The beloved IIHF World Junior Championships is a staple of hockey and was on TV’s of hockey fans around the world. The 2019 World Juniors in Vancouver and Victoria was no different. It went as expected if expected was fun and exciting hockey. Otherwise there were stories, upsets, headlines, and other topics that made this year unique. As the World Juniors have just come to an end, it is the perfect time to reflect on headlines and popular topics during the tournament.
Canada's Early Exit
Canada, one of the favourites to win gold, were upset in a quarter final game against Finland. For those who could use a recap or were uninformed, due to an unlucky bounce (lucky for the Finns), a Tolvanen shot redirected off Heponiemi and found its way into the net. Canada and especially goaltender Michael DiPietro who was having a terrific game were left stunned as the game was going to overtime. From there both sides had their opportunities to win the game and Canada started the overtime flying. An Evan Bouchard breakaway resulted in a penalty shot for Canada. Coach Tim Hunter chose captain Maxime Comtois to take it and it ended up being a controversial decision especially after the goalie saved his attempt. Later in overtime, Islanders defensive prospect Noah Dobson had a opportunity to win it with a one-timer. His stick ended up breaking and Finland went the other way. Canucks prospect Toni Utunen took a shot which deflected off of Golden Knights prospect Cody Glass’ stick and right into the net. Finland won.
Canadians and hockey fans around the world were shocked not only because Canada had been defeated but also the way that they had lost. Canada were the defending champs and are notorious for being one of if not the best hockey country. With the loss, it was confirmed that there would be a new winner this year.
The loss marked the first time that Canada failed to medal on home ice. So much for Christian Wohlwend, the Swiss head coach saying that Canada did not have true pressure.
Also following the game and disappointing result, some passionate fans took to Instagram to vocally display their displeasure with the loss and decision to choose Comtois for the penalty shot. I would like to mention that it is not ok to do this under any circumstances, especially to teenagers who wanted the the win and were disappointed as much or more than the fans. If Comtois could, he would have scored and Canada would have won the game but some things don’t work out that way.
Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko:
The two 2019 draft eligible prospects have been battling for the chance to go number one all season with Kakko having a great start to his Liiga season and Hughes continuing where he left off last season with the USDP. It has become a very close race where anyone of the two had a chance to pull away and take the reins for battle of #1. That left scouts and fans alike salivating at possibility of the two potential stars battling at the World Juniors. As anticipated and hoped both earned a spot on their respective teams. The game where the two young phenoms were scheduled to play in was on New Years Eve but Hughes did not end up playing as he missed the game with an injury. They did however end up finally meeting in the gold medal game. Hughes got a primary assist on the goal that started the comeback while Kakko scored the game and gold winning goal with 1:26 left regulation.
Hughes ended the tournament with four primary assists in four games while Kakko had five points in seven games including two goals.
Team Switzerland and Swiss Coach Christian Wohlwend
The Swiss were definitely a topic of discussion for multiple reasons. They were close in most games, upset Sweden in the quarterfinals, finished fourth overall, and had Christian Wohlwend behind the bench.
Before getting to Wohlwend I would like to give the Swiss team the credit that they deserve. Like mentioned previously, the Swiss put up a fight in every single in the tournament with the lone exception being the semifinal game against Finland. 4th may also not seem like too impressive of a feat but when we consider that this is Switzerland, a country that while they do produce talent are no where near a powerhouse, it becomes more impressive. For context, last year they finished 8th and in the 2017 World Juniors with eventual first overall pick Nico HIschier, they finished 7th in the final standings. Finishing at fourth, they were also ahead of Canada and Sweden. The latter whom they defeated 2-0 in the quarterfinals This year was impressive for the Swiss and they should be proud.
Wohlwend also deserves a ton of credit for what he was able to get his team to accomplish. The quote-machine was back and was in top form dropping these. First we get the somewhat weird and blunt albeit entertaining Wohlwend that we remember from last year.
Wohlwend said, “Every Swiss coach who works in Switzerland with junior program they are working hard. We have to give every junior seven lives. We can’t say like Canada ‘what? You don’t want to work today? Ok no go home, you don’t have come anymore.’ and then have a hundred or I don’t how many are waiting for his spot. We have to caress them and we have to hug them, we have to give them love and to come again, let’s do it again. This is what we have to do in Switzerland.“
“Playing now in the bronze medal game, I hope all our players are eager and horny enough to win this game”
“Canada every year, 99% for every tournament the chance Canada have to win a medal. 99%! And I heard that it’s pressure. That’s not pressure. When you have 99% chance to win a medal every tournament, that would be a very comfortable situation for Switzerland. You know what I mean? What does that have to do with pressure? That’s fantastic. When you talk about pressure it’s the best pressure ever in hockey.”
Then we get good guy Wohlwend, who discussed himself as a person and some of his morals.
“I’m just a passion guy, energy guy. When I’m playing with my kids then I have another passion, I have two boys. I believe in energy, I believe in love and then you have to show it and share it with people who surrounds you.”
“That’s one of my deepest value. I believe in honesty and I believe in authentic. Being like a robot is the worst thing that you can be as a human. We are humans, we’re love, we’re energy, so be honest…”
Wohlwend then continues to talk about love and being a good person. What a guy.
Going for Gold (and bronze)
As January the 5th approached, fans were left with two games. The bronze and gold medal games. The bronze medal game was more competitive than some would have thought with the Swiss only being down 3-2 to Russia after the 2nd period. It seemed like a comeback was completely possible and although it didn’t work out that way for the Swiss, fans were left with a entertaining game as Russia won gold.
Later that day was the gold medal game between Finland and the US which was also easily an entertaining game with back and forth action. The Americans thought that they had scored first but the goal was called off due to crease violation. Finland then proceeded to score two goals and take the 2-0 lead only for the Americans to score twice in a minute and 46 seconds to tie the game up at two. The game continued to be close with chances from both ends and with teams failing to capitalize. The game looked poised to enter overtime, however with 1:26 left in regulation, Kaapo Kakko was able to put the puck in the net. That goal would result in being one that the team will remember; the game winning goal.
Finland celebrating gold
Finland won gold for the 3rd time in 6 years. An impressive feat by the Finns as they try to put themselves on the radar as one of hockey’s top countries. The US were able to get their 4th straight medal in the World Juniors which is the longest currently active medal streak. Both teams win something, though the silver that the Americans take home may leave a little left to be desired. They should be proud of their performance regardless as they were the top teams this year and were there for a reason.
Congrats to Finland on winning gold, to America for winning silver, Russia for bronze, and all of the other participants for a great tournament. The World Juniors are expected to take place in the Czech Republic next year with Germany replacing Denmark.