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World Championship

Laine has learning moment in matchup against Matthews

Mental mistake leads to first U.S. goal in Finland's 3-2 victory at World Championship

by Carol Schram / Correspondent

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Finnish forward Patrik Laine turned up the heat on top 2016 NHL Draft prospect Auston Matthews on Sunday when he broke Jaromir Jagr's 26-year-old record for points by an Under-18-level player in the modern era of the IIHF World Championship.

Laine, expected to go No. 2 in the draft after Matthews, had back-to-back three-point games against Belarus and Germany in the tournament's opening weekend to pass Jagr, who needed 10 games to score five points in 1990.

Laine's scoring surge added intrigue to a head-to-head matchup against Matthews on Monday, when Finland played the United States in Group B round-robin action at Yubileiny Arena in St. Petersburg.

Laine was held off the score sheet in Finland's 3-2 win; he had three shots on goal and was minus-1 in 13:21 of ice time. Matthews had an assist, two shots on goal and a plus-1 rating in 19:09.

Laine is quickly building a reputation for a power-play one-timer from the left faceoff circle that's reminiscent of Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) or Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), but he served as a decoy with the man-advantage leading up to the game-winning goal by Leo Komarov (Toronto Maple Leafs) at 4:16 of the third period.

Komarov, Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers) and Jussi Jokinen (Panthers) worked the puck down low before Komarov beat U.S. goalie Mike Condon.

The goal, which helped Finland stay undefeated (3-0-0-0, nine points) and sent the U.S. to its second loss in three games (1-0-0-2, three points), served as a measure of redemption for Laine, who said it was "the worst game for me in a long time -- I don't know why."

Laine put two quality shots on net in the first period, but he also made a glaring defensive error that resulted in the first U.S. goal. With Finland leading 2-0 with 6:15 to play in the period, Matthews reversed a Finnish rush into the U.S. zone when he stripped Laine of the puck, then fed it up to his linemate Frank Vatrano (Boston Bruins), who scored against goalie Mikko Koskinen. The goal gave life to the Americans, who were limited to seven shots on goal in the first 20 minutes and 18 for the game.

"I thought it was offside; it's why I stopped playing," said Laine, who is 6-foot-4. "Then the U.S. guys started to attack, and I was like, 'Oh [crap], I have to get back.' It was my mistake and I'm going to learn from those."

Such mistakes are not uncommon among 18-year-old players, but they haven't been happening to Laine, whose stock has risen at light speed over the past four months. In a 2016 draft class that has had Matthews projected as the No. 1 pick since the minute the 2015 draft ended, Laine has gained ground since Finland won gold at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in January and he was named MVP of the Finnish Liiga playoffs after he had 15 points (10 goals) in 18 games and his team, Tappara, won the championship.

Laine's hot start at the World Championship added more fuel to the discussion that maybe Matthews isn't a lock to go No. 1 after all.

Laine and Matthews each has shown at Worlds that more development will be necessary before he can be an impact player in the NHL -but each has also shown that he's a quick study.

On Monday, Laine, who turned 18 on April 19 but remains eligible for U-18 competition, looked his age. There was the first-period mental lapse that led to the giveaway, a second-period hooking penalty on defenseman David Warsofsky (New Jersey Devils), and a big check by U.S. alternate captain Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets) that left Laine wondering what hit him.

"I think I noticed on the ice that the team against us was so much better than those other two games (against Belarus and Germany)," Laine said. "It was harder to play and a lot of physical play."

Laine may have just gotten his first real taste of what life will be like for him next season in the NHL.

Matthews said the game against Finland was a battle. His nemesis was Laine's linemate, Barkov, who was 9-for-13 on faceoffs; Matthews was 6-for-15.

"They're tough," Matthews said. "Barkov is an unbelievable player, really strong on faceoffs. That whole line, with Jokkinen and Laine, they're a good line."

The Maple Leafs hold the top pick in the June 24-25 draft, which will be held in Buffalo, and are in need of a No. 1 center, so Matthews remains a solid fit for them.

"He's a fantastic hockey player and he's motivated by the competition," said U.S. coach John Hynes, who had Matthews on the ice while the Americans pushed for the tying goal. "This kid's going to come to play every day and he's going to play for the right reasons."

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