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CanucksArmy World Junior Recap: USA 5 Finland 4

New Years Eve brought up the intriguing match-up in game 18 of the tournament, Finland versus the United States. This one’s been circled on my calendar for a while now for a list of reasons, being:

  • Olli Juolevi
  • Kailer Yamamoto
  • Quinn Hughes
  • Kristian Vesalainen
  • Casey Mittelstadt

This game was loaded with developing star power and for me, it lived up to the hype. I really felt that USA carried the first half of this game, dominating the young Finnish defencemen in the offensive zone. Finland struggled mightily to interrupt the cycle and just as much exiting the zone with control. Lets take a closer look.

 

First Period

USA opened up the scoring just shy of the four minute mark with an impressive wrister from Trent Frederic. For me, this shot was an eye opener because of wicked release. He picks the puck up in the high slot, curls the puck around the defender, Henri Jokiharju, dusts the puck off and snipes! 1-0 USA.

This 2-0 goal was a thing of beauty. It starts with a gorgeous pass through the seam by American defender, Scott Perunovich to Brady Tkachuk who quickly tapped it over to the white hot Casey Mittlelstadt for the one timer finish.

 

Mittelstadt must be having the time of his life during his coming out party in his future home in Buffalo, New York. I’ll admit, when the Sabres took Mittelstadt eighth overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick, in part because he opted to return to high school hockey for a large portion of the season over remaining with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Clearly, I was too hard on the decision and am happy to admit, I was wrong!

Mittelstadt is electric in the offensive zone and has the vision to go with it which makes him a dynamic offensive weapon and it’s showing in this tournament as he’s blossoming into the most valuable player. He’s now leading the World Junior Championship in scoring with four goals and five assists for nine points in four games.

 

Second Period

The Finn’s would get into penalty trouble in the second period when penalties to Otto Koivula and Aapeli Rasanen resulting in a five on three for USA. It didn’t take long for the Americans to capitalize, Joey Anderson swatted home a deflected puck to make it 3-0 for the red, white and blue.

Two minutes later the previously penalized Rasanen would make up for the infraction by gaining the zone and going top shelf on the Toronto Maple Leaf prospect, Joseph Woll. 3-1, USA.

The Americans would take consecutive penalties to put Finland on the man advantage. The storied stagnant Finnish powerplay took advantage with Eeli Tolvanen ripping a one timer to bring the Finn’s back within one. What. A. Shot! 3-2 USA.

This is Tolvanen’s bread and butter, the guy is a shooting machine but he has the reputation of disappearing for long periods of time. So far this tournament, I’ve liked his all-around game. He’s been noticeably physical, gaining the zone with control and distributing the puck, proving he’s more than just a good shot. I’m sure the expectations were near a goal per game production in the short tournament and he’s fallen short of that which is why we’re hearing some less than stellar reviews on his game so far. Tolvanen has one goal, four assists and 21 shots on goal and has been Finland’s best forward, what more can the poor kid do? Keep up the good work, Eeli!

After drawing within one, Rasanen would take a devastating penalty giving the lethal American powerplay another opportunity. Team USA captain, Joey Anderson would one-time a fortunate rebound into the open net for his second of the game. Two goal lead restored, 4-2 USA.

Third Period

Joona Koppanen would score a shorthanded goal to cut the American lead to one with this beauty of a shot that went post and in.

I was impressed with the push back from the Finnish squad who were dominated for the first half of the game but they were tenacious and refused to go quietly. A minute after the Finn’s drew within one, Winnipeg Jets, first round, 24th overall pick, Kristian Vesalainen made a quick cut towards the middle followed by snapping a shot against the grain which fooled Woll to even the game at four. What would the World Junior Championship be without blown three goal leads?

With the game tied late and seemingly heading to an entertaining three on three overtime, American defender, Adam Fox would finish a play he started. It began with a controlled zone exit, followed by Fox drifting up the right side of the ice unacknowledged who then received a pass from Mittelstadt and gained the zone making no mistake, scoring the late dagger to make it 5-4 USA!

