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Jets at the 2019 Juniors: A Crazy Finn-ish to a Crazy Tournament

Our last post on the World Junior Tournament recapped the crazy quarterfinal action that saw both Canada and Sweden get knocked out. Even though most Canadians were disappointed, the rest of the tournament provided some great hockey and even more late game heroics. Let’s get to it.

During the same day as the semifinals, Denmark and Kazakhstan faced off in the battle to not get relegated. Kazakhstan already won the first matchup and they were able to win the second. This means that Denmark is now relegated and will be playing in the second division next year while Kazakhstan gets to stay. Germany is the team that won this year’s ‘B’ tournament and they will be up with the big dogs next year to replace Denmark.

The first semifinal included a classic matchup with the USA playing Russia. This was a tight game with both teams getting plenty of shots. The US scored first and took a 1-0 lead into the second period. They added a second goal early in the middle frame to go up 2-0. Russia was able to score one back later in the second and was down by just one goal heading into the third. They were unable to convert a tying goal in the final period and the USA earned the first spot in the finals.

Dylan Samberg had an assist on the first goal, and had three shots in 22:35 minutes. He also had a nasty hit on a Russian player as time expired in the first period. Samberg thought the Russian shot came a bit too late and took exception to it.

With such a tight game in the first semifinal, people were hoping for much of the same as the two underdogs were playing in the second semifinal. Switzerland was coming off a 2-0 victory over Sweden while Finland had just downed Canada with a stunning overtime victory. Finland seemed more ready to play and they came flying out of the gate. They scored four goals in the first eight minutes of the game and coasted from there. They ended up winning easily by a score of 6-1. Virtanen had one assist, two PIM, one shot, and was a +1 in 16:23 TOI. Even more importantly for Virtanen, he avoided a potentially serious injury after taking a knee on knee hit while making a nice rush into Switzerland’s end.

The bronze medal game went as most people would have expected. Russia clearly out-matched Switzerland and managed to score five goals in the game. Switzerland actually out-shot Russia during the game but only managed to find the back of the net twice. In the end, it was Russia winning the bronze medal after Switzerland’s improbable run ended. Perhaps the best part of Switzerland was the antics of their coach who was constantly providing soundbites and theatrics the entire tournament.

There was now only one game left. USA vs Finland, Samberg vs Virtanen. This was an excellent game from start to finish as both teams traded chances throughout the night. Finland was able to strike first off a point shot and they took the lead. This came after the USA had a disallowed goal for a crease violation in front of the Finnish net. Finland was able to score another goal early in the third period and they took a 2-0 lead with only 14 minutes left. The USA are no strangers to comebacks though, and they showed why after going down by two. They scored back to back goals less than two minutes apart to stun the Finns and tie the game.

With the game deadlocked at two, the game was searching for a hero. With only a minute and a half left, Kakko played the hero for Finland as he was able to find the puck on a rebound and flip it up and over the goaltender into the back of the net. The USA couldn’t muster another comeback and Finland won gold for the third time in the last six years. Dylan Samberg struggled in the final as he didn’t have any shots and finished as a -1 in 17:57. Santeri Virtanen had one shot in 17:38.

For the tournament, Samberg finished with two assists, four PIM and a +2 rating. His two assists put him tied for second on the team in defensemen scoring.

Virtanen finished with one goal and two assists, along with four PIM and a +7 rating in the tournament. His three points put him 10th on the team in scoring but his +7 rating was second best among all Finnish players.

Looking ahead to next year, the group stage is already set. Group B appears to be stronger with the US, Russia, and Canada all playing each other in the round robin. It’s going to be a fun tournament again next year and there will likely be another group of Jets prospects to watch and follow as well.