By Thomas Harrington
The quarter-finals are over and there are four teams left standing at the World Juniors: the US, Russia, Sweden, and Finland. The Anaheim Ducks sent three prospects to the tournament, and all three are still playing. Julius Nattinen of Finland, Marcus Pettersson of Sweden, and Jacob Larsson of Sweden have all had strong tournaments and want to take home the gold medal. For Nattinen, it’s his chance to win gold playing in Finland. For Pettersson and Larsson, it’s about winning gold on their rival country’s home soil. Tomorrow morning at 6 AM Pacific, Finland and Sweden will face off in the first of two semi-final games. The winner will go on to face either the US or Russia and try to bring home the gold. The loser will battle either the US or Russia for the bronze. This semi-final matchup will be a contest of an explosive Finnish offense against a suffocating Swedish defense.
Finland is carried by a few top end players who will all likely go very high in the upcoming draft this June. While Nattinen hasn’t contributed as much, he’s still been an integral part of their team. In the round robin portion of the tournament, Nattinen recorded two assists in four games. Nattinen’s first assist came in the 6-4 loss to Russia in Finland’s second game of the tournament. However, Nattinen’s second assist was much more important. Finland was trailing the Czech Republic 4-3 in the third period when Nattinen assisted on the game tying goal about halfway through the final frame. But it was against Canada that Nattinen saved his best moments for. With only a few minutes left in the second period, Canada and Finland were tied at three apiece. Both teams had held the lead, but seen it vanish in the contest. Nattinen was able to get to a rebound and chip it over the goalie to give Finland the lead. While Canada did tie the game up multiple times in the third period, Finland never trailed again from that point. Finally, in the final minute of regulation and with Canada’s goalie pulled, Nattinen was on the ice helping to defend the one goal lead. I counted at least two blocked shots from him as he helped lead Finland to victory.
Sweden came into this tournament as one of the favorites and they haven’t disappointed, winning all four of their round robin games before steamrolling Slovakia 6-0 in their quarter-final matchup. Pettersson has appeared in all five games for Sweden and recorded four assists. Larsson has appeared in all but one game, as he missed the game against Canada with an illness. Larsson has a goal and an assist in four games. More importantly than their scoring, Pettersson and Larsson have been a part of a defensive unit that has recorded three shutouts in only five games, as they shutout the US, Denmark, and Slovakia. Switzerland and Canada are the only two teams who have scored against Sweden so far, and the Swiss have scored the most with three. Both have played solid defense for Sweden and will do their best to stifle Finland’s high octane offense.
While the Ducks don’t have many prospects at this year’s tournament, they are well represented with three high quality prospects, all of whom we could see in Anaheim in future seasons. Anaheim prospects will come home with at least one medal from this tournament, if not three. Regardless of which team wins, this tournament has been a great chance for us to get a brief glimpse at the future of the Ducks.
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