Special to AnaheimDucks.com
HELSINKI, FINLAND – Ducks prospect Julius Nattinen was among a jubilant group of Finns who captured the gold earlier this week at IIHF World Junior Championship in their home country of Helsinki. The 11-day tournament featuring teams from ten countries is always filled with drama and unexpected twists and turns, and this year's edition was no different.
In the gold medal game, it looked like Finland would win their second gold medal in three years until Russia scored with 6.9 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. But while Russia had visions of a comeback win, just 93 seconds into the extra session, Kasperi Kapanen scored a gorgeous wraparound goal to give the fans at Hartwall Arena – including Ducks legend Teemu Selanne, who had his Finnish national team jersey retired on December 30th – reason to celebrate.
Nattinen, who was selected by Anaheim in the second round of the NHL Draft this past June, was a valuable member of Team Finland with a goal and two assists in the tournament.
"All the games were very tough for us," said the 6-2, 190-pound forward. "Canada, Sweden, Russia – all very good teams that played us hard. We trusted our group and we knew we would win tonight and it actually happened...I am so happy right now. I feel great. This is so amazing."
|"I know now that I can play with top draft players and hopefully someday I play in the NHL," Nattinen said. |
While this tournament is an opportunity to see the best young players this sport has to offer. It's also an opportunity for the players to see where they stand among their peers.
"I know now that I can play with top draft players and hopefully someday I play in the NHL," Nattinen said. "Of course there are things I have to learn. What I'm doing now it's okay, but I know I have to be better if I want to play in the NHL. I have to be more physical and use my speed more because I'm fast, but I'm not fast enough. I have to work on that."
Joining Finland in the semifinals with the opportunity to play for a medal were Sweden, USA and Russia.
Sweden was a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary round showcasing a balanced offensive attack, physical defense and stingy goaltending, but they couldn't find that magic against Finland losing 2-1.
In the other semifinal, it was a similar story. USA averaged five goals per game through the quarterfinals and jumped out to an early lead in the first period, but the Russians pushed back in the second and the Americans struggled to respond, losing 2-1.
In the bronze medal game, USA was able to find their offensive spark again, while Sweden still struggled to get anything going. The Americans took home the bronze medal, only their ninth medal in tournament history, by a score of 8-3.
Ducks prospects Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, both defensemen for Team Sweden, shared the disappointment, but also the satisfaction of the experience.
"I learned a lot while I was here," said Larsson, who was drafted 27th overall this past June and finished the tournament with a goal and two assists. "I learned that you can't quit. We did really good in the group play and won the quarterfinal, but then the last two games, not so much. We needed to keep pushing and we didn't."
Pettersson, who had four assists in the tournament, also sees the value in the lessons learned in Helsinki. "I got a lot of experience playing against the best juniors in the world and with the atmosphere in front of all these fans. It helps you grow as a player," said the 6-4, 183-pound defenseman drafted in the second round in 2014. "The semifinal was the biggest game I ever played in my career. I can take that experience with me and learn from it and hopefully do better next time."
Next year's tournament takes place in Toronto and Montreal starting December 26th, and both Nattinen and Larsson will be eligible to return for their respective teams.