By Thomas Harrington
After facing each other in the semi-finals, Finland went on to the gold medal game against Russia, while Sweden competed for the Bronze against the US. The final two games at the World Junior Championships saw Finland claim gold at home in dramatic fashion while Sweden fell to the US in a blowout loss. In terms of Anaheim’s prospects, Julius Nattinen won gold at home, while Marcus Pettersson and Jacob Larsson went home empty handed.
In the semi-final contest that saw all three Anaheim prospects participate, Finland and Sweden renewed their international rivalry, with Finland skating off with a 2-1 victory. After being an important part of Finland’s win over Canada, Nattinen didn’t factor in either of Finland’s two goals, but still played a solid game. Larsson assisted on Sweden’s only goal of the contest, which was also the first goal of the game. Pettersson finished the game scoreless. Both Larsson and Pettersson played well, as Sweden’s defensive unit was once again stellar, holding the high flying Finns to only two goals. However, Sweden’s offense sputtered in this one, as Finland skated off with the victory over their rivals.
Nattinen had less of an impact in the gold medal game; it was Finland’s top line that took over this game in the third period. After seeing one goal scored in the first two periods, Russia and Finland combined for five goals in the third period, including goals in both the first and final minutes of the period. In the end, it went to overtime and Kasperi Kapanen had the magic and won gold for Finland. Despite not appearing on the scoresheet, Nattinen played well throughout the contest and won eight of his 11 faceoffs. His faceoff wins helped Finland dominate the game in the middle frame, while they threw everything but the kitchen sink on net as they sought their first goal of the game.
After falling in dramatic fashion to Finland, Sweden came out flat against the US, falling behind by two early in the game. Sweden did tie the game before the first period was over, but from the start of the second, the US absolutely dominated this contest. A combination of poor defensive play, bad goaltending, and missed coverage led to an easy medal win for the US. Both Larsson and Pettersson struggled in this contest, as Larsson finished a team worst -5 and Pettersson wasn’t much better with a -3 rating, but the entire team played poorly. It’s unfortunate, but it just seems like Sweden wasn’t able to recover from the loss to Finland by the time this game started, whereas the US seemed to be motivated by the loss to Russia.
Despite a poor final game from Larsson and Pettersson, all three Anaheim prospects had strong tournaments overall. None of them were dominant, but they weren’t expected to be. All three gave solid contributions to their national team, and I’m excited to see what they do in the future. Given their ages, I believe both Nattinen and Larsson could suit up for the World Juniors next year, whereas Pettersson will already be 20 when the tournament starts. Now that the World Juniors are over, Nattinen will return to Barrie of the OHL, and both Pettersson and Larsson will return to the SHL.
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