International Ice Hockey Federation

Friends ready to duel

Friends ready to duel

Kapanen and Nylander look to rebound

Published 20.12.2015 10:59 GMT+2 | Author Dhiren Mahiban
Friends ready to duel
Finland's Kasperi Kapanen and Sweden's William Nylander are teammates in club hockey. Photos: Richard Wolowicz, Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander will get one last chance to capture a medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

As of next week they will represent their respective countries in Helsinki, Finland.

The Toronto Maple Leafs officially announced last week that both 19-year-olds would participate in their second Under-20 tournament.

The Leafs’ prospects agreed there would be bragging rights on the line at this year’s tournament after Nylander’s Swedish squad defeated Kapanen and the Fins 6-3 in the quarter-final at the 2015 tournament.

“It’s always fun to play against him. That’ll be fun,” Nylander said. “We beat them 10-0 too the year before at the U18 Worlds.”

Added Kapanen: “We haven’t really talked about (the 6-3 loss). He knows that his team was better than ours and we’ll leave it at that.”

Nylander, the Leafs 2014 first-round selection, hinted the two Toronto Marlies teammates would have a small wager, likely dinner, on the line should they meet again at this year’s event.

Off the ice the two northern Europeans are close friends. Kapanen is often at Nylander’s place in Toronto where William lives with his father, and former NHLer Michael, and his 17-year-old brother Alexander.

“We’re close buddies so it’s a lot of fun,” said Kapanen. “We play FIFA, maybe a little Call of Duty. It’s pretty even, I think.”

They may be representing different countries, but both Kapanen and Nylander are headed to Finland disappointed with how the 2015 tournament ended for their respective nations.

Sweden cruised through the preliminary round of the tournament with a perfect 4-0 record and a plus-12 goal difference. However, after their 6-3 win over the Fins, Sweden lost 4-1 to Russia in the semi-final and were doubled up 4-2 in the bronze medal game against Slovakia leaving Toronto empty handed.

“Of course it was disappointing,” said Nylander, who had three goals and seven assists in seven games. “We played bad that game (against Russia) too. It was probably one of the worst games of the tournament. It wasn’t too fun, but happy to get another chance this year.”

Finland meanwhile struggled in the preliminary round picking up just one win, a 2-0 victory over Germany, and was bounced by the Swedes in the quarter-final.

“I don’t think I had a good tournament,” said Kapanen, who had just one goal in the five games. “It wasn’t the worst tournament ever, but the team didn’t win. That’s the one thing that kind of bugs me and everybody was disappointed.”

Kapanen, who hails from Kuopio, Finland, has been looking forward to this year’s event with it being on home soil.

“It (will) be amazing. Since it’s back home, it makes it 100 times better so I’m really excited about that,” he said.

Nylander heads overseas as the American Hockey League’s leader in assists and points through the first two and a half months of the season.

The second-year pro had a 37 game stint with the Marlies last season allowing him to adjust to the North American game.

“You learn a lot. Of course I made some adjustments. It was a good experience,” Nylander said of his 14 goals and 18 assists during the 2014-15 season. “Smaller ice - that was probably one of the things I had to get adjusted to. It took like 10 games.

“You try to create space for yourself in different ways. You learn and eventually it’s fine.”

The Leafs have experimented with Nylander at both center and on the wing, and he’s clear about which position he prefers.

“I like playing center,” Nylander said. “It’s face-offs and you’re going up against guys who have been in the league for a while so that’s probably one of the things (to adjust to).”

Kapanen landed in Toronto after being included by the Penguins in the trade, which saw the Leafs send Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.

Originally the 22nd selection at the 2014 NHL draft, Kapanen admits he’s had a slow start to the season, in part due to a back injury.

“It’s been a tough start for me, but I feel like I’m getting better with every game. The team is winning right now, that’s the main thing,” said Kapanen, who has five goals and five assists in 17 AHL games this season. “I’m getting more comfortable after every game. Right now I feel good and I know that I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m really excited to see what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”

Kapanen admitted he’s also learning to adjust to coach Sheldon Keefe’s coaching style.

“Knowing where to be and how to play the system. I’ll be 100 per cent soon,” he said. “It’s a little different, but it’s still hockey. I’ll get the hang of it.”

With both players missing a chunk of their AHL season, the Marlies hope Kapanen and Nylander can build on their AHL experience while playing internationally.

“As 19-year-olds they’re going to be relied upon as key leaders to their teams,” said Keefe. “I think they would have an opportunity to build upon what’s happening here and work with players of their own age.”


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