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World Juniors

10 things learned from 2019 World Junior Championship

Kakko lives up to hype; U.S. medals fourth straight year; Russia happy with bronze

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

VANCOUVER -- The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship offered some big upsets, great goaltending, and a sneak peek at several potential NHL stars.

It concluded with Finland winning its fifth championship, 3-2 against the United States at Rogers Arena on Saturday.

The 2019 WJC most valuable player was United States center Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens), who had eight points (five goals, three assists) in seven games. It is the second straight year a U.S. player earned the honor (Casey Mittelstadt, Buffalo Sabres, in 2018).

The WJC Media All-Star Team included goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo Sabres) of Finland, defensemen Alexander Romanov (Montreal Canadiens) of Russia and Erik Brannstrom (Vegas Golden Knights) of Sweden, and forwards Poehling, Grigori Denisenko (Florida Panthers) of Russia and Philipp Kurashev (Chicago Blackhawks) of Switzerland.

Here are 10 other things learned at the tournament:

 

U.S. earns fourth straight medal 

The United States medaled for the fourth straight year at the WJC, the longest current streak by any country. In addition to this year's silver medal, it also won bronze in 2016 and 2018 and gold in 2017.

"We have a responsibility and, I'll just get historical here for a little bit ... this silver medal has (2019 Lester Patrick Trophy winner) Jimmy Johannson's fingerprints all over it," United States coach Mike Hastings said. "The torch has been passed on to (United States general manager) John Vanbiesbrouck and this group is the future of USA Hockey. This isn't going to be the last time they're going to wear a red, white and blue jersey and represent our country."

Johannson served as United States National Junior Team GM for nine years before he died of heart disease at 53 on Jan. 21, 2018.

"At the end of the day, we'll look back on this and it's going to be an unbelievable memory for myself and our team," Hastings said.

Video: Recapping all of Team USA's WJC games

 

Kakko's golden moment

Kaapo Kakko, projected to be a top-five selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, had his coach and teammates buzzing after he scored the game-winning goal at 18:34 of the third period for Finland against the United States in the gold medal game.

"He had the confidence and we gave him the role and I think that's the biggest thing," Finland coach Jussi Ahokas said. "He's a future superstar. That's the good thing about Finland, we are producing players like that."

Kakko had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and tied for fourth in scoring for Finland.

"He's a winner, scored the winner, and I think he's going to be the No. 1 pick for sure," Finland defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks) said. "He's a big guy. He's playing with men (for TSP in Liiga) and he's ready."

Finland captain Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey Devils) and right wing Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators) also came away impressed.

"He's unbelievable ... first tournament and he scores a goal like that?" Talvitie said. "It sums up his tournament, for sure."

Said Tolvanen, "He's going to be the first overall pick, for sure. He's so young, but he seems like a third-year veteran guy out there. He doesn't fear anything."

Video: Breaking down the USA's gold medal loss to Finland

 

Unhappy homecoming

Canada fell short of playing for a medal at the WJC for the second time in 21 years and first time in 13 opportunities as host.

A 2-1 overtime loss in the quarterfinals against Finland also meant that Canada and the United States would not meet at any point in the tournament for the first time since 2005.

Canada scored 22 goals in preliminary-round wins against Denmark, Switzerland and Czech Republic, but scored two combined goals in consecutive losses to Russia and Finland to conclude the tournament.

"At the end of the day, winning's more important and we didn't do that," goalie Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks) said. "I'm at a loss for words. You feel like you let your country down."

 

Crazy for Kazakhstan

The support for Kazakhstan by the fans in Victoria and Vancouver won't be forgotten. 

Tweet from @mikemorrealeNHL: Kazakhstan scores against Sweden and fans in Victoria, B.C., party! pic.twitter.com/ZljfKRcnN7

Kazakhstan, returning to the top level of the WJC for the first time since 2009, defeated Denmark in a best-of-3 relegation series in two games and received tremendous ovations after every positive play, including fans singing along when its goal song, 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond, was played.

 

IIHF leaning towards smaller ice 

The IIHF is leaning towards playing on the smaller ice surface used by the NHL when hosting future events in Europe, according to president René Fasel.

The standard ice surface sanctioned by the IIHF is 200 feet by 100 feet, about 15 feet wider than the NHL. But Fasel said that ideal is changing, citing games on narrower ice at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the 2019 WJC and in the NHL. He said the IIHF will ask organizers of the 2022 Beijing Olympics to build smaller surfaces, and the 2022 IIHF World Championships in Finland will be played on the NHL standard ice surface.

"I think in the future, having the best League in the world playing on small ice, having the best players of the world playing on small ice, that's the question, why not play on small ice in the future?" Fasel said. "That should be our goal."

 

Denmark denied 

Denmark failed to score a goal in four straight preliminary-round games, becoming the first team to do so since the WJC switched to its current 10-team format in 1996.

Denmark, which scored three goals in six tournament games (shut out five times), will play in the 2020 WJC Division I, Group A tournament after losing its best-of-3 relegation series to Kazakhstan. Germany, which won the Division IA in December, will replace Denmark in the top group.

 

NHL Draft evaluations

Several underage players elevated their stock for the 2019 draft.

U.S. forward Jack Hughes (5-10, 168), projected as the No. 1 pick, missed three games because of an undisclosed injury but had four assists in four games. Russia left wing Kirill Slepets (5-10, 165) exhibited plenty of speed and skill, scoring a hat trick in a 5-2 win against Switzerland in the bronze medal game. He finished with seven points (five goals, two assists) in seven games.  

Russia right wing Vasili Podkolzin (6-1, 190) played a fourth-line role, but had three assists in seven games.

 

Sweden falls short

Sweden finished unbeaten in the preliminary round for the 12th straight year but failed to medal for the fifth time in that span after finishing fifth.

After outscoring its opponents 16-8 to earn the top seed in Group B (3-1-0-0), Sweden lost 2-0 against fourth-place Switzerland in the quarterfinals on Jan. 2. 

Sweden has won 48 straight preliminary-round games, last losing 3-2 in overtime to the United States on Dec. 31, 2006, and has outscored its opponents 250-85 during the streak, which includes 42 wins in regulation, two in overtime and four in a shootout. Sweden has won one gold medal, five silver medals and one bronze medal in that span.

 

Russia earns bronze

Russia won its 22nd medal, including its ninth bronze, after a 5-2 win against Switzerland. Russia, which last celebrated a gold medal in 2011, rebounded well after not medaling at the 2018 WJC.

"When you win your last game, you have to feel good. So I'll say, 'Yes,' I'm happy with the bronze," Russia defenseman Dmitri Samorukov (Edmonton Oilers) said. "Winning any medal is always good. You want to play for first place, but that's hockey sometimes."

Russia has won four bronze medals this decade (2013, 2014, 2017, 2019).

 

Christening bowl

Ahokas still doesn't have a name for his son, who was born in Finland hours after it defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinal round on Jan. 2.

Finland's coach does, however, have a shiny new IIHF championship trophy to help when that time is right.

"We haven't named our son yet, but I have a pretty good bowl for the christening," Ahokas said.

Ahokas, who also has two daughters, announced the birth of his first son on social media overnight after the dramatic win over host Canada.

NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report

Video: The best from the 2019 World Junior Championships

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