Under-20 WJC: A look back at the Team Finland

By Heikki Kallionsivu

After the bronze medal game Finland’s head coach Erkka Westerlund said that team had a good tournament and he was satisfied the way his team played. I can easily understand what he said because in my opinion Finland, Canada and Russia were clearly three best teams at this tournament.

Finland’s defence was just as good Russians or Canadians, but Finns forwards were too small and weak compared to Russia & Canada, especially at wing. Finns played very well as a team and they had the tournament’s best goalie (Kari Lehtonen), but that was not enough. After the tournament Westerlund said that talent-wise the gap between Finland and Russia is big and only four-five Finnish players are good enough to play for Team Russia. I’d like to say Finns have five to six players this good, but the truth is that talent difference between Finland and Canada/Russia is obvious.

Finland had in the tournament one or two average showings (first game against Switzerland, semi-final game against the Czech Republic), but in other games they played well to very well. Their best games were the round-robin matches against Russia (win 2-1) and Canada (win 4-1). Team Finland also played well against Russia in semifinals, but unfortunately Russia played maybe their best game in the tournament. The Russians didn’t take stupid penalties and played a very disciplined defensive game. And in that game the Russians skating was superior, they really flew on the ice the whole 61 minutes. The final game was alot easier for the Finns. The Swiss were tired and the Finns, especially Tuomo Ruutu, wanted to win and get a medal.

Special teams

Finland has two powerplay units and both got equal pp-time. If Maatta-Malmivaara has just played long shift, then Pitkanen-Seikola played with Koivu & co and vice versa, but mostly it was Pihlman-Koivu-Ruutu-Maatta-Malmivaara and Jokinen-Immonen-Koivisto-Seikola-Pitkanen. The playmakers were Koivu/Ruutu (PP1) and Jokinen (PP1a). Malmivaara was a surprisingly reliable pointman, while Seikolas shot is a dangerous weapon and Pitkanen was a very good puckcarrier.

PP1 Maatta-Malmivaara
PP1a Pitkanen-Seikola
– also Marttinen got some pp-time

PP1 Pihlman-Koivu-Ruutu
PP1a Jokinen-Immonen-Koivisto

Team Finland player-by-player


Kari Lehtonen (Jokerit / undrafted)
(6 GP, 4 W. Save% 94,31)

Second team all-star / best goalie (directorats choice). In my mind the whole tournaments best player. Made only a couple mistakes during the tournament and had several big saves. He doesn’t have any weaknesses and teammates rely heavily on him.

Juha Kuokkanen (Saipa / undrafted).
(1 GP, 1 W. Save% 93,75)

Ideal back-up goalie. Played a mentally difficult – and important – game against Russia and won. Has played against Russia three times during this season and won every game. Smallish, mobile, flexible goalie, who had a fast glovehand. Average stickhandler.


Defensive pairs

1st pair Maatta-Malmivaara
2nd pair Pitkanen-Seikola
3rd pair Marttinen-Viitanen
7th d-man Jaakola

Joni Pitkanen (Karpat / undrafted)
7, 1+3=4, 0 PIM, +6 (7-1)

Top four d-man. Played a lot, even strength, powerplay, shorthanded. I had’t seen exact stats, but I think that Joni got more icetime than any other Finnish player (except goalie Lehtonen). Was very good; defensively reliable, offensively creative. Teams best plus/minus (+6).

No penalties is an amazing achievent, when you noticed that he played so many minutes. Played a more offensive-minded game during the first games (Switzerland, France), but came back to basics when the meaningful games started. Long, mobile d-man, who has a very good hockey-sense. Skates so well forward and backward and handles puck better than most of forwards. Needs to get more weight and strength and improve his shot.

Olli Malmivaara (Jokerit / Chicago Blackhawks)
6, 0+1=1, 2 PIM, +3 (3-0)

Top four d-man. Big, skating defensive d-man, who can also handle the puck. Every successful team needs a couple defencemen like Malmivaara. He doesn’t make many mistakes, gives short, safe tape-to-tape passes, a very good, honest team player. Very mobile for his size. He is not a big hitter, but in my mind Olli is physical player. Good in corners and front of net. During the first Russia-game Ivan Neprieav high-sticked him to the face (required 14 stitches) and he could’t play against France. Had to use full-mask after that, but it didn’t effect his play negatively. Has potential to be NHL-player á la Ossi Vaananen (Phoenix). Maybye not as physical as Ossi, but offensively better.

Markus Seikola (TPS / Toronto Maple Leafs)
7, 1+2=3, 16 PIM, +2 (5-3)

Top four d-man. Hardshooting, skilled d-man, who can skate and also hit. Self-confident, some say that might be too overconfident of a player. Defensively not as good as Pitkanen/Malmivaara, but not much behind. Markus doesn’t have clear weaknesses and I believe that one day he will play in the NHL. Needs to learn use his hard, right-handed shot faster.

