Who: Team USA vs Team Finland
What: 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Gold Medal Game
When: 8pm EST
Where: Rogers Arena | NHL Network
Why: Three Words; Rock. Flag. Eagle.
The “Miracle on Ice” was clearly one of the most iconic hockey games ever played, especially so in terms of USA Hockey. Now I know I wasn’t around to experience it first hand but I have to imagine that the significance of that win over the Soviets would have lost a little of it’s impact if Team USA had followed up that win by losing to the Finns in the Gold Medal game of the 1980 Winter Olympics. It obviously would have still been a pretty historic win and everything, especially considering the politics surrounding the whole game, but I just feel like finishing up that tournament with a silver medal would have taken away from it a bit.
Times have changed and USA Hockey is no longer an underdog in international hockey tournaments, but it’s kind of the same deal here. This has been a great tournament so far in British Columbia but if Team USA closes this one out with a silver, there’s a chance we all end up forgetting about it over time. I mean it’ll be difficult to forget the first time that Canada didn’t medal on their home soil but that’s besides the point. The point here is that Team USA has an opportunity to cap this great tournament off with another gold medal and just like Herb said, “great moments are born from great opportunities”.
I mentioned earlier this morning that the past 6 gold medalists in this tournament have been USA, Finland, Canada, Finland, USA and Canada. Six tournaments and three nations have all won twice in that span. USA and Finland have also split the past 4 U18 World Championships. So at the end of tonight, either USA or Finland will come out as the most dominant international junior program in recent history. That’s a pretty big deal.
And at the center of it all will be another battle for dominance, and that is between projected 1st overall pick in the 2019 draft Jack Hughes and the projected 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft Kaapo Kakko. Do I think that this specific game will determine who gets their name called first at the NHL Draft on June 21? No I do not. But this will definitely add to the rivalry they’ll have set up for the rest of their careers. They’ll go 1-2 in the draft. Kakko has the U18 Gold Medal from 2018 but Jack Hughes was named the tournament MVP that year. Now one of them will have a World Juniors Gold and the other will have a World Juniors Silver. The World Juniors is all about getting a chance to see the next generation of NHL stars before they finally make the jump to the show. This game right here–and especially the game within the game between Hughes and Kakko–has the potential to set up the next 10-15 years with a great individual rivalry that will play out in the NHL. So yeah, this is exactly what the hockey world ordered.
Aside from those two individual players, this will be the 2nd time that USA and Finland play in this tournament. They played on New Years Eve (without Jack Hughes in the lineup) and USA came away from that game with a 4-1 win. How Team USA won that game was by doing what they do best–playing fast and turning turnovers into goals.
That is Team USA’s bread and butter right there. If they can force their opponent to turn the puck over anywhere near the neutral zone, they have ridiculous amounts of speed to immediately turn that turnover into an offensive rush and then they have the skill to finish that rush in the back of the net. They’re sharks in the neutral zone and turnovers are blood in the water. So they’ll have to keep playing that style of game tonight because they’ll need to take advantage of as many Finnish mistakes as they can, considering Finland has been making the most out of their opportunities lately. Like this overtime goal from Aarne Talvitie against the Canadians in the quarterfinals.
A broken stick at one end of the ice immediately turns into a rush for Finland and they finish it with a vicious snipe to knock the home team out of the tournament. I really liked the way Team USA’s defense looked against the Russians yesterday. They were bottling up the neutral zone and there weren’t a ton of clean zone entries for the Russians to really get anything going. If USA can keep that up and give Cayden Primeau some easier shots to see in net, they should be okay. But if they let Finland enter the zone cleanly and get a bunch of shots off from below the top of the circles? Well they all have certified weapons for a shot so let’s just say that wouldn’t be ideal.
Vegas has USA as the favorite in this game and I’d definitely agree with them there.
I think that this USA team is the toughest matchup for the Finns just because they’re both pretty similar teams. I don’t see USA getting off to a 4-0 lead against Finland like they did on New Years Eve but I think this team is playing their best hockey of the tournament right now. They’ve been playing the exact type of hockey you’d expect to see out of them this tournament ever since they got down 4-0 to Sweden in the 3rd game of the preliminary round. Finland caught some luck from the Hockey Gods in the quarterfinal game against Canada, but I think that luck runs out today. USA by a goal.
I’ll see everybody at the live blog later tonight.