The Finnish and Swedish teams that competed against the USA Blue and USA White split-squad teams at the USA 2006 National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY had just a couple of NHL first rounders combined, compared to 10 for the home teams.
The Europeans teams combined for 21 total NHL draftees while the American teams had a total of 37.
Still a lot of work to do for the Finns
Outscored 23-9 and outshot 171-86, the Finnish team lost all four of its games.
“We are not happy about the games, we have a lot to do to be honest,” admitted the Finnish Head Coach, Jarmo Tolvanen, to Hockey’s Future at the conclusion of the event. “Of course, this is preseason for everybody. We just have been together a few days before the event began. So, we are now just working on the basics.”
The Finnish head coach pointed out that some prospects stayed in Finland. “We have two to four other guys out there we have to look at.”
The roster of Finland was mostly composed of ‘’senior’’ juniors. While only three 18-year-olds took part, all the others were 19.
Tuukka Rask (BOS), a 2005 Toronto Maple Leafs 21st overall pick who was traded to Boston in June, gave up eight goals in two games but he didn’t play that bad considering the blasts he received from the USA teams.
“Of course, he will be a key player for our team,” commented Tolvanen. In the stands, the Boston Bruins General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, was proud of his recent acquisition. He said to Hockey’s Future that he has been very impressed every time he has seen Rask play in the past.
The second Finn goaltender, Juha Toivonen, struggled in the two games he played, letting 15 shots reaching the net.
Formerly a high-touted 2006 NHL draft prospect and twice a member of the Finnish Junior Team, Jesse Joensuu (NYI) made the trip to the U.S. but he suffered a shoulder injury in his second shift in the first game.
It is not easy to find positive points after losing four games in a row, but the Finnish head coach was pleased with the games played by the members of his first line – Teemu Ramstedt, Jonas Enlund (ATL) and Mikko Lehtonen (BOS).
Despite the overall result for Finland, Tolvanen said that this tournament is useful for them.
“This is a great opportunity for us to see the players in action for the first time of the season,” he commented.
The team should count on six 2005 National Team members at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship. The Finns won four medals in the last five events. It seems likely they will have to work hard to win a medal this year. But getting another medal may be possible since working hard is their trademark.
Swedes offered good opposition
Sweden won the last game of the tournament in a shootout against Team USA Blue, completing the event with a 1-3 record. They offered an overall better opposition than the Finns did in these exhibition games. In four games, the Swedes gave up 15 goals and scored 8.
“The U.S. may be the top nation in the world right now,” commented Team Sweden Junior Head Coach, Torgny Bendelin, to Hockey’s Future. “It is my third time here and the U.S. teams are always good at this time of the year.
“Sometimes in the games, we are playing really really well but sometimes too, we drop down. That is where we have to work on,” commented Bendelin.
“It is a tremendous tournament, the game level that the U.S. teams offer is great, the games are played at a very high tempo, there are emotions on the ice. It is very very good,” he added.
Two of the top NHL Swedish prospects did not travel to Lake Placid.
“Nicklas Bergfors (NJ) suffered a separated shoulder, he had a surgery and should probably be ready to play again in September. I’m sorry to say that Nicklas Backstrom (WSH) was not allowed by his Swedish club to come with us. They have the right to do so because this tournament is not considered as an international break. We can’t do anything against that,” stated Bendelin.
The forward Mikael Backlund, a possible 2007 NHL top 10 draft selection, was not part of the Sweden roster in Lake Placid.
Detroit Red Wings 2005 fourth round pick Mattias Rittola led the team in scoring with four points. Bendelin mentioned that he particularly appreciated the play of the forward Patric Hornqvist (NSH) and the defenseman Jonas Junland (STL).
In the net, Johan Thalberg deserves an honorable mention. He played only one game, the last, and led his team in the shootout victory. Jonas Enroth (BUF) lost all of the three games he was involved in. He was neither brilliant nor bad.
The Swedes counted on only two members of the 2006 Junior Team — Fredrik Petersson (EDM) and Mattias Ritola. Nevertheless, the roster was quite experienced as only four players were born in 1988.
This team was big and tall, with a player average of 190 pounds and a little bit over 6 feet.
“Probably, most of the players here will play at the WJC,” said Bendelin. “For some of them, it could depend the way they will be used with their team in Sweden in the upcoming months. Unfortunately, sometimes, some coaches in the senior teams in Sweden keep the young players on the bench. Doing so, their development is slowing down. It is a little hard to accept.
“That said, hopefully, the players will increase their game in the next few months.”
Bendelin thinks he had a good team at the 2006 WJC, but was a little bit unlucky losing against the rival Finns in the quarterfinals.
The Swedish coach hopes that the gold medals won by the Sweden senior team at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and at the IIHF World Championship will boost hockey in his homeland.
“We have been working for many years to improve our system and I think that it is going better and better.
“If we can come up with the same level as last year, with a little more luck, we can have a very good WJC next December,” concluded Bendelin.
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