The World Junior Championships are underway for the 38th time in their history. The first game on hand was a very interesting one. We saw the reigning champions in Finland, up against arguably the best team in the tournament in the United States.
The start of the game didn’t go the way you’d think. It was Finland who would take an early lead. 2015 NHL draft prospect Mikko Rantanen capitalized on a USA turnover and banked in a shot from behind the USA net. The puck bounced in off of Auston Matthews, a 2016 draft eligible player.
The US needed to bounce back quickly, but they didn’t go the best way about it. The Americans had a lot of turnovers early in the game. Michigan defenseman Zach Werenksi, who had great exhibition games, found himself losing the puck multiple times.
Then the man, the myth, the legend Jack Eichel took matters into his own hands. Eichel takes the puck down low and just blows everyone’s mind with a nice pass off the boards to himself. Eichel finds Minnesota Wild prospect Alex Tuch in front of the net, who put it by Ville Husso.
Things seemed to quite down after that. Possession rallied from each side and chances came across each goaltender. Sabres prospects JT Compher and Hudson Fasching each stood out to me. They worked the puck very well and each showed tremendous strength and speed. The end of the 1st period came to a close with things tied at one apiece.
In period 2 we saw no scoring. There were still many chances, teams just couldn’t convert on them. One thing that stood out during the period was the quality of possession for each team.
USA held a strong possession game. They were able to settle into the Finnish zone and cycle the puck a bit. Even on the penalty kill Jack Eichel and the Americans had a couple of rushes into Finland’s zone. Finland had some shots, bu they came off of USA turnovers. A poor choice in their own end would cause a Finnish shot on net. If the Americans really cleaned up their play in their own end, they would’ve easily dominated the period. Since there was no scoring change in the period, the score remained 1-1.
The 3rd period was the best period by far. Both teams played their best games at this time. Finland got more of that quality pressure that they lacked as I mentioned before. The Finnish created good pressure around Demko, but couldn’t the puck away. At the other crease, Ville Husso quickly made himself a key player for Finland. He made key saves at key times for his teams. Unfortunately, there was no scoring, so we head to overtime.
In overtime, Ville Husso was fantastic again as he stopped all of USA’s chances in the extra period. Late in the overtime period the Finnish pressured down low, but a great shot block from Will Butcher stopped Finland from scoring the game winner. To the shootout.
US 1: Eichel… goal
FIN 2: Lekonen… goal
US 3: Milano… no goal
FIN 4: Ikonen… no goal
US 5: De Leo… goal
FIN 6: Kapenen… No goal USA WINS
I was standing during this shootout. Demko’s glove save on Kapanen at the end was the perfect ending to a goaltender’s duel. Ville Husso recieved the 3rd star, which he should’ve. He was just crazy in the 3rd and OT period. He probably should’ve been the second star, which was USA’s Will Butcher.
All in all this as an incredible start to what should be a great tournament. I cannot wait to see Jack Eichel and the Americans play again.