It was a World Juniors to forget for Canada, but a gold medal, two silver medals and a sensational performance between the pipes showcased some of the future for the Vancouver Canucks.
Toni Utunen entered the tournament virtually an unknown to many Canucks fans, that is until he played the role of overtime hero against Canada in the quarterfinals, and now has a shiny gold medal hanging around his neck.
Quinn Hughes was as advertised, and Tyler Madden showed why the Canucks were excited to get him in the 3rd round as the United States earned silver, while Michael DiPietro played his heart out, but couldn't get any goal support as Canada didn't medal on home soil for the first time ever.
Michael DiPietro, Canada
DiPietro got better and better with each game he played for Canada. His 95.5 save-percentage was third best at the tournament, while his 1.23 goals-against average was tops among qualified goaltenders. Just how good was he? He was named the Player of the Game for Canada twice. Both times in 2-1 losses.
The Windsor, Ontario product will now head back to the OHL and join the Ottawa 67s. A team he has only played once with before. He was traded from his hometown Spitfires to the 67s on December 4, played in one game, then was out in Victoria for Canada's Selection Camp.
With Ottawa, he joins a team that is setup to take a run at the Memorial Cup. The 67s are the top team in the OHL with a record of 29-7-3 and are currently ranked third in Canada in the latest Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings. A Memorial Cup champion in 2017 and the OHL Goaltender of the Year in 2018, DiPietro looks to close out his stellar junior career by adding some more hardware to his collection.
Toni Utunen, Finland
Utunen captured his second gold medal in less than one year after captaining Finland to an IIHF U18 World Championship in April. He has a chance to add another one at the 2020 World Juniors, maybe even as team captain, as he is the only one of the four Canucks prospects in the tournament this year that can return.
The 5-foot-11 defenceman had an up-and-down start to the World Juniors, but as time went on, he became more confident out there, moving his feet more and jumping into the play. It was moving his feet and jumping up in the play that resulted in his only goal of the tournament as he joined the rush in four-on-four overtime, got the puck and snapped it past DiPietro as Finland upset Canada in the quarterfinals.
Utunen finished with one goal, a plus-5 rating and 10 shots on goal in seven games, while averaging 15:39 of ice-time, including a tournament-high 21:57 in the gold medal game.
He will now return to his club team, Tappara, which with 23 games left in the regular season are sitting in third place in the Liiga (also known as the Finnish Elite League). Utunen is averaging just 11:06 with Tappara, collecting one assist in 21 games played so far this season. He is also the youngest defenceman on the team by nine years.
Quinn Hughes, USA
His skating ability was on full display as fans got to see the Canucks' blue-chip defensive prospect in Vancouver and Victoria up close. The crisp passes, playmaking decisions, spin-o-ramas, puck handling skills along the blueline. The only thing he didn't do was score. Hughes finished with two assists in seven games, ending his World Juniors career with five assists in 14 games. He averaged 22:11 of ice-time per-game, just 21 seconds shy of the team lead, and his 18 shots on goal were tied for fifth among all defencemen in the tournament.
Hughes will now head back to the University of Michigan, which is currently sitting with a 7-7-6 record (3-4-4 in Big 10). There are 14 games left on their regular season schedule before the Big 10 Tournament gets underway in March.
So far this season, the 5-foot-10 blueliner leads Michigan in scoring with 20 points (3-17-20) in 17 games, while his 1.18 points-per-game average is 18th among all NCAA players and fourth among NCAA defencemen. His 17 assists are tied for fourth in the nation among all skaters.
Tyler Madden, USA
Madden turned heads with his play at the World Juniors. A 3rd-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, he was not invited to the United States' Summer Camp in Kamloops, but his play this season at Northeastern put him on the national team radar and earned him an invite to the selection camp in December. His versatile play and ability to shift from centre to the wing seamlessly, got him a spot on the team. Along with Noah Cates and Evan Barratt, Madden's line was at times the best line for the Americans.
The 5-foot-11 forward finished with three goals and one assist in seven games, along with 19 shots on goal, while averaging 17:40 of ice-time per-game. He was named the Player of the Game for USA in their New Year's Eve win over eventual gold medallist Finland after scoring a pair of goals.
Now, Madden will head back to Northeastern University where he has collected 15 points (6-9-15) in 14 games so far during his freshman season. He is just two points back of the team lead in points, despite playing three fewer games. Northeastern currently sits with a 12-4-1 record (6-2-1 in Hockey East play) and is one point back of first place in their conference.