Finland captures gold in Vancouver
Six CHL players along with five other graduates will return to their respective clubs with medals following a thrilling end to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver and Victoria, BC.
Here’s a look at Saturday’s Gold and Bronze medal games from Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
FINLAND 3, UNITED STATES 2 – (GOLD MEDAL GAME)
Draft eligible forward Kaapo Kakko scored with 1:26 remaining to push Finland ahead of the United States 3-2 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, capturing World Junior Hockey Championship supremacy for the Finns.
Chicago Blackhawks defenceman and WHL graduate Henri Jokiharju (Portland Winterhawks) set up the goal with an initial point shot off an offensive zone faceoff victory, giving Finland gold for the fifth time in World Junior history (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016).
“This is unbelievable,” said star goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Sudbury Wolves). “It makes it even better after the disappointment of last year’s tournament. To bounce back like this, it’s just unbelievable.”
Jesse Ylonen put Finland ahead 1-0 midway through the second period before Otto Latvala added insurance six minutes into the third. The Americans rallied back quickly though as Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s) and Josh Norris struck less than two minutes apart at 7:01 and 8:47 to draw the U.S. even.
Kakko’s winner followed heroic performances from goaltenders Luukkonen and Cayden Primeau as Finland outshot the United States 31-28 and killed off all five power play opportunities against them.
Finland caps the tournament with a 5-2 record, defeating Canada in Quarter-Final play by a 2-1 score in overtime before eliminating Switzerland 6-1 in the Semi-Finals to reach their Gold Medal opportunity.
The U.S. settles for silver, taking home a medal in the tournament for a fourth straight year following bronze in 2016, gold in 2017 and bronze in 2018.
United States forward Ryan Poehling earned tournament MVP honours after recording eight points (5-3–8) over seven games. Finnish netminder Luukkonen, a former second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres was named the tournament’s top goaltender, posting a 1.80 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
CHL GOLD MEDALISTS FROM FINLAND:
Aleksi Heponiemi (Swift Current Broncos)*
Henri Jokiharju (Portland Winterhawks)*
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Sudbury Wolves)
Sami Moilanen (Seattle Thunderbirds)*
Linus Nyman (Kingston Frontenacs)*
CHL SILVER MEDALISTS FROM THE UNITED STATES:
Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s)
Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals)
Jason Robertson (Niagara IceDogs)
*- Former CHL player
RUSSIA 5, SWITZERLAND 2 (BRONZE MEDAL GAME)
Russia returns to the podium following a year’s absence as Kirill Slepets netted a hat-trick in a 5-2 bronze medal-clinching victory over Switzerland.
Slepets and Nikita Shashkov put Russia ahead 2-0 after one period before Switzerland’s Valentin Nussbaumer (Shawinigan Cataractes) cut the lead in half. Klim Kostin and Yannick Bruschweiler exchanged goals before the second expired as Russia carried a 3-2 edge into the third.
Slepets added two more goals in the final frame, sealing the deal with 2:01 remaining to give Russia its eighth World Junior medal in the last nine years.
CIBC Canada Russia Series standout Pyotr Kochetkov was excellent in the win for Russia, turning aside 34 shots as Switzerland had the upper hand on the shot clock to the tune of 36-24.
Swiss defencemen Simon Le Coultre (Moncton Wildcats) and Nico Gross (Oshawa Generals) both had assists while former Kamloops Blazers forward Justin Sigrist picked up a pair of helpers.
Switzerland finishes fourth in the tournament, their highest finish since doing so in 2010.
Russia’s Grigori Denisenko finished as the tournament’s top scorer, registering nine points (4-5–9) over seven games to be named to the tournament all-star team. Blueliner Alexander Romanov led all defenders with eight points (1-7–8) along with an event-best plus-12 rating to also earn the distinction.
Swiss forward Philipp Kurashev (Quebec Remparts) led his country with seven points (6-1–7) and was also named among the event’s top performers.
CHL BRONZE MEDALISTS FROM RUSSIA:
Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels)
Mark Rubinchik (Saskatoon Blades)*
Dmitri Samorukov (Guelph Storm)
*- Former CHL player