Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig – USA TODAY Sports
Today marks the beginning of the World Junior Hockey Championships in Montreal and Toronto. It’s a highlight of many hockey fans season, as it pits the best U20 talent against each other.
The Canucks representation is led by 5th overall pick Olli Juolevi, as he and Team Finland look to defend their gold medal from last year. With a lot of roster turnover, Team Finland will have a bit of a challenge to recapture gold, but there is no doubt that they will be in the mix. As we’ve seen in years past, just takes a hot goalie, or an explosion of offence, or some good teamwork to make it all the way.
Finland played a pre-completion game against Slovakia in Sherbrooke, QC, on December 22nd, and Francois Carignan was nice enough to reach out to me and get some questions for the Canucks top prospect.
“You have some good young players on the team, what about the younger guys, do you think they can help you win the tournament?”
They are awesome, it’s a big
thing for our team that the young guys can step up and play good hockey. It was
[Sebastian] Aho, [Patrik] Laine and [Jesse] Puljujarvi stepping up with big
goals. Now, we are hoping that these guys can do the same thing.
This year Finland saw their top line all graduate to the NHL, so there are players that are going to need to step up to fill that void. 2017 Draft eligibles Eeli Tolvanen and Kristian Vesalainen will look to make an impact at this tournament. Juolevi will be leaned upon as Captain to help guide this roster; he was asked how his role changes on this team as a veteran and as the captain:
I think captains’ role is more like helping the
team. When you struggle, you can speak up. I am always doing my work on the ice,
and playing for the team. Just more about speaking up and helping the young
guys on the team.
From the conversation I had with Juolevi at Young Stars in Penticton and through the other various interviews, it’s clear that Juolevi is a leader in the quiet and lead by example sense. He is smart enough to recognize that leading by example can be one of the most effective ways to lead a team.
Of course, the question about why Finland has been churning out talent at such a high rate was brought up, and Juolevi was able to shed some light into why:
There is something with the
coaching when we are younger. A lot of playing around with the puck. Practice
your shooting, practice your passing. Not too much team stuff or working out in
June, it’s more about playing hockey.
This is something that I touched on before the season began, and Juolevi’s comments just reaffirm the thought process that practicing skills at a younger age is more beneficial than focusing on structure and systems.
The last topic about the World Juniors, was how Finland prepares this year when compared to last:
It’s a huge thing that we won
last year, as now everyone wants to beat us. It’s a different game this year
because we are on the smaller rink, where we last year we played on the bigger
rinks in Europe. Play hard every night, and a little luck is needed to go all
It’s interesting to hear Juolevi’s thoughts about the World Juniors, and his thoughts about being a leader.
Juolevi’s junior team, the London Knights, saw a lot of turnover as well. Francois asked Juolevi if that changes his approach there:
We are actually pretty similar
to Team Finland, with a few guys making the NHL. We have a bunch of young guys
that need to step up. For me personally, it’s about taking a bigger role and
helping the team win every night. It’s about playing my best every night
because [Mitch] Marner, [Matthew] Tkachuk and [Christian] Dvorak are now gone.
Have to step up and play good hockey.
Lastly, Juolevi was asked about how his first training camp experience with the Canucks went, and what he learned there:
How much you need to work to be
there and how good you have to be. You can’t have any weaknesses; you have to
be good every night. Be ready to play hard because all the guys are playing for
their jobs. It’s more serious, it’s not about going to the rink and having fun.
Obviously, you want to have fun but you want to be bigger and be a pro.
Obviously, most Canucks fans will be cheering for Team Canada to take home the gold, but with prospect Guillaume Brisebois being one of the last cuts, it’s hard not to root for Juolevi. The Canucks used a high pick to draft the young Finnish defenceman, and he will be a big part of their future, so tournaments like this will be huge for his long-term development.
Regardless, it’s okay to be excited for any team simply because the World Juniors begin today!
Big thanks to Francois Carignan for taking the time to interview Juolevi and provide the quotes.