Patrick Green/ Icon SMI)
After the USA convincingly defeated the home town Finnish team by a score of 5-0 in the preliminary round in Helsinki, the Finns managed to squeak out a hard-fought 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals of the World Championships, effectively ending what had been an outstanding tournament for Team USA.
The joy and relief felt in Helsinki was easily sensed everywhere, not the least of which amongst the players of Team Finland. The hero of the day was Islander prospect Jesse Joensuu who scored two goals including the game-winner, which came on a shot in the slot with only 9 seconds remaining in the game.
Afterwards, Hockey’s Future had an opportunity to chat with a number of players on both sides.
Cam Fowler, Defense, Team USA
Hockey’s Future: Very tough loss today. How did this game slip out of your hands?
Cam Fowler: Oh man, I don’t know. We certainly didn’t do any of things we did the first time we played them. We maybe tried to play too cute and they just came out and played smash mouth hockey and we weren’t able to recover. It’s just a tough one, a real tough loss.
HF: Do you think the Finnish crowd played any role in this victory today?
CF: No, I don’t think so. I think us beating them in the preliminary round gave them momentum coming in. Well, not momentum, but rather urgency coming in. Obviously it helps to have the hometown crowd behind you, but that’s not anything we haven’t faced before. It surely helped them to have that support though.
HF: This is your second year in a row representing Team USA at the World Championships. Do you feel this loss here hurts more than dropping out last year at this time?
CF: I think so. I mean the way we were playing this year… It’s tough to say, but I think this team had a lot more capability than last year’s. We were clicking a little more together and you could see that when we put our mind to it, we were really hard to beat. Of course, when all is said and done, we were just too inconsistent.
HF: And what about your role for Team USA, did that change at all between this year and last year?
CF: No, I don’t think so. USA Hockey knows what type of player I am and I can say that it was definitely an honor to play with Jack (Johnson) on the top D pairing and getting time on the first power play unit. They know who I am and what I’m about and that I try to contribute as much as possible both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough tonight.
Leo Komarov, Forward, Team Finland
Hockey Future: How difficult was it for you and your teammates to get ready for this game after the first 5-0 loss and in light of all the media attention here in Helsinki and the pressure from the hometown crowd?
Leo Komarov: I don’t really think it was all that difficult. The 5-0 loss was last Sunday and I think it was good for us. Everyone was angry at us and we felt we needed to come out and show a different face. Of course, we were lucky in the end tonight, but still, it was a good game and I think we were able to bury that 5-0 once and for all.
HF: What do you say to the overwhelming crowd support this evening?
LK: It’s good. It’s nice to play at home with all the fans here and we players all have a lot of friends and family out there, so the motivation was very high.
HF: Would you say this tournament is pretty much as Team Finland expected it would be?
LK: Well, it’s always hard to play in the World Championships and I’ve been surprised, because the USA had a really good team this year and Canada was of course an absolute favorite. Now both are out. Things didn’t always look good for us the past two weeks and then you get a little bit lucky and everything looks different.
HF: Some feel you might be close to signing an NHL contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Do you know where exactly you’ll be playing next year?
LK: No, I don’t know that yet.
Max Pacioretty, Forward, Team USA
Hockey’s Future: How big of a disappointment is this loss for you right now?
Max Pacioretty: It’s a huge disappointment. We know we were capable of being the better team today and ultimately, we weren’t, at least not on the scoreboard.
HF: What’s it like for you after such a rollercoaster ride in Montreal to come here and play so well, only to see the tournament end in this manner?
MP: It’s very frustrating. You know, part of me wants to blame some other things, but at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror and I know myself pretty well. I wasn’t good enough and I wish I could have done more to help the team.
HF: You were one of the top scorers here and currently lead the tournament with 11 assists. What other positives are you going to take from this tournament in general?
MP: That I’ve got a lot to work on in general. Some of the play here really exposed some of the weaknesses in my game. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that successfully.
HF: Now next year is a big one in Montreal, because there are some things you guys have to do better there…
MP: Oh yes…
HF: … But if you should get invited, in the case that you should unfortunately not make the Stanley Cup playoffs, will you be ready to answer the call for Team USA again, perhaps with an eye on avenging this evening’s loss?