 

Late game drama at the World Juniors, an annual expectation, what a game!

 

Observations

  • Olli Juolevi had a strong game and it didn’t go unnoticed by the Finnish head coach, Jussi Ahokas. Ahokas chose to deploy Juolevi with Dallas Stars blue-chipper, Miro Heiskanen, while trailing in the game with less than a minute remaining, taking Flames prospect, Jusso Valimaki’s spot in the rotation. A good sign that the head coach goes with Juolevi when the chips are down.
  • Juolevi played his best game of the tournament today and is continuing to mesh well with speedy Blackhawks prospect, Henri Jokiharju. Juolevi was doing all the little things as advertised again. He was breaking up plays in the neutral zone, forcing dump-ins, holding the blueline in the offensive zone, and even thread the needle occasionally with some nice stretch passes. He played 20:10 and was dependable for every second. An encouraging performance versus a stacked USA squad. If Juolevi can be consistently assertive as the talent pool compresses later in the tournament, he’ll start to stand out a little more and his value will be displayed. I’m really looking forward to Finland’s next game to see if Juolevi can continue this trend.
  • The newly formed, Kailer Yamamoto, Brady Tkachuk, Casey Mittlestadt line is quickly taking over the tournament since they were formed late in the outdoor game. They each played over 20 minutes and combined for seven points versus Finland. This is the kind of line that can win you a gold medal!
  • Strong game for Vesalainen today who played 16:24 and finished the game with one goal and added a helper. He was gaining the zone with control consistently and has been all tournament. He led the team with nine (6+3) even strength primary shot contributions and was the centrepiece of the Finnish attack at even strength. I’ve heard comparisons to Rick Nash and there are some similarities there, especially on zone entries. It appears the Jets have yet another offensive weapon in their system.
  • Quinn Hughes was noticeable out there in his limited icetime and not always for the right reasons. I understand the 17 year old is a high risk player, but he creates so much offense as he dictates the pace of the game with the puck on his stick, surely there’s a way to play him more than the 11:02 he played today, right?

Alright folks, stay safe out there tonight. Happy New Year!

  • Nice to hear Oli is playing well. It will be nice when the blue line is stacked with guys who can control the puck and get it out with poise. Tanev, Stetcher, Edler most of the time, Pouliot shows pretty great skill at this, Hutton has his blunders that do stick out, but he demonstrates good control as well. Add a Juolevi to that mix and I think we’re starting to put together a pretty good back end in terms of possession.

    We definitely need to get a more offensively able guy though. The lack of production from the D is a bit painful.

    • Assuming Canucks trade Guddy, then next year expect to see:
      Edler-Stecher
      Hutton-Tanev
      MDZ-Pouliot
      Joulevi will start in Utica and will be available once the inevitable injury (looking at U, Tanev!) occurs.

      Subsequent year. I expect Edler and MDZ will depart, and Joulevi (and possibly Tryamkin) will grab regular slots.

      • Can never have enough of players like this. Thackuk, Virtanen, and Gadjovich? Yes plz!

        But if there is a talented Dman available, still see Canucks going that route.

        • I think you’re right. The Canucks have a ton of good offensive prospects. If Petersson is as good as advertised, they only need two of Dahlen, Goldobin, Lind, Gadjovich, and Palmu to break out and they can fill out their top two lines.

          This draft also has tons of good defensemen available in the top of the first round, and the Canucks need someone who can move the puck.

  • Nice recap and appreciated the additional coverage on OJ. While reading about all the US goals I kept wondering whether it was a “Where’s Ollie?” moment or an “Oh no Ollie!” moment.

  • People should temper their expectations for Juolevi. Never thought of him as a pure offensive puck carrying defender, but more of a minute crunching Dman in the model of Ohlund (still today one of my favourite Canuck).