Tero Määttä (Espoo / San Jose Sharks
7, 1+2=3, 4 PIM, +4 (6-2)

Top four d-man. Started very well, was maybye Finland’s best d-man after four games. Hurt his side during the first game against Russia and maybe it affected him a little bit playing the rest of the games. A big, good two-way defenceman, who needs to improve his mobility a little bit. Was in Four Nations tournament (November) average at best, but in this tournament he was good and seems to get his self confidence in order. Tero makes sometimes easy mistakes (mental lapses?). Instead of concentrating to do well what he can do at that moment, he sometimes seems to think too much about the next step. Overall a fine young man, who just needs to get more experience and a proper guidance in good coaching. Next season in the AHL?

Jyri Marttinen (Jyp / undrafted)
7, 1+2=3, 8 PIM, +3 (5-2)

Fifth d-man. Positive surprise. Not big (5’11, 190) but solidly built, strong legs and good balance. Can skate, handle the puck, shoot, hit and has self-confidence and guts. Only drawback is below average size. Didn’t get much pp-time, but when he got it he was reliable. His best game was first game against Russia, where he scored the gamewinner.

Mikko Viitanen (Jukurit / Colorado Avalanche)
7, 0+0=0, 4 PIM, +5 (5-0)

Sixth/seventh defenceman. 6’3 ft, 220 lbs. A big player, who can play a physical game. Is a decent puckhandler and passer, but sometimes overthinks where to pass and then tends to makes errors. A good, low and hard shot. He Has to keep his feet constantly moving because when his skating stops, he is in trouble. Played his best games against the fast teams (Canada, Russia) because when the game is fast paced Mikko played with insticts and didn’t overthink things. Needs to improve his footspeed and self-confidence. His playing style suits better in North-America than in Europe. The Avalanche don’t have many young defenceman in Hershey, hopefully next season Mikko is one of them.

Topi Jaakola (Karpat / undrafted)
6, 0+0=0, 2 PIM, -1 (0-1)

Sixth/seventh defenceman. Got more and more playing time as the tournament progressed. Team’s only minus player (-1). Has good offensive skills; puckhandling, shot and especially skating. Defensive play is a question mark. I’m not sure if Topi is just inexperienced and over eager or did he sometimes read defensive situations wrong? Sometimes is better to think and watch than skate and hit. It’s sure that he needs to get more experience and more weight and upperbody strenght. Didn’t play in bronze medal game because had a fever.


1st line Pihlman-Ruutu-Yli-Torkko
2nd line Jokinen-Immonen-Koivisto
3rd line Kankaanpera-Koivu-Jokila
4th line Maki-Hirschovits-Saarenheimo
13th forward Bergenheim

Tuomo Ruutu (Jokerit / Chicago Black Hawks)
7, 4+1=5, 10 PIM, +1 (2-1)

First/second line center/winger. Power, this kid is really strong. One of tournaments best power forwards and hitters. Assistant captain who leads by example. Played at wing (first game) and center (other games). Sometimes tried to do too much – he should pass more – but overall was Finlands best forward. Was teams best goalscorer (four goals, tied with Jarkko Immonen) and had lots of scoring chances. Didn’t take too many stupid penalties, as he sometimes does, and was decent in the face-off circle (53%). Is physically ready to play in the NHL now, but should hone his puckskills in Europe one more year.

Jarkko Immonen (Assat / undrafted)
7, 4+3=7, 6 PIM, +3 (6-3)

First/second line center. Teams biggest positive suprise. Assistant captain. Scored four goals, including three game-winners and worked hard all over the ice. Got lots of playing time, especially even-strength and pp-time, and earned all that icetime that he got. Had a really solid tournament and centered Finlands best line (Jokinen-Immonen-Koivisto). Jarkko is not fast or big, but is smart and surprisingly strong. Will take a hit to make a play or get a shot. Most of his goals were “garbage-goals” scored front of the net.

Toni Koivisto (Lukko / Florida Panthers)
7, 3+4=7, 2 PIM, +2 (5-3)

First/second line winger. Second team-allstar. Skilled winger, who had extra gear. In this tournament there was only a handful of players who matched Koivisto’s speed and skill. Toni can handle the puck extremely well at full speed and went a couple a times coast-to-coast. Played defensive surprisingly well. Toni is neither physical player nor a perimeter player, he is just a very good hockey player. Koivisto has potential to be above average NHL-player á la Sami Kapanen, but question is does he have enough will and fire. “Are ready to pay the price?”.

Jussi Jokinen (Karpat / Dallas Stars)
7, 2+6=8, 2 PIM, +3 (7-4)

First/second line winger. Very good play-making winger. Effortless skater, very smart passer, above average stickhandler. He is not a big player, but played bravely in this tournament. Needs to get more strength and shoot more. He will be a project and will need two-three years in Finland before he is ready to try in North-America.

