More so than any IIHF World Championship in recent years, this year’s tournament has been all about the young players. With so many high-profile teenagers on the rosters of various teams, 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov – who has three NHL seasons under his belt and has already played in the Winter Olympics and last year’s World Championship – may seem like a veteran.
The big Finnish center is playing on the same line as 18-year-old superstar and fellow Tampere-native Patrik Laine, and Laine is quick to give his linemates – Barkov and veteran winger Jussi Jokinen – credit for the success he has had early in the tournament.
“I think we have good chemistry on our line – those guys have helped me out a lot,” Laine said after recording 6 points in his first two games. Barkov assisted on 3 of Laine’s 4 goals in those games. On Wednesday night, Laine returned the favor by setting up Barkov for his first goal of the tournament – it came midway through the third period to give Finland a surprisingly narrow 2–0 lead against Hungary.
Besides Laine, another teenaged phenom gave praise to Barkov for his work in the faceoff circle. In Finland’s encounter with Team USA, Barkov was 9-for-13 in the faceoff circle, winning several key draws against Auston Matthews.
“Normally, centermen are matched up against each other and he’s a big, strong guy and he was quick on the draws tonight,” Matthews acknowledged after the game.
After four games, the Finns are perfect with 12 points. Barkov spoke after the win over Hungary.
Hockey’s Future: How frustrating was that game, outplaying them by a wide margin but the scored stayed so close?
Aleksander Barkov: “I don‘t think it was frustrating. We played a pretty good game but they played well defensively, they had a good goalie . . . I think 3–0 is a good win.”
HF: You scored a big goal in the third period and you looked pretty relieved. What were you thinking?
AB: “I thought, ‘Finally I scored a goal,’ because I had so many chances. So now I feel good and I’m ready to go.”
HF: That was a nice pass that Laine gave you. What’s it been like playing with him this week?
AB: “Yeah, he’s a great player and a great guy. We’re from the same hometown so we know each other pretty well. It’s a lot of fun to be with him and a lot of fun to play on the same line.”
HF: You’re both from Tappara. Had you played with him before this?
AB: “Never. I know him because we’ve practiced together. We’re from the same club and same hometown, but we’ve never been on the same team.”
HF: With so many young players like Laine and Sebastian Aho on this team, you must feel like a veteran having played in the World Championships before.
AB: “I think we have pretty good leaders on the team like (Mikko) Koivu and Jokinen – they’re good leaders and older guys. I still feel like a young guy, and I try to learn from them and bring the energy that I have.”
HF: Auston Matthews had some nice things to say about you the other night.
AB: “Yeah I heard about that and I’m really happy to hear that from him. He’s a great player and he’s gonna be one of the best.”
HF: Why do you think you were so successful against him on faceoffs?
AB: “Just a lot of practice. I didn’t do so well on faceoffs against Germany so I’ve been practicing that.”
HF: You’re just coming off your third season with the Florida Panthers and had your most productive season so far. How do you think it went?
AB: “Overall, I think we had a pretty good season. We won the division and won a lot of games, but in the playoffs we should have won. We were a better team than them but they scored more goals and they won.”
HF: While that was going on, your Tappara team won the Finnish championship. Were you following that much?
AB: “Yeah, it felt pretty great. I have a lot of friends on that team, I practice with them during the summer and it was exciting to see them win because they lost in the finals three years in a row.”
HF: Finally, how do you explain the success that Finland has had internationally this year at every age category? If you win this tournament it will be a hat-trick.
AB: “I don’t know, it’s just been a great year for us. At the Under-20s and the Under-18s we won the gold medals and now we have to win this.”
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