Today's World Junior Hockey Championship game between Finland and Sweden had everything one would want in a game. There were highlight-reel goals, solid defense, drama, boneheaded plays and best of all the referees let the players decide the game. These two teams (and countries) hate each other and that was obvious from the opening face-off until Sweden celebrated their 3-2 shootout victory.
With Sweden's win, three Minnesota Wild prospects - captain Johan Larsson, 2011 first round pick Jonas Brodin and Johan Gustafsson - advance to the WJC Gold Medal game and face the winner of Canada and Russia (which is being played as this article is written). It is a game they and Finnish 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund will remember for the rest of their lives, although for completely different reasons.
|Finland F/Wild Savior Mikael Granlund (photo from Zimbio)|
Finland's captain proved himself worthy in regulation. Despite being the first target of every team, Granlund leads the tournament in points with 11 (2 goals - 9 assists). Not only that, but he makes those around him better - Mikael's linemate Teemu Pulkkinen (DET) is second with 10 points (6 goals - 4 assists) and his brother Markus has 7 points. It's a skill the best players in the world have and one the TSN announcers kept bringing up. If he can bring that to the Wild the the rest of the NHL should take notice.
Of course not everything was good with Granlund today - he'll be the first to admit it - but more on that later.
|Swedish Captain Johan Larsson (photo from THN)|
If Granlund was the glue which held Finland together this tournament then Johan Larsson was that player for Sweden in the third period. Down two goals despite out-shooting Finland throughout the first forty minutes and facing elimination, he never gave up. Larsson was all over the ice in the third period, was their best face-off man and had the primary assist on Sweden's first goal.
Teams need players to do those dirty things (think Kyle Brodziak) and Johan Larsson appears that he can be that guy at the next level. Regardless, Larsson stepped up and played a big game when his team needed him the most.
10 Minute Overtime Periods
One of the positives of the World Juniors is that unlike the NHL, they have a ten minute overtime to decide games. It's just enough time for teams to get going and create good chances on both ends. That happened in today's game. Although it was eventually being decided in a shootout, both Finland and Sweden came close to winning the game in the final five minutes. It goes to show how many more games would not be decided by a gimmick contest if there were five more minutes of extra time and is something I would like to see employed in the NHL.
|Sweden D Jonas Brodin (photo from Zimbio)|
The tenth overall pick this season has played well throughout the WJC....up until today. To be fair, Brodin continued to have excellent vision and gap control but he was moved off the puck about as easy as it gets. He was victimized by Pulkkinen on a couple occasions and it got to a point where Wild beat writer Michael Russo wrote this tweet about Brodin:
Jonas Brodin will fit in w. #mnwild. He'll have concussion next fall by Sept. 20. Can skate, but next time his head's up will be the 1st(he was trying to be funny but there's a kernel of truth in it)
To make matters worse, the last ten minutes of the first period made Minnesota fans think of a different #25 who shall not be named. Brodin was picked apart by fellow Wild prospect Mikael Granlund and had Finland's first goal go off his skate and between his legs.
Johan Gustafsson & Finland's Offensive Opportunities
In what's becoming a common theme, Swedish goaltender Johan Gustafsson (2010 6th round pick) continues to lack confidence. Although he didn't make a critical error like Finland's goalie Sami Aittokallio did with under two minutes left (he left the crease, turned the puck over and Sweden's Max Friberg tied the game in an empty net), the Finns had so few scoring opportunities (Sweden out-shot Finland 58-24) to the point where it felt almost Wild-like.
If it were one game, that would be fine but he hasn't won a game for the Swedes and there are a couple games which the team won in spite of him. It's hard to put too much stock into a short tournament, but for a team with depth between the pipes, Gustafsson's play cannot be helping his stock.
Mikael Granlund's shootout attempt
It didn't matter that his line failed to score today, but this...
...is a different matter. Going last in the shootout for Finland, Mikael went for a toe drag and lost the puck. What made it even more surprising is how great Granlund normally is in these things - both his shootout goals in prospect development camp were featured on Puck Daddy - but as good as those were, losing against your rival on the largest stage is a tough pill to swallow (just ask Gordon Bombay).
Somewhere down the line there's a "Wild players can't score in a shootout" joke, but for now it's hard for the State of Hockey to not feel for Finnish Baby Jesus.