I would first like to say that I am so glad to be back here writing for World Juniors and I am looking forward to covering Team Finland this year. As a Dallas Stars fan and the Finnish Mafia, I know that Finland always produces great players and I believe that they have a strong chance at earning a spot on the podium. With everything going on and how Covid has affected the world, I am glad that we are able to able to watch the tournament and I cannot wait to see how the teams are going to do this year. With that being said, let us discuss Team Finland’s outlook at the 2021 World Juniors tournament.
After not earning a spot on the podium because of a loss to Sweden in the bronze medal game, Finland returns to the tournament with a strong offense and some fresh faces in defensive lineup.
With Finland losing two of their three goalies from last year’s tournamen (goalies Justus Annunen and Jasper Partikainen will not be returning to the team), the team’s goalies this year will need to show up and prove to everyone else why they deserve a spot on the podium. Looking at the lineup, it seems that the starting position in net will go to Joel Blomqvist, the Pittsburgh Penguin’s 52nd pick at the 2020 NHL Draft in the second round. Blomqvist has been playing for Karpat of the Liiga and Hermes of the Mestis leagues in Finland while posting a record of 2-0 and a save percentage of 0.910 with Karpat and a record of 3-3-3 and a save percentage of 0.900 with Hermes. He is one of the two 18 year olds on in the goalie position, he will need to play his best hockey if he wants to keep the starting job in the net.
Finland’s defense lost some key players that won’t be playing in this year’s tournament, the top names being Lassi Thompson and Antonni Honka. However, the fresh faces and the returning players will look to lock down the offensive pressure from other teams. The defensive lineup is as follows: Santeri Hatakka (2019 San Jose draft pick), Ville Heinola (2019 Winnipeg draft pick), Mikko Kokkonen (2019 Toronto draft pick), Topi Niemela (2020 Toronto draft pick), Kasper Puutio (2020 Florida draft pick), Ruben Rafkin (eligible for 2021 NHL draft), Matias Rajaniemi (2020 New York Islanders draft pick), and Eemil Viro (2020 Detroit draft pick). Heinola is a returning player for the Finnish team and played for Lukko in the Liiga league. He will look to use his offensive skills to help support the offense and use his speed to close down other team’s offenses. Another strong defensive player for the team is Niemela, who played for Karpat of the Liiga league and will look to help move the puck around while playing a key piece in shutting down the offensive pressure from other teams. With a lot of fresh faces to the team and a few returning to the team, Finland’s defense will need to keep up with the other offenses, such as Team USA’s fast paced offense, of whom they played against in the preliminary game and lost 3 to 2.
Finland’s strongest feature coming into the tournament will be their offense. Their offense posts a great amount of depth and with lots of young soon-to-be eligible players for the next NHL draft, this offense will look to get ahead early against teams and will look to put up numbers to earn them a spot in one of the medal placing games. Finland’s forwards on the roster are the following: Samuel Helenius (eligible for 2021 NHL draft), Roni Hirvonen (2020 Toronto draft pick), Roby Jarventie (2020 Ottawa draft pick), Benjamin Korhonen (eligible for 2021 NHL draft), Brad Lambert (eligible for 2022 NHL draft), Anton Lundell (2020 Florida draft pick), Matias Mantykivi (2019 Boston draft pick), Henri Nikkanen (2019 Winnipeg draft pick), Juuso Parssinen (2019 Nashville draft pick), Mikko Petman (eligible for 2021 NHL draft), Petteri Puhakka (eligible for 2021 NHL draft), Mikael Pyyhtia (2020 Columbus draft pick), Aku Raty (2019 Arizona draft pick), and Kasper Simontaival (2020 Los Angeles draft pick). One of the top offensive players for the Finnish team is Anton Lundell, who played for HIFK of the Liiga league and posted some greats stats while with the team. He will look to be the team’s top player and if he is paired with two other strong players, their top offensive line could be dangerous to any team’s defense. Another thing that is positive for Finland’s offense is their younger talent they have, with some of them being eyed for top spots in the 2021 NHL draft. Players like Samuel Helenius, Benjamin Korhonen, Mikko Petman, and Petteri Puhakka will look to add depth the roster chart and will also look to either pair up with each other or some of the older guys and post some dangerous numbers for Team Finland. Offense will play a big part in this tournament and with the fast pace play amongst these young teams, Finland will need to put up goals early and will need to work both sides of the ice to be able to win their way to a podium spot in this year’s tournament.
In the pre-tournament game, Finland played Team USA and unfortunately lost 2 to 3. The game was fast paced and physical, with both teams looking to get their jitters out before the tournament’s start. Finland would score the first goal and hold the lead for most of the first period until Team USA scored late with only 5.4 seconds left in the first period. Team USA would score their second and third goal in the second period only 35 seconds apart from each other and both by Team USA’s Caufield. Finland would score their only other goal in the second period as well. The third period saw shots on goal, but none would hit the back of the net as Team USA took the only pre-tournament game 3 to 2.
Finland looked strong in the beginning of the game and held the lead for a good portion of the first period. It seemed some bad turnovers and rebounds were some of the weaker parts of Finland’s game. If they want to succeed in this tournament, they will need to look to close off the front of the net and make sure teams do not get second or third chances at the net. Both teams used speed and quickness in this game, however, Team USA seemed to be a step faster than the Finnish team. With Canada being the biggest threat in their round robin group, Finland will need to look at cutting off open paths for other teams while allowing quick and methodical breaks for their own offense. What Finland handled well in this game was getting front of the opposing team’s net and moving the puck around while on offense. Finland will need to keep the puck moving forward and look for smart and open passing lanes rather than trying to force a pass and end up turning it over.
Team Finland is looking to make a deep run again in the tournament and for them to do so, they will need to put up points early and they will need to play smart hockey. Finland has always put up good efforts in the World Juniors tournaments over the years, but if they want to reach gold, they will need to shut down teams on both offense and defense while moving the puck around and using the depth on their team to make strong and quick shifts on the ice.
I am excited to be covering Team Finland this year for the 2021 World Juniors tournament and I am looking forward to watching them win their way to the gold medal game. The first game in the opening of the round robin portion of the tournament will be against Germany at 6 pm ET.
- vs Germany @ 6 pm ET, December 25th
- vs Switzerland @ 2 pm ET, December 27th
- vs Slovakia @ 2 pm ET, December 30th
- vs Canada @ 6pm ET, December 31st
Photo Creds: @leijonat