Host Finland Thrives, Disappointing Exit for Team Canada
As it does every year, the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship proved fantastic. It certainly had its ups and downs, but overall, Bravo, Helsinki. You put on a tremendous tournament, and without a doubt showed the world that Finland is a hockey country, especially given how absolutely electric the host team was to watch. Two draft eligible players, 17 year-olds Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrick Laine, led the way as the host country took the gold medal.
The tournament was disappointing for Canadians, however. Canada finished 3rd in the group stage and 6th overall, failing to make the semi-finals and play for a medal for the first time since 1998 in the same host city of Helsinki. They got off to a rough start in an opening game loss to the Americans, their traditional New Year’s Eve opponent, and couldn’t quite put it all together. In Toronto last year, Connor McDavid, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart, and Darnell Nurse all proved themselves to be gamebreakers, but no such player stood out for Canada this time around. Some came close, with Coyotes’ prospect Dylan Strome’s excellence on the power play and Mitch Marner’s near-heroics in Canada’s quarterfinal loss to Finland (He scored 2 game-tying goals in the third period, and made this unreal move soon after), but the only true standout for Canada was Jake Virtanen. And not in a good way. Oh boy, not at all in a good way.
Blaming one player for a loss in a team sport is never really the right thing to do, but Virtanen couldn’t possibly have been worse in the game that ended in Canada’s elimination from the tournament. He took a needless penalty mid-way through the game to cancel out a Canadian power play about to happen, then took a double minor in the third period during which Patrick Laine scored the game winning goal for Finland. Some bad luck came into play as well, when defenceman Joe Hicketts launched the puck all the way down the ice out of play to put the Canadians down two men, on a play that would otherwise have possibly saved a goal. It wasn’t just the volume of penalties that Canada took that cost them either, their penalty kill was ranked last in the whole tournament, only preventing the opposition from scoring 59% of the time. The game had the makeup of an instant classic, but unfortunately the result means it will soon be forgotten by most Canadian fans.
The gold medal game of the tournament proved to be one for the ages as well. The host team and 2014 gold medal winner Finland took on Russia, who were appearing in their second consecutive final, having lost to Team Canada last year. The game was close the whole way, with Russia entering the third period up 1-0, but Finland scored early in the period to tie it, only to have the Russians take the lead again just seconds later. Finland added two more goals to take the lead, late in the period, and Russian captain Vladislav Kamenev was ejected from the game for screaming at the referees following Finnish captain Mikko Rantanen’s go-ahead power play goal. Just as all seemed lost, the Russians tied the game with 6.9 seconds remaining, forcing sudden death overtime. The Fins would claw their way back though, when Kasperi Kapanen scored a wrap-around goal to win the tournament in the same fashion Rasmus Ristolainen did for them in 2014.
Next year’s tournament begins on December 26th, 2016, and will be held again in Toronto and Montreal, with Team Canada playing their group stage at the Air Canada Centre, while the medal round will occur at the Bell Centre in Montreal.