Pekka Saarenheimo (Karpat / undrafted)
7, 1+0=1, 0 PIM, +1 (2-1)

Fourthliner. Another positive surprise. Hard-working, grinding winger, who can skate and shoot. Short but stocky. Got alot of shorthanded-time and worked his guts out. I think that Pekka did very well with his role and didn’t take any penalties, which is a quite an achievement. Only goal was against Switzerland in the bronze medal game. I’m not so sure has he NHL-potential, but played better than I expected.

Tomi Maki (Jokerit / Calgary)
7, 1+0=1, 0 PIM, +2 (3-1)

Fourthliner. Very much like Saarenheimo, but better skater and a little bit smarter. Not as strong or physical as Saarenheimo. Only goal was an empty-netter against the Czech Republic. Maybye next year in Halifax we will see can he score or if he is just a skilled grinder.

Mikko Koivu (TPS / Minnesota Wild)
7, 1+5=6, 4 PIM, +1 (4-3)

First/second line center. Played mostly in third line with smallish wingers Jokila and Kankaanpera, but got lots of pp-time. Team captain didn’t meet my expections. Okay, he got his points, but that “something” was missing. He is a good leader and passer, played hard and got better as the tournament progressed, but his skating, especially backwards, is not good enough if he wants to be reliable two-way center. Mikko can take and give a hit because his balance is good, but to be a truly effective player he needs to get much more weight and muscle. Will need at least one more year, maybye two or three years in Europe before is ready to travel to Minnesota.

Tuomas Pihlman (Jyp / New Jersey Devils)
7, 2+2=4, 2 PIM, +4 (4-0)

First/second line winger. Big, strong and skilled two-way winger, who need to drop his weight and add his speed and will. Had lots of scoring chances in this tournament, but manage to score only twice. Usually gets off to a fast start in a game but then disappears. Hurt his ankle in autumn and it took several weeks before it healed. Maybye that was one reason why he was not as good as I expected in this tournament. Need to be more consistent and determined if he really wants to play one day in the NHL.

Joni Yli-Torkko (Saipa / undrafted)
7, 0+2=2, 6 PIM, +4 (4-0)

First/second line winger. Suffered a mild concussion just before the tournament (in a scrimmage against Canada) and that clearly affected him in this tournament. He didn’t play nearly as well as I expected. When he plays his own game, Joni is an excellent little forechecker / disturber / agitator. He hits very hard for his size, is fast and mobile skater, has pretty good pair of hands and is willing to pay the price. Now he played his own game only momentarily. Hit goalpost once.

Kim Hirshovits (IFK / undrafted)
7, 0+1=1, 6 PIM, +1 (1-0)

Fourthline center. Played pretty well at times, but not consistently. Took a couple stupid penalties and was not as good in faceoffs as expected. Before the tournament he said that his main goal is that when he is on the ice an opponent will not score a goal. He reached that goal. Basicly Kim is a skilled, offensive playmaking center and my mind he was miscast in that role what coach Westerlund expected him to play (defensive center). Despite limited playing time Hirschovits created some good scoring chances and once hit a goalpost. His shot is hard and low but a little bit inaccurate. If he wants someday play in North America, he needs to get more speed and play more simplier and tougher game.

Janne Jokila (TPS / Colombus Blue Jackets)
7, 1+0=1, 2 PIM, +2 (2-0)

Third-line winger. Small, fast, and skilled winger. Perimeter player, who needs to get more strength and guts if wants to play well against bigger opponents. Janne doesn’t drive to net and is a good player only when there is some open ice, where he can use his speed, skating and passing skills. There is no physical element in his game and I don’t believe that he never will play in North America.

Mikko Kankaanpera (TPS / undrafted)
7, 0+2=2, 4 PIM, +2 (2-0)

Third line winger. Natural center, who played at wing. He tried hard, but he was miscast in that role. He is not a grinding, hitting thirdlinewinger, he is a smart, skilled center, who drives surprisingly well to the net. Third line, “TPS-line”, has a little problem because all three players (Koivu, Jokila, Kankaanpera) like to handle the puck and there is only one puck.

Sean Bergenheim (Jokerit / undrafted)
7, 0+1=1, 4 PIM, +1 (1-0)

Extra forward. Didn’t get much icetime – played only one full game and that was the last game against Switzerland. Bergenheim is an excellent skater, who had a tunnelvision and whose shot is very hard but also very inaccurate. Sean is eager hitter and checker, sometimes too eager, and he takes unnecessary penalties because of his playing style (late hits, slashing). He is good, speedy penalty killer but nobody knows if he – or will he ever be – a legitimate scorer. Next year in Halifax we will see if he a scorer or just a speedy up-and-down grinder.