MP: Yep, hopefully. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to play for my country this year and if I ever get the chance again down the road and I’m healthy, I’ll be very willing to do the same.
Cam Atkinson, Forward, Team USA
Hockey’s Future: Cam, what was the difference today and how did Finland manage to turn the whole thing upside down within the last seven minutes?
Cam Atkinson: We just didn’t execute our game plan to a ‘T’. We didn’t get pucks deep enough when we should have and we didn’t execute our forecheck well enough. As for the Finns, they played a good game and they deserved to win.
HF: How important was this experience for you and your development with Team USA here at the World Championships?
CA: I think it’s been huge. It’s a great, great honor to represent your country. I got to come over here and represent and there are so many other great players that could have been here instead of me. I’m just fortunate enough that I got the opportunity and I hope I can come back again soon.
HF: Were you surprised to get the invite?
CA: Uh, yes, I guess a little bit. You never know what’s going to happen, but I just keep thinking that I’ve been really fortunate to have gotten the opportunity.
HF: Speaking of opportunity, what was it like for you to get that taste of the NHL at the end of this past season?
CA: It was so great. Actually, in the course of the next few years, is going to be a great team to play for and you know, I think we managed to play the way we should for the last month and a half. We played well for our fans and it’s going to be a great year next year.
HF: Has it been special for you to get to play with Jack Johnson again here after you got to get an impression of him in Columbus?
CA: Oh absolutely. He’s been a great mentor to me and he’s been around. He’s been to these tournaments here and he’s been a great leader and he’s a mentor for me who’s been there every step of the way.
HF: What type of feedback have you received from the Columbus organization?
CA: It’s going to have to be a big summer for me just getting bigger and stronger. Once the main camp comes, I’m going to go in there knowing what to expect and shoot to make the team right from the get-go.
Jesse Joensuu, Forward, Team Finland
Hockey’s Future: Has there ever been a day in your life where you were a bigger hero than you are today?
Jesse Joensuu: Uh, I don’t want to think of myself as a hero, because this status will not be lasting for any more than just about two days. It’s better to just be considered a normal person for today too.
HF: Let’s put it another way: Is this maybe the biggest single moment in your hockey career to date?
JJ: Well obviously it’s special, because we’re playing here in Helsinki and winning a huge game against a tough, tough opponent in the playoffs. That’s just a very special thing.
HF: You had a bit of an up and down season in Sweden and there were a number of critics who were very skeptical about your inclusion in the National Team. What do you have to say to those people now?
JJ: These people are definitely entitled to their opinion and there were a lot of good players who were left out. Take Ville Peltonen who is an institution in the National Team and wasn’t nominated. He’s one of the big faces, big icons in Finnish ice hockey. If he were to be here and I wouldn’t be, I’d certainly not see that as something that’s unfair.
HF: Team USA players Kyle Okposo and Nate Thompson are a couple of former teammates of yours. The US coach Scott Gordon is a former coach of yours. How much more special is this victory coming against a few guys you worked with over in North America?
JJ: It was special to beat those guys. Obviously, in a competitive sport like hockey, you want to prove that you’re capable of more. I didn’t play that well or that much for the Islanders and I know I have more to give, so it’s important to beat those guys, but they’d probably say the same thing about beating us here. Everybody wants to win and it feels great to show that you can play when the money is on the line and at a high level.
HF: And how was your season at HV71? I hear you had an emotional playoff run there.
JJ: I had a really great time in Sweden and the team treated me really well. The playoffs against Farjestad were the most emotional time in my career. That was a tough loss. I’ve never been so high on emotions and never wanted to beat a team that bad. After a few days of sleep, it’s easier to look back. We just wanted to beat those guys so bad, but at the same time, that’s exactly how ice hockey should be. You can’t be sad about it too long though.
HF: Boy, that sounds like it was a really special series?
JJ: It was just so emotional and the refs let both teams play hard. It was more of a wrestling match at times, but I really enjoyed it. It was like being in a different world, because it was like everything in life just revolved around beating Farjestad.
HF: The New York Islanders still have your NHL rights. Do you know right now where you’ll be playing next season?
JJ: I can’t say anything concrete to that right now other than it certainly will not be the KHL. That’s certain. If I stay in Europe, I’ll remain with HV71. I don’t yet know what’s going to happen, but the door is closed on Russia and a decision could come at any time.