After opening the 2022 World Juniors with a 6-1 win over Latvia on Tuesday, Finland had a tougher time against Czechia, falling behind 2-0 in the first and coming back to win 4-3 in a shootout. Starting goaltender Leevi Merilainen looked shaky early on, but settled down during the second period, along with the rest of his team, as Kasper Puutio scored his second of the tournament to tie the game after Robi Jarventie had cut the lead in half at the end of the first.
The third period saw the two teams trade goals as Aatu Raty pushed Finland into the lead – only to see Czech captain Jan Mysak tie it again a few minutes later. The game ended up staying deadlocked at three until the shootout where Kasper Simontaival eventually won it on a slick move around Czech goaltender Jan Bednar.
With all that said, let’s take a look at a few takeaways from the victory that kept Finland unbeaten in preliminary round play.
Finland Slow Out of the Gate…Again
Similar to the game against Latvia, Finland was slow out of the starting blocks. With the Czechs possessing more skill than the Latvians, they were able to capitalize on the sluggishness and questionable goaltending to take a two-goal lead before the 12-minute mark of the opening period. Luckily for the Finns, they are a resilient bunch with a lot of talent of their own, as they managed to come back and not only tie the game but also win it in a shootout.
However, Finland can’t bank on that happening every game – especially when they start facing even stronger opponents in Sweden, Canada and the United States. Falling down 2-0 against a goaltender like Jesper Wallstedt probably won’t be a recipe for success. In fact, waiting until the second period to wake up against those high-powered offences likely means a deficit larger than just two. If Finland has designs on winning a medal, they have to be ready to play from the first drop of the puck, not 20 minutes in.
Puutio Raising His Stock
We are now two games into the rescheduled 2022 World Juniors and defenceman Kasper Puutio has two goals. Selected all the way down in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers in 2020, he has looked strong in all aspects of the game from jumping into the offence to making a game-saving block in the dying minutes. All in all, his play has been that of a second-rounder, not one that was drafted in the 100s.
Logging the second-most minutes on defence behind only Topi Niemela, Puutio was noticeable every time he was on the ice finishing with 22:14 of ice time, three shots on goal and a plus-1. He also was trusted to be one of the three defencemen deployed in 3-on-3 overtime, joining Niemela and Aleksi Heimosalmi. Even though he started the game on the third pairing with Joni Jurmo, he finished it with the minutes of a top-pairing defenceman and the Player of the Game Award. If that’s not an impressive showing, I don’t know what is.
Raty Impresses Again
Speaking of impressive, New York Islanders fans and scouts are probably loving life right now as they are seeing Raty blossom before their eyes. The man that was surprisingly drafted in the second round has done everything so far to prove that he’s just as good as any first-round pick out there. With his second goal in as many games along with five shots on goal and a strong defensive effort, general manager Lou Lamoriello might want to keep a roster spot open for him in the fall.
And why not? The big 6-foot-2 pivot already has NHL size and a two-way game that can probably thrive in a bottom-six role if given the chance. If nothing else, this tournament should be enough to convince everyone that Raty’s fall to the second round was something that should have never happened in the first place.
Up Next For Finland
Now 2-0 in the preliminary round, Finland will get set for Slovakia on Sunday, Aug. 14. The Slovaks will be coming off games against Canada and Latvia on Thursday and Friday respectively, and will likely be looking for their second-straight win. The puck drops at 2 pm ET on NHL Network in the United States and TSN in Canada.
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.