World Junior Championship Preview: Team Finland

Finland

Finland has been in every WJC since the tournament began officially in 1977.

They have been a moderately successful team as well. The Finns are 156-107-6 all-time, with 17 ties. Finland has successfully made it into the medal round 24 times in their 45 appearances. Of those 24 appearances, the Finns have won 15 times. They have won the Bronze six times, awarded the Silver Medal five times, and won the Gold in 1974, 1998, 2014, and 2016. There is always medal expectations for Finland, and deservedly so. The country has show some the best young talent before they became NHL stars. However, with the insurgence of smaller teams like Switzerland and Denmark, it has been difficult for the Finns to find consistent success in recent years. Since their Bronze Medal in Vancouver in 2006, the Finns have only won two medals, both of which were Gold.

Need a Bounce Back Year

As stated before, it has been hard for the Finns to find themselves on the podium in the last decade or so. Following Finland’s Gold in 2016, the Fins took one of the biggest drop-offs in tournament history, finishing ninth, and survived relegation b squeaking out two wins against Latvia. Last year saw a little bit of improvement, as Finland finished sixth, following a shootout loss to the Czech Republic in the quarter-final. This will be an interesting year, as the Finns have a couple really good prospects. up front, surrounded by the regular young talent around the top league in Finland, Liiga. However, if Finland wants to hold their title as a powerhouse in international hockey, they will need a good outing this year. However, this will be difficult as Group B is shaping up to be a very tough pool to play out of.

Who to Watch For

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

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The rise of the Sudbury Wolves has been one of the biggest stories in the CHL this season. Much of their success is thanks to one of the best goaltenders in the Ontario Hockey League, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Luukkonen has been solid backstopping the Wolves in his first season in the OHL. He is 19-5-1-1 in 26 games this season. His 2.49 GAA and .923 SV% are third-best in the league. The Buffalo second-rounder uses his 6’5″ frame to take up a lot of the net. However, his quickness and agility is the real game changer. How fast he can move at his size makes it difficult for opposing players. He has played big for the Wolves this season, and will be asked to play big for Finland next week.

Aleksi Anttalainen

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On defense, the Turku native has the opportunity to show his abilities for Finland, as he will be receiving top-pair minutes throughout the tournament. The Blainsville-Boisbriand defenseman is coming off an incredible season. He put up 47 points in 61 games last season with the Armada. He has taken a little bit of a dip, offensively, this season, as has the rest of his team. However, that does not mean he won’t produce the rest of the season. He is extremely capable of moving the puck out of his own end, and uses his speed to be quick the defensive end.

Lassi Thomson

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Another undrafted defenseman for the Finns, Thomson will be tasked with playing the big minutes against the opposition’s top players. The d-man from Tampere has done well in his rookie season in the WHL. With Kelowna, he has really been a threat on the blue-line in the offensive end. Especially while shooting the puck. His seven goals he has put in is tied for seventh in defenseman scoring this season. He has a very firm and accurate shot that can find its way through traffic, expect to see some power play time for Thomson come tournament play.

Aarne Talvitie

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Talvitie is a rather unknown, and unproven talent. Yet, he has potential to make an impact for the Finland team in the tournament. One of two university players on the Finnish roster, Talvitie has been exceptional for Penn State in the first couple months of the season. The Espoo native has scored five goals and 11 assists in the Nittany Lions’ first 17 games. His play has helped Penn State lead the Big Ten Conference in team scoring. Talvitie also played a key role in Finland’s Silver Medal performance in the 2017 U18 WJC, as his seven points was fifth best on the Finnish roster. He is a very good skater, and keen for creating scoring chances. His defensive zone play will also be at the forefront for a Finland team that is not expecting to outscore their opponents.

Linus Nyman

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While looking at his numbers with Lukko this season in the Liiga, one may not be impressed with Nyman’s numbers. However, the former Kingston Frontenac definitely has the scoring touch. While his use in Kingston was blended between scoring centre and depth/shutdown centre, Nyman will have to show he possesses the best of both worlds throughout the tournament. In his time with the Fronts, he was +26 in two seasons, proving his ability as 200-foot player in Canada. He averaged a point per game in the OHL, as he scored 135 points in 135 games for the Frontenacs. This included an exceptional 85-point season last year. Nyman’s consistency carried over into the playoffs. In 27 post-season games with Kingston, he scored 27 points.

Aleksi Heponiemi

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Last season, the Swift Current Broncos had an amazing run to the Memorial Cup. With an exceptional offense and solid defense, they were able to win the franchise’s third championship. One of the offensive weapons was Aleksi Heponiemi. Heponiemi joined Swift Current in 2016, and had a good rookie season, scoring 86 goals in 72 games. Last year, he exploded. With 28 goals, and league-leading 90 assists, he finished third in league scoring with 118 points. He was also an important playmaker for the Broncos in the playoffs, as his 25 helpers were best among all forwards. The Florida second-round pick from 2017 is now playing for Karpat in his home country. There is no doubt that he will be to go-to guy to kick-start the Finnish offense this tournament.

Roster

Goaltenders

Lassi Lehtinen (Lukko, Liiga)

Filip Lindperg (UMass Minutemen, Hockey East (NCAA))

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)

Defence

Aleksi Anttalainen (Blainsville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL)

Ville Heinola (Lukko, Liiga)

Anttoni Honka (JYP, Liiga)

Olli Kaskinen (TPS, Liiga)

Mikko Kokkonen (Jukurit, Liiga)

Oskari Laaksonen (Ilves, Liiga)

Otto Latvala (HPK, Liiga)

Joona Riekkinen (KalPa, Liiga)

Lassi Thomson (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)

Toni Utunen (Tappara, Liiga)

Forwards

Teemu Enberg (HIFK, Liiga)

Aleksi Heponiemi (Karpat, Liiga)

Kaapo Kakko (TPS, Liiga)

Rasmus Kupari (Karpat, Liiga)

Anton Lundell (HIFK, Liiga)

Niklas Nordgren (HIFK, Liiga)

Linus Nyman (Lukko, Liiga)

Sampo Ranta (Minnesota Golden Gophers, Big Ten (NCAA))

Aarne Talvitie (Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten (NCAA))

Samuli Vainionpaa (Ilves, Liiga)

Santeri Virtanen (SaiPa, Liiga)

Jesse Ylonen (Pelicans, Liiga)

Schedule

Dec. 26 vs. Sweden (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)

Dec. 27 vs. Kazakhstan (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)

Dec. 29 vs. Slovakia (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)

Dec. 31 vs. USA (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)

Statistics from eliteprospects.com

Records from iihf.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Pixbay.com

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Author: Tyler Kuehl

Born in Michigan, Tyler was bred in Red Wings home. However, through many trips to Ontario, he developed a love for the Leafs and Canada itself. Tyler does hockey play-by-play around Michigan. As a former player, he can give insight inside the locker room and minds of players. He’ll be covering the Canadian Hockey League, as junior hockey is one of his passions. You can also catch Tyler on his hockey show, The Kuehl Podcast.