:

Talvitie did not look good on this shift. Hindered by his injured ankle, he could barely pivot around to intercept Chmelevski’s pass. If that ankle isn’t broken, it’s at very least badly sprained. He’s a trooper for staying in this one, but yikes.

Jack Hughes (2019) came in on a breakaway with a chance to give USA its first lead of the game, but Luukkonen shut his five-hole and turned him away. Then, Toni Utunen (Vancouver) and Jack Hughes fell on top of Luukkonen in the crease as USA pressed for another goal.

Kupari came in on Primeau, who fought off a difficult shot with his elbow. But with 1:27 left in the game, a mad scramble saw the puck land on Kakko’s stick:

The seventeen year old put the dagger in the Americans, as Finland claimed World Junior gold for the third time in six years.

We haven’t seen a country dominate this tournament since Canada from 2005-2009, but Finland is as close as it gets to a modern-day World Juniors dynasty.

There is something to be said for Finnish hockey development, too:

Although, the last time they won gold (2016), they were nearly relegated the year after:

Kakko’s goal marked back-to-back years where the gold medal winning goal was scored in the last two minutes of the third period (Canada’s Tyler Steenbergen scored with 1:40 left in 2018). It was a tremendous victory for this Finnish team, who didn’t really look like medal threats until their quarter-final victory.

Their youngest players really led the way for them, too:

Tolvanen finished the tournament without a goal, but he really came alive after being united with Kakko and Lundell — both of which are draft-eligible players. We haven’t seen draft-eligible players carry a team since, well, Finland in 2016. I guess they’ve really got it down.

It was also quite a week for Finnish head coach Jussi Ahokas — not only did he and his wife welcome a new son on Wednesday, but he’ll be bringing home a gold medal when he rejoins his family in Finland.

As for the United States, they fought until the very end. It was heartbreaking to see them allow the winning goal with so little time to mount another comeback, but this team reminded me a lot of the Canadians last year. They got scoring and defensive contributions from everyone. It wasn’t as skilled a team as in year’s past, but they played with passion and ran with it. You could truly tell this team came together and had great chemistry. They bonded. Backed by solid goaltending, this team was capable of winning gold. And it nearly worked.

They were undone by a fantastic Finnish penalty kill and a near-perfect performance from Luukkonen. The Hughes brothers were great — it’s a shame that Jack’s injury kept him out of so many games. It just looked like he didn’t have the linemates to really boost him (kind of like trying to find linemates Sidney Crosby). Maybe if they had, it would have been him delivering for USA last night.

Congratulations to Finland, the United States, and Russia on their medals. They were definitely the three best teams of the tournament. And even though my predictions were so, so badly off, at least I called USA’s silver, though it didn’t make it any easier to watch them after the game.

Enjoy your victory, Finland!

You played one hell of a tournament and final game, and you definitely deserve this. But if Vancouver mysteriously runs out of shopping carts, they may look your way first:

Looking ahead to 2020 briefly, the tournament will be hosted by the Czech Republic in Ostrava and Trinec. Thanks to the chaos of the medal round (with multiple upsets), we have USA, Canada, and Russia all in the same group. What madness. I’ve already dubbed it the ‘Group of Death’.

I’m already in World Juniors withdrawal, and it’s only been hours since the tournament ended. How am I going to survive another 11 months?

Whether you’ve followed along with the World Juniors coverage on Twitter or just through my recaps here, thank you. I may have fallen ill along the way and Canada may have played badly, but I’ve never had so much fun watching this tournament. I feel like I got to know the teams really well — and by the quarter-finals I found that I stopped needing to look at team rosters to check spelling, which is wild. I’m so appreciative of everyone’s support and grateful for the friends I made along the way. This would not have been nearly as much fun without all of you! Thank you for finding my content interesting (and tolerating it taking up your timelines), and hopefully I’ll see you back again for Boxing Day!

2019 IIHF Directorate Awards:

Best Goaltender: Pyotr Kochetkov (2019)
Best Defenceman: Alexander Romanov (MTL)
Best Forward: Ryan Poehling (MTL)

2019 Tournament All-Star Team:

G: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF)
D: Alexander Romanov (MTL)
D: Erik Brannstrom (VEG)
F: Grigori Denisenko (FLA)
F: Philipp Kurashev (CHI)
F: Ryan Poehling (MTL) — also named Tournament MVP

Final 2019 Standings

  1. Finland (Gold)
  2. United States (Silver)
  3. Russia (Bronze)
  4. Switzerland
  5. Sweden
  6. Canada
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Slovakia
  9. Kazahkstan
  10. Denmark (relegated to D-1A)

2020 Groups
Group A (Ostrava, CZE):
Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia, Kazahkstan

Group B (Trinec, CZE):
United States, Russia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany (promoted from D-1A)