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WJSS Notes: Wings prospect Veleno finishes strong in loss to Team USA

Kivenmaki plays in his fifth tournament game; Berggren not happy about being healthy scratch

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

PLYMOUTH -- For Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno, the World Junior Summer Showcase was a nice way to break up his summer.

Veleno (first round, 30th overall, 2018 draft) has spent the summer in metro Detroit, working out at Barwis Methods and skating with some of the other prospects.

So he didn't have far to go to join Team Canada for the tournament at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

"I went into this camp with more of a wide-open mindset," Veleno said. "I mean, I kind of knew what to expect but this time of year you just want to have fun on the ice. You want to get to know the guys. I guess it's not too serious but in a way you've still got to come here and perform well.

"In my case, I wanted to leave a mark. It's a lot of fun to play hockey in July, especially with the best in the world, the best players in Canada, Sweden, Finland and the U.S. I had a lot of fun here and made a lot of new friends."

Among Veleno's new friends were Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, and Alexis Lafreniere, considered to be one of the top players eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Veleno started the tournament on a line with Lafreniere but Team Canada coach Dale Hunter quickly put Dach between the two.

"Kirby played well through the whole camp," Hunter said. "It seemed right off the hop that he had good pop and he was ready to go. With his skill level, three skilled guys together, the three that played together, it's fun to watch. They move the puck around. Again, the biggest thing is they used each other, it wasn't individual."

In their first game, a 4-1 victory over Team USA on Tuesday, Dach assisted on Veleno's power-play goal and Veleno returned the favor at even strength. Later, Lafreniere assisted on Zach's second goal.

"I think we got a little closer off the ice as well," Veleno said. "Me, Kirby and Lafi, we spent a lot of time off the ice together. On the ice we talk to each other and it makes it a lot easier when we communicate on the ice. If we get to play together at Christmastime. I think we'll build on that for sure."

Veleno knows he won't be able to be friends with Dach if they face each other in the NHL.

"No, I can't," Veleno said with a laugh. "I think it's a pretty big rivalry with Chicago, so when it comes to the point, I guess there's no friends on the ice."

Although Team USA won the rematch Saturday, 5-3, Veleno got another power-play goal at 2:43 of the second period, which gave Team Canada a brief 3-2 lead. Nolan Foote and Lafreniere assisted.

Tweet from @BradGalli: Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno has quick hands and great vision. He put Canada ahead 3-2 in today's #WJSS finale in Plymouth.

"It was some good puck work on the power play, all five of us move the puck pretty well," Veleno said. "I saw an opening in the middle and I know when you're on the horn over there, Footer had a nice little shot-pass in the front and I was able to score."

Team USA not only had home-ice advantage, they also had a lot of U.S. National Team Development Program members who had played together.

"It's always an advantage when you're familiar with your linemates and your team," Veleno said. "I think we've been here for a week and a half and they're all pretty much familiar with each other. The home crowd obviously helps a lot with the energy and the atmosphere, but we really couldn't use that as an excuse. We had to find a way to let that not be a distraction and just play our game.

"But it's still summertime, there's a still a lot of improvement we need to work on. Come Christmastime we'll be a lot better."

Veleno finished the tournament with three points (2-1-3) in two games, had six shots and was even.

His two power-play goals were tied for first with teammate Connor McMichael, Team USA's Cole Caufield and team Finland's Anttoni Honka.

"Joe has been very good," Hunter said. "He's worked his tail off, he played on the top line, good power play. We moved it around and he was a big part of it."

It wasn't Veleno's usual spot on the power play but he quickly adjusted.

"He's got a knack to find the open areas and it's important, that middle guy's a big part of the power play," Hunter said. "You see at different levels where you need a middle guy that's smart and can really move his feet."

Although Veleno represented Canada, the fans at USA Hockey Arena were aware they could be cheering for him in the Winged Wheel soon.

"I saw a couple of Detroit jerseys giving me some high fives coming off the ice," Veleno said. "That was nice to see. Hockey is really serious here. It's big in Michigan. They love the prospects and they love the players. It's always nice to see that."

While most Team Canada players will head home, Veleno plans to remain mostly in Detroit.

"I'll go home sometime in the next two weeks to spend some time with family and friends and one last chance before I stay here for good," Veleno said. "I'm still going to train here, (at) Barwis and skate with the guys in Detroit."

KIVENMAKI ADJUSTS DURING TOURNAMENT: For Otto Kivenmaki (seventh round, 191st, 2018), it was a week of adjustments.

The Finnish forward had to get used to the smaller ice surface, being in North America for an extended period and dealing with the media every day.

