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World Juniors

5 things to watch in final of World Junior Championship

Hughes vs. Kakko highlight when United States plays Finland

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship ends with the championship and third-place games at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday.

 

Gold-medal game

United States vs. Finland (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

 

Bronze-medal game

Russia vs. Switzerland (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

 

5 things to watch

 

Hughes vs. Kakko

United States center Jack Hughes and Finland right wing Kaapo Kakko, top prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft, are set to meet in the gold-medal game of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship on Saturday.

Hughes was unable to play in a 4-1 United States win Dec. 31 because of an undisclosed injury. He's the projected No. 1 pick, and Kakko is projected as a top five choice.

"There's lots of talk, so time will show who is going to be No. 1," Kakko said.

Finland defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks) said, "[Kakko's] going to be No. 1."

Hughes has three assists and 12 shots on goal averaging 13:36 of ice time in three games. Kakko has one goal, three assists and 20 shots on goal averaging 14:58 in six games.

"I don't look at this as Jack Hughes versus Kaapo Kakko," Hughes said. "I'm just worried about myself and our team. I feel good where I'm at and I'm not going to stress over it. They have two NHL players on their roster, too, with Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators) and Henri Jokiharju."

Hughes and Kakko last played against each other at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Russia on April 29. Kakko scored once on two shots in a 3-2 win in the gold-medal game. Hughes had no points on four shots.

Video: Team USA to face Finland in WJC gold medal game

 

Finland confident

Finland forward Aleski Heponiemi (Florida Panthers) said likes its chances in the gold-medal game despite losing to the United States in the preliminary round.

"I don't consider us as an underdog," Heponiemi said after getting one goal and three assists in a 6-1 win against Switzerland in the semifinals Friday. "I think we are a really good team this year, and we always are, and I am really expecting us to beat them tomorrow."

Finland coach Jussi Ahokas said it generated enough chances in that first game against the United States but couldn't score. Finland also had 30 penalty minutes.

"We took stupid penalties," Ahokas said. "We can't sit in the box."

Finland opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss to Sweden, was outshot 39-28 in the loss to the United States, but has won two straight elimination games against Canada (2-1 in overtime) and Switzerland.

"We've always been the small country who has to fight in everything and give it our all and against bigger countries when it comes to sports," captain Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey Devils) said. "It kind of shows what kind of people we are when it comes to sports and different things. We're the small country that shows the way."

 

Very special teams

Dominance on special teams is one reason the United States advanced to the championship game for a sixth time. The Americans rank first on the penalty kill (12-for-13, 92.3 percent) and first on the power play (7-for-22, 31.8 percent).

Assistant coaches Steve Miller (penalty kill), Scott Sandelin (penalty kill) and Jerry Keefe (power play) work with the special teams.

"It was hard for the guys to score in practice on our penalty killers and it shows in the tournament," U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "Jerry Keefe probably doesn't get enough attention with our power play and how, without having Jack Hughes for three games, and without that creativity in the lineup, we were able to simplify so everybody played a big role."

Video: USA moves on to gold medal game after win vs. Russia

 

Primeau calms himself, then teammates

U.S. goalie Cayden Primeau (Montreal Canadiens) was praised by teammates for his calming presence in a 2-1 semifinal win against Russia, but the tournament didn't start that way for the son of former NHL forward Keith Primeau.

Hastings talked Thursday about Primeau being a bit overactive in his crease in earlier games, and the 19-year-old admitted he was anxious.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little nervous at the start of the tournament, but as the periods have gone on and the games have gone on I have gotten some confidence from the group," said Primeau, chosen No. 199 in the 2017 NHL Draft. "Everything is running through your head, so you're not really in your lane, and I'm just trying to clear my head space and get back to what got me here."

Other than sliding out of his crease during one sequence late in the second period, Primeau was in control against Russia, especially beating cross-ice power-play passes to make tough saves look easy.

"You can tell by the way he plays, he's so calm," forward Josh Norris (Ottawa Senators) said. "He's never really nervous. It's good to have a guy like that."

 

Golden chance in Vancouver

Quinn Hughes could win the championship in the arena he might call his NHL home. The defenseman, chosen in the first round (No. 7) of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, can help the United States to its fifth WJC championship; it last won two years ago.

Hughes has two assists, 17 shots on goal and is plus-2. He leads the United States playing 21:53 per game.

"I don't think I need to be wearing a cape out here," Hughes said. "But whatever it takes to win a gold medal, I'll do it. The atmosphere in Rogers Arena was great, even in warmups. I was like, 'Wow, this is going to be a pretty cool experience.' We'll have to really ramp it up [Saturday]."

NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report

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