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Juolevi one win from another title

2016 NHL Draft prospect leads London into Memorial Cup Final on Sunday

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

RED DEER, Alberta -- Olli Juolevi is one victory away from a dream season.

And the 2016 NHL Draft prospect isn't about to overlook the final three periods.

Juolevi and London will face Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rouyn-Noranda in the Memorial Cup Final on Sunday. A win would give the 18-year-old Helsinki, Finland native three championships in the past five months.

"Right now everything has been perfect," the defenseman said. "We just have to make sure Sunday we win the game and it's a perfect season for us and me. I'm super happy for my decision to come here. It's been a great year."

As a member of Team Finland in January, Juolevi won gold at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship on home ice, and was named to the tournament's all-star team after leading all defensemen with nine assists in seven games. Earlier this month, he had 14 points in 18 games to help London capture the J. Ross Robertson Cup as Ontario Hockey League champions.

Teammate and fellow draft prospect Max Jones hopes Juolevi continues his winning ways Sunday.

"Knock on wood for him there," said Jones, a forward. "I think everything is going pretty well for him so far. Hopefully we can keep it going for him."

London defeated Rouyn-Noranda 5-2 in round-robin play on May 24. If London wins Sunday, it would cap an incredible run for Juolevi, who joined the club after being selected in the first round (No. 45) of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft last June.

Juolevi isn't measuring his success by championships alone, though. He's pleased with his improvement as a player, too.

"Just learning the difference between European and North American hockey … I can make faster decisions on the ice and am stronger in battles," Juolevi said. "It makes it easier to break into the NHL. You already know the North American game. Especially our team, we have [coach Dale Hunter] and those guys that have been in the NHL, and they know how things go there. They're preparing us for those things. I think it's a really big help for me, especially me coming from Europe."

Scouts have noted that development.

After a strong start to his season, Juolevi was ranked fifth among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's 2016 midterm list in January. In April, he retained his spot on Central Scouting's final ranking after recording 33 assists and 42 points in 57 regular-season games.

Only Jakob Chychrun of Sarnia, at No. 4, is ranked higher among North American defensemen. But Juolevi said being the first defenseman selected in the draft isn't a concern.

"It's more important that the team actually wants you and they think you're a good player and they need you and you're going to be a big part of their organization in the future," said Juolevi, who was named to the OHL's all-rookie second team. "I don't think being the first defenseman is that big of a deal."

That sentiment is typical of Juolevi, Jones said.

"He's a really good defenseman. He's a great guy too," Jones said. "I always find myself hanging out with him this year. He's always at my house or we're always going to do something. He's a really good guy. That's the most important part, is his character.

"Besides that fact, he's a great player too. He won the World Juniors. He put up a lot of points there. He's a good player. He shows it when he plays."

Juolevi will have one final chance to showcase it before the draft, which will be held June 24 and 25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"I've been part of great teams," said Juolevi, who is sixth in Memorial Cup scoring with six points through three games. "I think also I'm doing something right because my teams are winning right now. Still, we have to win Sunday's game. The whole season has been pretty successful for me. I'm just hoping to win the game Sunday."


What we learned: Well-rested London doesn't anticipate rust being a problem. It advanced directly to the Memorial Cup final and hasn't played since beating Rouyn-Noranda 5-2 on May 24. Rouyn-Noranda is content with having played one more game, beating host Red Deer in the semifinals Friday.

Players to watch: London forward Mitch Marner, who leads the tournament in scoring, has two goals and 13 points in the tournament and is within three points of the Memorial Cup record shared by Jeff Larmer of Kitchener (1982) and Guy Rouleau of Hull (1986). Linemate Christian Dvorak leads the Memorial Cup with six goals and is second with 10 points. Rouyn-Noranda forwards Timo Meier and Francis Perron are tied for third with seven points.

Quotable: "They're a fast team. They're a good team. We know each other very well. We've been watching games with each other. Both teams know each other. It's going to be a quick game up and down the ice. They've got speed. We've got speed. You've got to make smart decisions with the puck and execute properly." - London coach Dale Hunter

Sunday's game: Final, Rouyn-Noranda vs. London (4:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2)

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