The 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey tournament wraps up Saturday evening at Rogers Arena, as Team Finland and Team USA battle for the gold medal, and Vancouver hockey fans are faced with a conundrum: with Canada long gone, eliminated in the quarterfinals, who do you cheer for?
It’s not an easy decision. On one hand, the Finns are the team that created this problem, defeating the hometown Canadians in an overtime heartbreaker. But on the other hand, the Americans are, well, the hated Americans. What self-respecting Canadian can root for the country’s longtime hockey nemesis?
Unfortunately, for the first time in World Junior history, those are the only two options. You have to choose and, to help you, here is a list of five reasons to root for both squads.
We’ll start with Team Finland.
The Finns? More like the Funns
Team Finland has generally been the Scandinavian also-ran, second to the Swedes, who are generally seen as the more dangerous opponent. But lately, it’s been the Finns who have been the dangerous ones. Sweden’s last gold medal was in 2012. The Finns, on the other hand, are one win away from their third gold medal in the last six years and fifth all-time, more than any country apart from the Russians and the Canadians.
Their recent run of success is due, in large part, to a more exciting crop of prospects playing a more exciting brand of hockey. Even if it hasn’t been particularly good for Canada, it’s good for the world junior tournament, which has seen the big four of Canada, the U.S., Russia and Sweden expand to a big five in the past decade. More power to Finland, we say.
They were very kind to Noah Dobson
Just prior to the overtime goal that crushed Canada’s hopes of repeating as world junior gold medallist, Canadian defender Noah Dobson had an opportunity to give the game a different ending. The Summerside, P.E.I., native had a glorious scoring chance fall apart in heartbreaking fashion, as his stick snapped on a one-timer that looked labelled for the back of the net. The puck trickled harmlessly away, the Finns turned the play back up ice, and Toni Utunen got a lucky rather than unlucky break, as his shot deflected off a Canadian defender and past goalie Michael DiPietro.
Finnish company PAMA hockey felt badly for Dobson and send him a cheeky gift, along with a letter.
“We at PAMA Hockey feel sorry that your equipment gave up on you at the worst possible moment,” the letter read. “We know how polite the Canadians are, so we want to give you this Finnish hockey stick, PAMA PHX Carbon as a gift for a great hockey game. We hope the best for your upcoming career!”
How kind of them. If it’s gracious winners you like, Finland is the obvious choice in the gold-medal game.
Only Finland can prevent America’s revenge
The 2018 world junior tournament was hosted by the Americans, but it was won by the Canadians. The last thing anybody wants is for the Americans to turn around and do the same thing to Canada the very next year. They would likely see it as a fitting comeuppance. They would probably brag about it.
This cannot happen. Better to see Team USA win silver, the medal nobody ever brags about. Heck, last year, Team Sweden’s captain was so disappointed in the loss to Team Canada that he threw his silver medal into the crowd. It seems unlikely that any Americans would do the same this year, but there’s only one way to find out: Go Finland.
They’re not the Americans
Let’s be honest. It’s difficult to root for the U.S. at the best of times, and the past couple years have been anything but the best of times for Canada’s southern neighbour. We’ll refrain from commenting on the country’s politics, but it’s worth noting that zero members of the Finnish world junior team voted in the 2016 presidential election. Granted, many of them aren’t even voting age, but the point stands: however you feel about what America’s up to these days, the Finns are far removed from it, and that’s nice.
They have a Canucks prospect
The aforementioned Toni Utunen is a Vancouver Canucks prospect. Prior to the overtime winner versus Canada, the 2018 fifth-rounder wasn’t exactly known for his goal scoring, but he sure is now.
“I think that was his first goal in a whole season,” Team Finland head coach Jussi Ahokas said after the game with a laugh.
As much as it hurts to see him hurt Team Canada’s hopes of winning gold on home ice, it’s always nice to see Canucks prospects succeeding at Rogers Arena, so go Finland, I guess.
Now then. On to Team USA. Here are five reasons to get behind the Americans.
Nobody likes the Finns anymore
It’s Finland’s fault we’re in this mess at all. If not for them, it would likely be Canada that had just rolled over the Swiss, setting up another legendary clash with the Americans in the gold-medal game. Instead, here we are, trying to decide, for the first time ever, if we want the Finns or the Americans to win it all.
Many Vancouver hockey fans have already made their choice, booing the Finns at every opportunity in the semifinals, and you know what? It’s about time. The Finns have ruined everything for the last time. The last two times the Canadians failed to medal at this tournament, in 2014 and 2016, it’s because they were eliminated by the Finns en route to a gold medal.
Worse, this is the first time Canada won’t medal when hosting the tournament. Enough is enough. Forget the Americans. The Finns are our new foes.
That Noah Dobson thing was actually a jerk move
Sure, you could argue, as we did above, that the letter from PAMA hockey was a classy gesture. Or you could argue it was the ultimate troll from a country that has had Canada’s number lately and is starting to get cocky about it. Since when do the Finns get to troll the Canadians? Down with Finland, the worst Scandinavian country there is.
The Americans kind of deserve it
We hate to praise the Americans, but Team USA does seem like the most deserving winner. They’ve yet to lose a game in regulation in this tournament, and they’ve looked like the team to beat throughout. Team Finland, on the other hand, has been the team to beat twice, losing two games in the round robin. Do we really want the gold medal going to a .500 hockey team? We do not. Go America.
Quinn Hughes and Tyler Madden are fantastic
The Americans have a couple Canucks prospects as well, and unlike the generally quiet Toni Utunen, Quinn Hughes and Tyler Madden look like world-beaters. Hughes has been described as one of the best skaters in a generation, and Madden has been a revelation at this tournament, blowing fans away with his shifty moves and surprising chemistry with his future Vancouver Canucks teammate.
For Canucks fans, it’s easy to cheer for Team USA, who are being led by the very players one hopes will one day lead the Canucks. In this way, a win for Team USA is also a win for Vancouver’s drafting and prospect development, and at the end of the day, forget the rest of the country — that’s all Vancouver really cares about.
It was a Finnish player who hurt Elias Pettersson
And finally, it bears mentioning that Elias Pettersson was recently injured by a Finnish hockey player — Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi. While we don’t typically recommend blaming an entire nation for the actions of one player, especially a player who isn’t even in this tournament, Elias Pettersson is very good, and if Finland weren’t producing such NHL-ready talent these days, Kotkaniemi wouldn’t even have been in that game. So it’s down with the while country. Go America.
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