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Notes: Filip Larsson gets the nod in net against Finland

Detroit's goalie prospect makes a positive impression at WJSS

by Arthur J. Regner and Dana Wakiji @ArthurJRegner and @Dwakiji /

PLYMOUTH, MICH. - When he arrived at the World Junior Summer Showcase as a member of Team Sweden, Red Wings prospect Filip Larsson figured he was the odd man out.

"I came to this tournament as the third goalie," Larsson said.

He may have been number three on the list, but at the end he was Sweden's last man standing in net.

In a move most observers never would have predicted, Larsson was Sweden's surprise starting goalie against bitter rival Finland in Saturday's finale for both teams in the WJSS at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

Team Sweden would outlast Team Finland, winning the contest in overtime, 6-5. It was an intense and compelling game where each team was determined to impose its will on the other.

"It was a tough game, maybe I didn't have too much to do (Larsson faced 31 shots, 13 in the third period) during the game, but when they come they're dangerous," Larsson said. "Playing four against five is hard, so it was a tough game but I think I made it (through) ok.

"As a goalie, it's not fun (a high scoring game), it counts every time, but I understand you guys (fans/media) think it's a fun game to watch."

Larsson's road to the WJSS has been a bit unconventional.

He played last season for Djurgarden in the Swedish Junior Division and has decided to leave his homeland to pursue his hockey career with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.

"Filip was in Djurgarden and his pro team did not want to sign him. We do not know why. It's better for us to get him over here," said Brian Mahoney-Wilson, the Wings goalie development coach. "There were 15 European goalies drafted in the USHL Entry Draft in 2016 and I'm not sure what the number was in 2017 but 14 of those goalies came over and played.

"Some of them earned NHL contracts or American League contracts, other guys got drafted. Filip will come over and expose himself to the college path, that could be the possible direction.

"He's talked to some schools already, Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha. That could be an option for him, which would be great for us to see him play in our backyard."

For his part, Larsson wanted to give himself the best opportunity to get noticed. He knew a good showing this week in Plymouth was a big moment in his budding hockey career.

"I am the only guy (on Team Sweden) to play D-20 (Swedish Junior) last season," Larsson said. "They weren't sure I was the goalie they wanted here, but they've told me they were really happy with my performance here, so I think they're happy with everything I've done here.

"I think I have an OK chance to play at Christmas (World Junior Championship in Buffalo, December 26 - January 5)."

Swedish officials notified Larsson he was their starter against Finland on Friday night an hour or so after the conclusion of Sweden's 7-4 loss to Team Canada.

"Yeah, I felt good. I came to this tournament as the third goalie, so to get this chance it meant a lot to me," he said smiling. "We got a victory, feels even better."

Team Sweden officials were not the only ones surprised and pleased with Larsson's play in the WJSS.

Red Wings brass were ecstatic with the showing of their sixth-round pick, 167th overall, from the 2016 Entry Draft.

"I thought he played really well. The Team USA staff is comprised of a number of college coaches, I think he'd have three scholarship offers by the end of tonight (Saturday) if he really wanted to press them," Detroit assistant general manager Ryan Martin said. "His development the last 12-18 months has been really good and I think it's great for him to come over here and play in the USHL this year, play on the smaller ice.

"From the goalie position, it's a completely different game, the timing is different in terms of how quick the players are on you and the shots that are coming at you.

"This was an entertaining game for sure, the Finland-Sweden game. I thought he played well. Despite the score, I thought he had a good game, certainly a really good week all in all."

SMITH DELIVERS IN LOSS: Givani Smith was the lone Wings prospect dressed for the Saturday night game between Team Canada and Team USA in the finale of the WJSS.

Team USA won, 7-5.

"It meant a lot (to play)," Smith said. "This is obviously a game you really want to win. We tried our best, it was a hard-fought game but it's always tough to lose to the Americans."

Forward Michael Rasmussen and defenseman Dennis Cholowski did not dress for Team Canada for the game.

Goaltender Keith Petruzelli did not dress for Team USA.

Smith made his presence felt, scoring for Team Canada at 16:39 of the first period, giving his team a brief 2-1 lead.

The shot was more of a flip toward the net from the slot.

"Pucks to the net, that's what you got to do," Smith said. "I will take it. I'm not going to score pretty goals so that's how I score my goals."

Martin says Smith brings a bit of a different dimension to Team Canada at the forward position.

"It's a real positive for him if he can find that niche and fill that opportunity for them to get a chance to play," Martin said. "He scored a goal there in the end of the period, ramped up the guy's stick, kind of a funny bounce. But we'll take all of them and I'm sure he will too. He's been good.

"I think it was a great experience for him to be in Grand Rapids at the end of the year and experience the American Hockey League playoffs. Kenny and Shawn Horcoff and Kris Draper and I had a meeting with him before he left Grand Rapids in terms of what our expectations are for him this year. For him to go back to the OHL and be a dominant player in that league, that's what we're expecting and hoping for him and I'm sure he feels the same way."

Smith is expected to return to the Guelph Storm this season.

Although he said it took a bit of time to get his legs under him, Smith was happy with his tournament overall.

"I was happy with my physical play, they want me out here to be a physical presence, finish my checks, do what I do, play good down low, move the puck," Smith said. "I did what I can."

KOTKANSALO PROUD OF TEAM FINLAND: Despite Team Finland being winless (0-3-0-2) during the WJSS, Wings prospect Kasper Kotkansalo was not overly disappointed by his team's goose egg in the win column.

"In that way I'm very proud of the team and I think that really showed some character from that way," Kotkansalo said after Team Finland fought back, but was eventually defeated by Team Sweden 6-5 in overtime. "We really battled back really hard. That's just how the game turns on overtime.

"It's a privilege to play these kind of games. I loved to be here. It's obviously tough to lose but it's very, very teaching games and always fun to play against the top guys.

"Although we lost, I think the team bonded together better and that kind of stuff. We'll be more ready when the season goes on."

Kotkansalo believes he was just all right in the WJSS, with his best moments coming earlier in the week.

"I have to be more solid definitely than I was today (Saturday) and (in) this tournament. I made too many mistakes," he said. "I think that's the thing going to higher levels, if you make a mistake, a team will score on it. I got a lesson here about that."

Though he was not satisfied with his game, Martin thought Kotkansalo had a pretty solid week.

"A really good personality, outgoing person," Martin said about the affable Kotkansalo. "A European going to a U.S. college, obviously he's going to a great program (Boston University). I thought he performed really well here this week.

"I think the real positive with Kasper's play here has been his defensive play. I think he's been really, really solid on the back end and in his own end, really hard to play against."

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