After a hectic two weeks, the World Juniors tournament finally came to a close with a showdown between perennial contender the United States, and the fastest rising hockey nation in the tournament, Finland. For Canadiens fans, they get to be happy regardless of the victor, with the US having prospects Cayden Primeau starting in net, and Ryan Poehling looking to build on his solid MVP case. For the Finns Jesse Ylonen would be itching to continue his strong play, and cap off his tournament with a gold medal.
Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen would again be between the pipes for Finland, as he dueled Primeau in a match up of the tournament’s best goaltenders.
Finland nearly took a lead less than three minutes in when Samuli Vainionpaa slipped K’Andre Miller’s coverage in front of the net and nearly dug a puck past Primeau, but Mattias Samuelsson snagged the loose puck, clearing it from danger. The two nations traded chances back and forth at both ends of the ice, and a dangerous Teemu Enberg rush was broken up by the smart stick of Phil Kemp.
An elbowing call on Rasmus Kupari gave the Americans the first power play of the game, and they nearly converted in under a minute, with Oliver Wahlstrom roofing a rebound from Luukkonen on a Poehling shot. However, an American forward was in the crease, causing the goal to be waved off for a crease violation penalty.
Bolstered by the no-goal call, the Finns killed off the remainder of the power play, then nearly added a goal of their own when Anton Lundell broke in alone on Primeau, but was stoned by the American netminder. Then Anttoni Honka was called for tripping, sending a lethal US man advantage back on the ice.
The US again threw their best at Luukkonen, but the penalty came up big once more, and then went a power play of their own due to a Quinn Hughes penalty for hooking. The most dangerous chance on the Finnish power play fell to the Americans with Sasha Chmelevski getting a perfect look while shorthanded that Luukkonen squeezed tight for a crucial stop just before the period’s end.
No goal but an incredible play by Logan Cockerill (Islanders) to set up a chance for Sasha Chmelevski pic.twitter.com/2xOA1f2r3K— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 6, 2019
With Aarne Talvitie injured, the second period started with Jesse Ylonen being promoted in his place on the Finnish top line. A heavy American attacked continued,and a one-on-one move from Joel Farabee drew a penalty for his team, the third American power play of the game.
Even as Finland killed off the man advantage, they would head right back to the penalty kill again, with an interference penalty the call his time. Again the Finnish penalty kill stood tall, and just after their man advantage expired the Americans went to a penalty kill of their own, with Evan Barratt taking a seat in the box.
Unlike their opponents, the Finnish power play converted thanks to Jesse Ylonen’s massive one-timer. Off a face-off Ylonen blasted a set up pass by Oskari Laaksonen to give the Finns a 1-0 lead on the power play.
Finland then attempted to give their goal right back thanks to another Teemu Enberg penalty, but the Finnish penalty kill was all over the United States, forcing Cayden Primeau to make multiple saves on shorthanded rushes.
The US continued to shoot themselves in the foot as the period wore on, giving Finland another power play chance due to an Oliver Wahlstrom penalty for tripping Kaapo Kakko. For the most part the Americans penalty killers did well to keep the puck out of dangerous areas, including Mattias Samuelsson taking all of an Eeli Tolvanen slapshot to the body while blocking a shot.
Heading into the final period the Americans trailed by just the one goal, but due to their multiple power play chances, they very well could have been leading if not for Luukkonen’s strong showing.
The American offence came roaring into the third period, spending the entirety of the opening five plus minutes in the Finnish end. Luukkonen continued to hold the fort against an onslaught of dangerous chances by the United States.
In spite of all the American pressure, the Finns added a second goal thanks to Otto Latvala. The fifth defender on the Finnish side wired a shot from the point, and Primeau couldn’t pick up the puck through the maze of teammates in front of him, giving Finland a two goal cushion.
It wouldn’t take long for the Americans to find a response either, just 61 seconds later Sasha Chemlevski finally buried a shot past Luukkonen, bringing the deficit back to just one goal.
Sasha Chmelevski (Sharks) gets one back for the United States pic.twitter.com/qkyoOoZjJL— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 6, 2019
And then the Americans added another goal under two minutes later, with Chmelevksi feeding a perfect pass across to Josh Norris, who snuck the shot just inside the post and past Luukkonen, tying the game.
As the clock ticked the minutes off and overtime seemed to be all but an inevitability, the resilient Finns struck once again. Top 2019 Draft prospect Kaapo Kakko collected a loose puck in a scramble at the side of the US net, then finished cooly past a diving Primeau, and Ryan Poehling who was doing all he could to stop the goal.
A furious swarm by the Americans with their net empty wouldn’t be enough, and Finland claimed the gold medal for the third time in six years. The players of the game would be Kaapo Kakko who had the game winning goal, while Sasha Chmelevski’s two points earned him the honours for the United States.
For the Canadiens, Ryan Poehling and Cayden Primeau collected their silver medals, and for Poehling he was named to the All-Tournament team, and the tournament MVP as well.