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Five things learned from final day of World Junior

by Mike G. Morreale

Finland certainly has a flair for the dramatic in the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Forward Kasperi Kapanen, chosen in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins and later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored off a wraparound 1:33 into overtime to give Finland a 4-3 victory against Russia in the 2016 WJC at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, on Tuesday.

It marked the second time in three years Finland celebrated a gold medal in overtime.

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres) ended the 2014 WJC gold medal game against Sweden 9:42 into overtime.

Earlier in the day, the United States defeated Sweden 8-3 to win the bronze medal at Hartwall Arena. The U.S., which outscored the opposition 34-10 in the tournament, won its fourth medal in the past seven years (two gold, two bronze).

United States forwards Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins), Ryan Donato (Boston Bruins) and Matthew Tkachuk each had two goals, and forward Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (Boston Bruins) scored once for United States. Tkachuk is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft.

The United States defense was led by captain Zachary Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Carlo, his defense partner. Werenski led the tournament with a plus-10 rating, and Carlo was second with a plus-9 rating. Werenski finished with two goals and nine points, and led the tournament with 30 shots on goal.

Here are five things we learned on the final day at the World Junior Championship:

Kapanen caps special day: When Kasperi Kapanen scored the overtime winner against Russia on Tuesday in the gold medal game, he not only sent an entire nation into a frenzy, but scripted another chapter to an impressive family success story.

In 1998, Finland celebrated a gold medal on home ice at Hartwall Arena with a victory against Russia. That Finnish team was coached by Kapanen's grandfather, Hannu. Kapanen's grandfather was at the game on Tuesday, according to the IIHF website, wearing for luck the jacket he had on behind the bench in that 1998 final.

When Kapanen scored the overtime winner against Russia, he became third generation family member to celebrate an international gold medal. Kasperi and his grandfather, Hannu, each won gold at the World Junior Championship, and Sami Kapanen, Kasperi's father, won a gold medal in the 1995 World Championship.

Finland won its fourth gold medal at the WJC (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016).

Finnish flashes: Finland's top line of Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) centering Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine was phenomenal in the tournament.

Puljujarvi and Laine, each A-rated skaters on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, and Aho finished among the top three in scoring in the tournament and were named Finland's top three players. Puljujarvi led the tournament with 12 assists and 17 points; Aho was second with 14 points (five goals) and Laine was third with 13 points (seven goals).

The line combined for two goals and six points against Russia in the gold medal game.

Finland led the tournament with 35 goals and 12 power-play goals. It scored a power-play goal in all seven games of the tournament.

Matthews provided impact: There was a lot of pressure placed on the shoulders of United States center Auston Matthews entering the 2016 WJC, and he certainly lived up to the billing as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The 18-year-old led the tournament with seven goals and finished tied for the team lead with 11 points, and led the United States with a 52.5 winning percentage on faceoffs (63) in seven games. His 26 shots on goal ranked among the top five forwards in the tournament.

As the youngest player representing his country at the 2015 WJC, Matthews had one goal, three points and 16 shots on goal in five games.

"I think everyone really pitched in the whole tournament," Matthews told NHL Network. "All four lines contributed so that's always a good sign. It was a great group of guys, so to be able to walk out of here with the bronze medal is kind of a little bit of a cherry on top."

Matthews, an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch, is looking forward to returning to Switzerland to rejoin his teammates in Zurich. At the time he left to join his country for the WJC, he had 14 goals and 25 points in 22 games for the Lions. He isn't concerned with the draft at this point.

"I'm just keeping my world small and focusing on trying to get better each day," he said.

Nedeljkovic shined in goal: Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes) certainly solved what might have been the biggest positional question mark entering the tournament for the United States.

He made 25 saves in a 4-2 win against rival Canada in the preliminary-round opener on Dec. 26, and concluded the tournament with 35 saves in an 8-3 win against Sweden in the bronze medal game on Tuesday.

"I think we had a pretty good tournament, we came here to win gold, but unfortunately that didn't happen," Nedeljkovic said. "Bronze, I guess, is the third best thing. Better than going home empty-handed."

Nedeljkovic finished 4-2 and ranked second in the tournament in goals-against average (1.66) and save percentage (.942). He had the fourth-lowest goals-against average by a United States goaltender at the WJC, behind Al Montoya (1.33) in 2004, Rick DiPietro (1.33) in 2001 and John Gibson (1.36) in 2013.

He also had the third-best save percentage of any United States goalie to participate in the tournament, behind Gibson (.955) in 2013 and Montoya (.944) in 2004.

"It's hard to pick one or two things that I took away from this tournament," Nedeljkovic said. "It's been a lot of fun. We came together as a group in three-and-a-half weeks and that's a hard thing to do with guys coming from a lot of different places. So you got to enjoy time with a lot of different people and make new friends. Hopefully, many of these relationships will last for a long time."

Look ahead to 2017: The International Ice Hockey Federation on Tuesday announced the Group A and Group B pools for the 2017 World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto. The 11-day tournament will run Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, 2017, at Bell Centre in Montreal and Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

The tournament was last held in Montreal and Toronto in 2015 when Canada won the gold medal. In the 2017 WJC, Toronto will host preliminary round games featuring Canada, and Montreal will host the semifinal and medal-round games.

The Group A pool will have 2016 gold-medal winner Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark and Latvia. The Group B pool will feature Canada, Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Switzerland.

A schedule will be determined later.

The 2018 WJC will be held at the First Niagara Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo.

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