A trio of Team Finland players spent time before the game vs. the Czech Republic talking about a few of the things in their hockey lives.
After his second big year for the Florida Panthers, Aleksander Barkov is continuing to look like a go-to guy for not only his NHL team, but also this Finnish national team. He shared some thoughts heading into the quarterfinals.
Aleksandr Barkov: Russia was a measuring stick and as expected, it was a tough, tough game. Beating them gives us confidence going into the quarterfinals.
HF: And the keys for success to beat the Czechs in front of their hometown crowd?
AB: We defend very well and have a very, very good goalie. That’s the key for us and it’s our continual game plan. For sure, we need to be ready and have a very good start. They’ll have a big crowd here. We’ll go defense first and then attack when the time is right. Doing that gives us a very good shot at winning.
HF: You’ve spent two years in the NHL and you avoided anything resembling a sophomore slump, increasing on your totals from your rookie year. So how’s life in Florida?
AB: It’s nice. It’s a nice place with some wonderful weather. Sure, it’s different than life in Finland. I’m really liking life there.
HF: And your development as a player in the NHL?
AB: I’m happy with my progress, but I can and will get better. I generally think I am where I should be at this stage and have become very confident in my ability to play in the NHL and continue to improve. We have a good team with lots of good young players and I’m excited about our future.
HF: How difficult is it for you, as such a young man, to play a long 80+ game schedule in the NHL and then fly over here and play something like seven games in 11 nights?
AB: Well, firstly, I was very disappointed that we played those 80-some games and missed the playoffs. That hit hard. But it’s a bit of a condolence prize to get the chance to come here and play for a gold medal for your country. It’s exciting and I’m very happy to be here right now playing for the Suomi.
HF: You’ve played for Finland in the past, but now you have a much bigger role. What do your coaches expect of you here for this team Finland?
AB: I’m on a scoring line playing with pretty good guys like Jussi Jokinen and Joonas Donskoi, so we’re expected to go out and score goals. That’s our role. That’s what we have to do to win.
HF: Speaking of Donskoi, what do you say about his play here at this World Championship?
AB: He’s maybe the most skilled player at this tournament. He’s great at penalty shots, as we’ve seen. He can score goals, he can pass – he can do whatever he wants on the ice. He’s a very good player.
Joonas Donskoi is a former 2010 fourth round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, but was never signed. Having put up 49 points and a +13 in 58 regular season games in 2014-15, he then pumped in six goals and 22 points in 19 playoff games to go along with a +15 rating, effectively becoming one of Finland’s top domestic players at age 23. He’s now started blooming as a professional player and has spent not only this past season, but also this World Championship tournament, opening some eyes.
Hockey’s Future: Have what it takes to beat this Czech team and their seventh man in the stands?
Joonas Donskoi: We’ll focus on playing the way we have to date, because this is what has allowed us to be successful. We’ve gone defense first and it has paid off. The Czech team is loaded with talented players and you cannot underestimate the big crowd in an NHL-like arena like this one. For sure it’ll be a real nice game to play and we are very excited.
HF: Many feel this Finnish club will go home with a medal. Your feeling on that now?
JD: I don’t know. In these tourneys, you have to stay focused on the game in hand and take it from there. Go game to game and don’t worry about anything else. Surely though, we have to improve things game to game along the way, especially with respect to the power play and getting better defensively from game to game.
HF: And how do you feel personally after seven games in 11 days?
JD: I’m feeling good. Been some tiring times along the way, but we eat well and regenerate properly. Of course, before the tournament there were a lot of long playoff series back home with Karpat Oulu. So I’ve been playing a lot and I’m kind of used to it.
HF: You’re here at the World Championship and you had a big season back home. Would you say this has been your biggest year of professional hockey?
JD: Probably yes. I think so. I was able to stay healthy and I really started to truly understand what it means to be a professional hockey player. This has all added up to me playing a very good season and continuing that here at the World Championship.
HF: Big year with Karpat – do you know where you’ll be playing next season?
JD: No, I have no idea. I still have a contract with Karpat, but we’ll just have to see what comes.
HF: A different question for you. Finland just won silver at the U18 World Championship in Switzerland. Did you hear about this and what do you as a pro Finnish player feel about that kind of success?
JD: In general, I think we’ve got a lot of good young players on their way and we are excited about that. I can’t speak about the development in other Finnish programs, but I know that in Karpat Oulu – and we had some of our boys in that team – we’re doing some excellent junior level work and there are a lot of guys coming up and practicing with us or helping us out all the time. And they are good. This gives a young pro like me that feeling that we’re doing things right and that silver medal was another indication of that. It’s simply wonderful for Finnish hockey.
Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne is excited about the prospects of playing the Czechs in front of a sold out O2 Arena in Prague, but also very much so about the prospects of back-up goalie Juuse Saros, who is not only his understudy in this Finnish team, but also in the Nashville Predators organization.
Pekka Rinne: He’s really quite impressive. He’s what, maybe 20 years old and it’s so impressive how good he already is. He’s just a really great kid who has most all of the technical skills a modern goaltender requires and he just carries himself so well already. The way he plays is outstanding. He played one whole game here after an entire year of pro hockey and a WJC – and he went out and got a shutout. That’s outstanding. I just like that he works so hard. Doing that is simply the key to getting anywhere.
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