International Ice Hockey Federation

Fabulous Finnish firepower

Fabulous Finnish firepower

Top line driving improvement over 2015

Published 31.12.2015 14:49 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Fabulous Finnish firepower
HELSINKI, FINLAND - DECEMBER 26: Finland's Jesse Puljujarvi #9 celebrates with Sami Niku #2, Patrik Laine #29 , Sebastian Aho #20 and Aleksi Saarela #19 after a goal against Belarus during preliminary round action at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
It is almost comical how much better the Finns have been offensively this year than last year.

At the World Juniors in Montreal, they managed just eight goals in five games under coach Hannu Jortikka en route to a disappointing seventh-place finish. Mikko Rantanen, who is serving as Finland’s captain this year, scored four of those goals.

So far this year, prior to taking on the Czechs, coach Jukka Jalonen’s crew has racked up a tournament-leading 18 goals in three games.

It’s not as if the pumped-up production comes from a completely new roster. The host team boasts six returning players, most considered go-to scorers: Sebastian Aho, Roope Hintz, Kasperi Kapanen, Sami Niku, Jesse Puljujarvi and Rantanen.

Half the Helsinki production has come from the top line of Puljujarvi, Aho, and Patrik Laine, each of whom has scored three times.

What Puljujarvi and Laine are accomplishing is particularly remarkable in a U20 tournament, as both are still 17 years old.

What else is driving this offensive renaissance?

Finland’s power play has been a key part of the turn-around. At the 2015 tournament, the Finns were the only team that failed to score a single power play goal, going 0-for-20. This year, the hosts lead the tournament with a 50 percent conversion rate (6-for-12).

Offence from the back end has been another big plus. Last year, Finland’s defence chipped in just four points. Here in Helsinki, Finnish blueliners have already combined for 10 points, paced by Olli Juolevi’s four assists.

With persistence, the Finns are also getting puck luck at Hartwall Arena that they didn’t get at the Bell Centre.

Puljujarvi is a case in point. Although he was blanked in Montreal, it wasn’t as if he didn’t try to score: he had a team-high 26 shots on goal. This year, the power forward has tallied three times on just eight shots, and is leading the World Juniors with 10 points.

Kapanen hit the scoresheet with Finland’s seventh goal against Slovakia with a lucky deflection off a defender. You can bet that in Montreal, it would have gone over the glass or into the goalie’s stomach.

Is this great rate of production sustainable? If Finland hopes to win gold, it had better be.

Historically known for its world-class goaltending and commitment to team defence, Finland has only scored more than 30 goals twice in the last 18 World Juniors. Those instances were 1998 (35) and 2014 (34) – not coincidentally, the Finns won gold both times.


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