For a player accustomed to playing in Finland on the bigger ice surface, it was definitely a challenge to get used to having far less time and space.

"I think at the end of the games (I) was more comfortable on the smaller ice," Kivenmaki said.

Although Kivenmaki had been to the United States before -- on a trip to Florida with his family and also for the last two development camps -- it's still a completely different culture.

"For me, when I've been away so long, it's tough at the beginning, but after every day just kind of want to get home but it gets easier every time," Kivenmaki said.

Kivenmaki said he talked to his girlfriend back home in Finland and to his parents about the games while he was in Plymouth.

"Back in development camp we stayed at hotel downtown and you kind of see the city a little but here you are in the middle of nowhere, so you kind of don't see anything," he said.

As for the media, the reserved Kivenmaki didn't necessarily welcome the attention but he got used to it by the end of the tournament.

"I don't really have any experience with media," Kivenmaki said. "Last year (at development camp) was the first year with media. Kind of had no experience."

Playing on a line with an Ässät teammate from home in Lenni Killinen and with Eemil Erholtz, Kivenmaki collected two assists in five games.

"I think it was really good," Kivenmaki said. "I think I had better games and a few not so good but I'm kind of happy."

Now Kivenmaki will return home to Finland to prepare for his season with Ässät in Liiga, the top league, which starts the season earlier than they do in North America.

"Our training has already started and we have games back home, so getting back to playing," Kivenmaki said.

BERGGREN SITS: After Friday's 5-2 loss to Canada in which he had an assist, Swedish forward Jonatan Berggren (second round, 33rd, 2018) said he felt he could play Saturday against Finland.

Team Sweden coach Tomas Montén said Friday that Berggren was likely to be able to play back-to-back if he felt good.

But then Montén thought better of it and made Berggren a healthy scratch.

"I talked with him last night and this morning again and he feels good," Montén said. "He's really (ticked) off at me. But I told him I don't want to take any chances. I think he had three great games for us coming in for the first time since November. I talked to Skellefteå last night and they said the same thing. They're really glad for him. They liked his three games. They told us we could make the decision.

"As I told him, if he's healthy, he's a contender for sure. But to be a contender because of the season he had, he needs to play, he needs to stay healthy. We don't want to push anything. It's a summer tournament. I know he wanted to play. We like him to play but still we want him to feel good when he goes back to Skellefteå and competes for a spot there. So it's no issues at all. He feels really good."

Berggren, who correctly predicted Friday that Sweden would defeat rival Finland, which it did by a 6-3 score, finished the tournament with one assist in three games.

It's considered a good start for what everyone hopes will be a healthy -- and important -- season for Berggren.

"I think the timing isn't there," Montén said. "I think he gave up, lost some puck battles and for me, I think he should be a player that finds the open space. For me, he's a player like (Alexander) Holtz, that could skate to the far blueline, find openings, get a breakaway. And I would like him to get a bit tougher on the forecheck. He should be a player that chases the puck, that hounds the puck. When he gets the puck, he's gonna create great scoring chances. And he needs to shoot a little bit more.

"Yesterday he had a really nice set-up for (David) Gustafsson's goal. That's the thing he could provide. He sees openings on the ice and he's cool with the puck. He doesn't stress. For sure Skellefteå's really high on him coming back and I hope he gets to stay healthy. He could be an asset for us."

SWEDES VISIT LITTLE CAESARS ARENA: Earlier in the week, Team Sweden got a special opportunity to visit Little Caesars Arena for a tour.

It was something that Red Wings legend Nick Lidstrom arranged for the team before the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Tweet from @Trekronorse: Idag fick Juniorkronorna en egen guidad tur i Little Caesars Arena. Tack till Nicklas Lidstr��m som ordnade det till grabbarna 💙💛 #juniorkronorna

"We always try to do something when we have a day off," Montén said. "Lidstrom put us up with this. We know the building is new and it's a lot of Swedes there and a lot of Swedes that have been through. It feels like it's maybe one of the best places to go with the team. Just get in and get the atmosphere, walk around the locker room and things like that. I think it's everyone's dream to end up over here. Not everyone is going to go to the Red Wings locker room but maybe they will go past the hall and play them. Just a little fun spark.

"I know maybe (Jesper) Eliasson and Berggren have been there before but the others haven't. Our Under-18 team went to Edmonton last year in the Hlinka tournament and they got a tour of the Oilers locker room. It's just different. It's big and I think it's fun."

Berggren and Eliasson were happy to show their teammates around what they hope will be their home someday.

"We have been there two times," Berggren said. "It's a cool arena. They (teammates) think it's awesome."

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