Two Colorado Avalanche prospects represented their respective countries at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, from Dec. 26, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016. Both prospects advanced to the gold-medal game with Finland and Mikko Rantanen capturing an exciting 4-3 overtime win over Sergei Boikov and Team Russia.
Rantanen was selected to represent host country Finland and was bestowed an even bigger honor as he was named captain of the team. In seven games, the forward notched two goals, collected three assists and fired 15 shots on net. In 22 contests this season with the Avs’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, the forward is tied for the team lead in scoring with 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) and leads San Antonio in helpers. The Nousiainen, Finland, native was selected 10th overall by the Avalanche at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida.
In the first game of Group B play, Finland shutout Belarus 6-0 with five of its markers coming in the final frame, including one from Rantanen. The second contest for the Finns saw a 6-4 defeat by Russia, but Finland bounced back two days later for an 8-3 win over Slovakia with Rantanen adding a helper. In the final contest of group play, Finland slid past the Czech Republic 5-4 to head to the quarterfinals as the second seed.
Finland again had a one-goal decision in a 6-5 win over defending champion Canada, which was then followed by a 2-1 victory over Sweden in the semifinals. Rantanen had a personal tournament-high two assists and had the primary helper on the game-winner to help the team beat its Scandinavian rival.
“It was a very good game for us,” Rantanen said to the IIHF website following the semifinal win. “Sweden scored the first goal, but we still kept going. I think that’s one of our strengths. We used the crowd as a strength too. It was the best game of the tournament for us.”
Defenseman Boikov represented Russia and skated in all seven outings, collecting six penalty minutes and registering five shots on goal. Boikov is currently a member of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL and has 16 points (four goals and 12 assists) in 29 games. The Khabarovsk, Russia, native was selected by Colorado in the sixth round (161st overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Russian team went undefeated through the semifinal round, starting the tournament with a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic. Russia beat Finland 6-4 early on in Group B play and followed it with a 4-1 triumph over Belarus and a 2-1 win against Slovakia. Russia knocked off Denmark 4-3 in the quarterfinals and overcame the United States 2-1 in the semifinals, sending the squad to the final game for a chance at capturing the title.
With the gold medal on the line, Russia landed on the board first and took a 1-0 lead through two periods. Finland surged in the third period, tying the game just 24 seconds in, but Russia tallied another one 1:17 later to retake the lead. The Finns rallied again with the equalizer, and Rantanen scored during a man-advantage situation to put his country ahead 3-2 with 2:09 left for what was thought to possibly hold up as the game-winner.
However with six seconds remaining in regulation, Russia tied the contest with an extra attacker on the ice to force additional time. Finland responded just 1:33 into overtime as the host country scored a wraparound goal to take home the prize.
The win was Finland’s fourth title and second in the past three years, while Russia’s silver medal was its second in a row. Rantanen has now played in two U20 World Junior Championships and was named one of Finland’s top three players in 2015. For Boikov, this year was his first World Juniors experience.
The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place from Dec. 26, 2016 to Jan. 5, 2017 in Montreal and Toronto, Canada.