With their two toughest contests out of the way, Aki Seitsonen and Team Finland are looking to rebound in the 2006 World Junior Championships.
Finland started the tournament facing two of the favorites. On Dec. 26, Finland fell to Canada 5-1. Two days later, they drew the Americans, losing a heartbreaker 6-5.
“I think everybody knew when we came into this tournament, with the group we were in, that those first two games would be real tough,” said Seitsonen.
After being outshot 31-16 in the tournament opener to Canada, Finland played a much stronger game against the Americans, who are considered gold medal contenders.
Jumping to a 2-0 lead against Team USA, the Finns couldn’t hold off a strong American squad and lost by one goal, despite mustering 34 shots on goaltender Jeff Frazee (NJ).
Seitsonen noted an improved level of play in their second game.
“I think that (the USA game) was a lot better than it was Monday,” said Seitsonen. “I think that our play with the puck was better and we were more confident with the puck and made better plays today.”
Seitsonen is skating in his second World Junior Championship with Finland. At last year’s tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., Seitsonen struggled offensively, scoring just one goal in six games. This year, however, Seitsonen is taking his play to another level.
Just two games into the tournament, the 6’2, 190lb forward has two goals, including the lone goal against Canada on a point shot that beat Canadian goaltender and Western Hockey League foe Justin Pogge (TOR).
Familiar with Pogge, Seitsonen was able to bury his first of the tournament early. Playing hockey in Western Canada, Seitsonen hasn’t had to make the adjustments most of his teammates are having to make to the smaller surface.
The native of Riihimski is in his third season of playing for the Prince Albert Raiders, where he has 17 points in 35 games. It was a decision that Seitsonen took careful consideration in making.
“It was a long time thinking,” admitted Seitsonen, who played against Raider teammate Kyle Chipchura (MON) when the Finns were downed by Canada in their tournament opener. “When I was 17 I was asking where should I play, where should I play? Should I play in Finland or come over here? I talked to my agent and he said that would be a good challenge to come over here and play, play over in Canada, a more North American style.”
The decision has been a positive one for Seitsonen, who was rewarded by being drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames. The organization has been able to keep a close eye on their top Finnish prospect.
“The scouts come watch me and come talk to me after the game,” said Seitsonen of his contact with the Flames organization. “We keep in touch a little bit.”
For now, Seitsonen’s mind is far from his junior club, though. His only focus right now is getting his Finnish squad back on track.
“We just have to forget about those two (games) and move on to the next two,” Seitsonen offered.
In order to improve, Seitsonen stated that his club had to adjust to the ‘sensitive’ refereeing in the tournament.
“We can’t just take 14 penalties like we did (against the US),” admitted Seitsonen. “We can’t take those minor penalties. We need to drop those penalties down to three or four.”
With Thursday night off, Seitsonen and the Finns will regroup to face Norway on Friday and finish the round-robin portion of the tournament against Switzerland on New Year’s Eve.
Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.