It might not be that the guard is changing in hockey at the junior level. It might be that the guard has already changed.
Finland beat the United States 3-2 to claim gold at the world junior championship in Vancouver on Saturday, its third gold medal in six years. No other country has won that many gold in that time span.
Canada, once the dominant team at the tournament, failed to win a medal for the second time in four years, having been eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals.
Kaapo Kakko, a 17-year-old ranked by many as the second best prospect for the 2019 NHL draft, scored with 1:26 remaining in the third to break a 2-2 tie much to the pleasure of the Rogers Arena crowd that supported Finland over the Americans.
“No words,” Finland goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, a Sabres prospect with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, told TSN. “When we played against Canada we realized how good we really are. That’s when things changed.”
The U.S. beat Finland 4-1 in the preliminary round, but found the Finns to be a much tougher opponent in the final.
Jesse Ylonen, a second-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, scored a power-play goal midway through the second period, a lead that looked like it might hold until the third period went sideways.
Defenceman Otto Latvala, an undrafted 19-year-old, scored six minutes into the third period to open up a 2-0 lead. But Sasha Chmelevski, a Sharks prospect with the Ottawa 67s, got the Americans on the board a minute later, and Josh Norris, a Senators prospect, tied the game on the next U.S. shot.
- Junior powers: The U.S. has been rising as Canada’s main rival for supplying NHL prospects with 52 Americans taken in the 2018 NHL draft, including six first-round picks. Four of them were here in Vancouver: Quinn Hughes (Canucks), Oliver Wahlstrom (Islanders), Joel Farabee (Flyers), and K’Andre Miller (Rangers). Another American, Quinn’s brother Jack, will likely go first overall in the 2019 draft.
Finland, with a population of just 5.5 million, had six first-rounders taken in the 2017 draft. Three of them suited up Saturday night at Rogers Arena: Urho Vaakanainen (Bruins), Henri Jokiharju (Blackhawks), and Eeli Tolvanen (Predators).