Presenting, your 2016 World Junior Champions!
Gold: The Red Wings own Vili Saarijarvi and Finland!
Silver: Evgeny Svechnikov and Russia
Bronze: Chris Chelios and the United States
Two Red Wings prospects took home medals, and Vili Saarijarvi got to win gold in front of his home crowd in his home country and I coudln't be happier for him. The two final games in what's been an exciting tournament couldn't have been more different. The United States clobbered Sweden 8-3, while Finland and Russia took us to a thrilling overtime game before Kasperi Kapanen scored the golden goal, earning Finland their 2nd gold medal in 3 years.
Sweden vs United States- Bronze Medal Game
Result: Sweden 3, United States 8
Axel Holmstrom: 1Goal, 3 SOG, -1
Christoffer Ehn: 3 SOG, Player of the game for Sweden
Sweden had been a dominant force in the tournament right up until the 2nd period in their semi-final game against Finland. The Swedish team I saw in the bronze medal game didn't look like the team we'd seen the rest of the tournament. The United States took a 2-0 lead over the Swedes in the first period, but Sweden responded with two goals of their own to tie the game in the last two and a half minutes of the period. In the second period however the United States put up 4 more goals and Sweden wasn't able to respond. They added 2 more in the 3rd period but even by the start of the period it felt like the game was out of reach for Sweden. With 1:32 left in the 3rd, Axel Holmstrom scored a goal, but it wasn't even worth getting excited over because the game was over.
Christoffer Ehn has the pleasure of receiving the electric razor awarded to the team's player of the game.
The United States was awarded the bronze medal. I feel badly for Sweden, not only because they didn't medal in the tournament, but because they had to listen to Chelsea Dagger 8 times in the game, and then again post game. My heart goes out to all of you.
Chris Chelios won bronze as an assistant coach for the United States, congrats Cheli.
Finland vs Russia- Gold Medal Game
Result: Finland 4, Russia 3 in Overtime
Vili Saarijarvi: 1 Assist, 2 SOG
Evgeny Svechnikov: 2 SOG, 2 PIM
What a show these two teams put on! It's fitting that the most exciting, suspenseful game of the tournament was also the last. There was never a minute where you could feel confident of who was going to win and all the missed chances, close calls, and stellar saves kept viewers on the edge of their seats.
Russia struck first just 4:50 into the game on a power play goal with Kaapo Kahkonen in the box for delay of game and they held their 1-0 lead until 36 seconds into the 3rd period. But despite the lack of scoring through almost 2 periods, it wasn't even close to a boring game. Russia would have a stretch of time in Finland's zone and it felt like they were going to score any second, then Finland would race back the other way and have a long stretch in Russia's zone, with a couple grade A scoring changes, then back the other way. Finland held Russia to 18 minutes without a shot on goal at one point, and I have no idea how Finland didn't score at least 3 goals during that time; they were buzzing like a saw and missed I think 2 or 3 open nets in the 2nd period alone. But you just knew there was no way to keep Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine off the scoresheet for very long. Those three star players combined to get Finland on the scoresheet and tie the game just 36 seconds into the 3rd period and there was much rejoicing. But then Russia scored 1:17 later to retake the lead, but then Laine and Puljujarvi set us Aho 9 minutes later to tie the game again! And then something beautiful happened. With 2:09 left in the 3rd period, Dmitri Sergeyev was called for tripping and Finland's top ranked power play in the tournament went to work. They were all over the Russians in the offensive zone, and Vili Saarijarvi maned the blueline like a pro, keeping the puck in and feeding hit mates, until standing in the middle of the ice, on the blue line, Saarijarvi passes the puck to his mate on the right, then gets the puck back, fakes a shot, uses his powers of deception to get the Russian penalty killers moving to open up a lane, Saarijarvi skates a couple strides forward and fires the puck at the net, and Mikko Rantanen tips in the puck FINLAND TAKES THE LEAD WITH 2:09 TO GO! AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!! RAAAAAAAA RAAAAAAA.
But wait, there's more! With just 6.9 seconds left and their goalie pulled, Russia tied the game 3-3 with a goal from Andrei Svetlakov and we were headed to overtime after an exhilarating game. There wasn't much overtime needed though. Just 1:33 into the extra period, Kasperi Kapanen was dangerous in the offensive zone, but Russian defender Ivan Provorov got tangled up with his goalie Alexander Georgiev, and Georgiev couldn't recover or do anything as Kapanen sped around behind the net and put in a wrap around, game winning, gold medal winning goal in overtime.
Saarijarvi was a key player for his team all game long, but man is this assist gorgeous. I posted this quote from Craig Button after day 5 of the tournament, and boy howdy was this a perfect example of what he was talking about.
Saarijarvi finished the tournament with 4 points, 5th among all tournament defensemen, 11 shots on goal, and 2 penalty minutes in 7 games. But that doesn't begin to paint the picture of just how good he was and how much he was an impact player for his team.
Evgeny Svechnikov wasn't able to contribute on the stat sheet, finishing the tournament with 6 penalty minutes, 13 shots on goal, and a -3. He played hard and certainly got some chances, but he looked like a QMJHL player playing against a significantly higher level of competition; not only the other skaters, but also much better goalies than he's used to. Am I disappointed he didn't score a single goal? Sure, but more of a "meh" disappointed. It's a single tournament, 7 games in a unique setting, so in the big scheme of things it doesn't change what I think of Chevy at all.
It was another great World Junior tournament, and what a show these young kids put on for us. Congratulations Vili Saarijarvi on your gold medal, celebrate and enjoy the victory at home, and congratulations Evgeny Svechnikov on your silver medal. We'll see you in Grand Rapids next year.