It’s a loss Joe Veleno knows he’ll never truly get over. The same goes for Barrett Hayton.
Moments later, disaster struck.
The Finns tied it late on a crazy carom from behind the net. The Canadians, however, steadied themselves and had a golden opportunity to move on in overtime, only to see captain Max Comtois stopped on a penalty shot.
Finland immediately broke the other way, and blue-liner Toni Utunen — known more for his play without the puck than offensive prowess — took a drop pass and wired a shot upstairs on Michael DiPietro to break Canadian hearts.
“Rewatching that video kind of triggers me a little bit,” Veleno said. “If we would have won that game, we maybe could have won the tournament.”
Instead, the Finns thumped Switzerland in the semis and beat the United States for gold.
‘We all remember all of it’
“We all remember all of it,” said Hayton, this year’s captain. “Forever that’ll be a bitter taste.”
The recollections on the other side are, of course, decidedly different.
“It was a huge goal. I hope to see something similar on Saturday,” Utunen said, adding he’s only viewed the replay on social media a handful of times. “It’s hard to explain the feeling.”
“We’ve got a really good group to do this,” said Veleno, a first-round pick by Detroit. “We believe in ourselves.”
Veleno, Hayton, Jared McIsaac, Ty Smith and Alexis Lafreniere — Dobson was also eligible to return, but wasn’t released to Canada for the tournament by the New York Islanders — stayed in touch in the wake of that crushing defeat, knowing they’d likely get another crack at gold.
“We’re all friends,” said Hayton, who was loaned out by the Arizona Coyotes. “We’re always in constant communication. That’s just how we are. We’re a tight group.”
And things seem to be coming together at the right time.
Following an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Russia in its second game where Lafreniere injured his knee, Hayton accidentally disrespected the opponent by failing to remove his helmet during the anthem ceremony, and Veleno got suspended, Canada has ripped off three straight wins with increasing efficiency.
A mostly-tidy 7-2 dismantling of hosts Czech Republic to close out the preliminary round clinched first in Group B. Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, then made an unexpected return to the lineup — at least to those on the outside — in the quarters against Slovakia, setting the tone with a big hit and finishing with a goal and an assist in a 6-1 victory.
WATCH | Canada sails past Slovakia and into the world junior semis:
The Finns, however, are also ascending.
After losing 5-2 to Switzerland to complete round-robin play on a sour note, they stunned the favoured U.S. 1-0 in the quarters to book the rematch with Canada.
“They have good players everywhere,” said Finland captain Lassi Thomson, an Ottawa first-rounder. “It’s going to be a tough game.”
Finland, which has won world junior gold three of the last six years following just two victories in the previous 37 tournaments, is in the semis despite missing its No. 1 and No. 2 centres.
And yet, as they have in years past, the Finns have found a way when it matters most.
“After the second period it was easy to see they were frustrated,” Utunen, one of three returning players from 2019, said of Thursday’s victory over the U.S. “They started to play a little bit by themselves.”
“He’s been amazing,” said Utunen, who has scored four goals in the last two years, with three coming against Canada. “We need to thank him a lot.”
The Canadians, who beat Finland in a pre-tournament game in December, know their opponent will look to once again stifle creativity at 5 on 5, but unlike last year, Canada’s power play has been lights out at 44 per cent compared to a mark of just over 16.5 per cent in 2019.
Hayton, meanwhile, has rebounded from the Russia controversy to register five goals and nine points in five games, Lafreniere has two goals and six points in his seven periods of action, Veleno is a key piece down the middle, and Smith and McIsaac have been steady on the blue line.
And while the stinging memories of last year will always be present, the returnees are hoping to dull that pain and take another step towards finishing the job with Canada two wins from its 18th gold medal.
“You don’t get too many opportunities,” Veleno said. “You want to take advantage.”
They get another shot Saturday.
FTB: Kyle Dubas moves on to Travis Dermott – Pension Plan Puppets
Kyle Dubas cleared out his calendar today by signing Ilya Mikheyev to a new two-year contract last night. Mikheyev requested salary arbitration with the Maple Leafs to settle his contract, and the hearing was scheduled for today, but the two sides managed to come together and strike a deal last night before the arbiter got involved.
Mikheyev was in an unusual position with only one season of NHL experience, much of that a write-off from a major injury, but he is 26 years-old and has five prior years of professional playing history in the KHL before the Leafs signed him and brought him over to Canada in 2019. That KHL experience was ineligible for discussion in the arbitration, so the arbiter would have had a tough job to make a proper comparison to his peer players, but none of that matters now. He’s signe with the Leafs for another two years.
I do have to say, I am quite happy with Mikheyev back. What price can you possibly put on scoring against the Habs only 30 seconds into a game?
Dubas will now turn to the remaining two restricted free agents left that need new contracts; defenceman Travis Dermott, and winger prospect Joey Anderson who was acquired from the Devils as a oart of the return for Andreas Johnsson. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both contracts are announced today. Dubas doesn’t have much room under the salary cap left so these contracts are essentially fait accompli.
We have a new Fanpost for you to check out.
Leafs Postseason Rankings – theForester26
Do you like to argue about post-season rankings? Well theForester26 has some post-season rankings for you to argue about!
Gretzky Index Finale: The Best Possible All-Time Teams Through Different Age Ranges – The Copper & Blue
Do you like to argue about all-time great rosters? Well here’s some hypothetical all-time great rosters for you to argue about!
Blackhawks ‘new’ rebuilding plan is same one they’ve worked on for 3 seasons – Second City Hockey
As long as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are around, the Blackhawks are NOT in a rebuild and any suggestions to the contrary are incorrect.
Thompson to wear 11 in honour of Rypien – NHL.com
“At first, I was kind of nervous about it. It was kind of overwhelming at first because I know how much Rick Rypien meant to people. I had to think about it a little bit, said Nate Thompson.”
P.K. Subban on NHL social change, ‘The Last Dance,’ nearly being a Penguin and more – ESPN
The Devils defenseman checks in on the league’s social justice initiatives and much more.
Color of Hockey: O’Ree releases book, not slowing down at 85 – NHL
Willie O’Ree isn’t slowing down at 85. Days removed from his birthday, which was Oct. 15, the NHL’s first Black player recounted his special day, the well-wishes he received from players past and present, and reflected on his extraordinary career during the latest episode of Soul on Ice: The Podcast.
Connor Bedard on training in Sweden, call from Gretzky and exceptional status – TSN
“Connor Bedard’s phone rang and caller ID showed a number he didn’t recognize. “I think it’s one of those robot things that’s calling so I didn’t answer it. Then it called again and I answered and he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m Wayne Gretzky,’ and I was sure it was a prank call at first.”
Couple finds 60 bottles of 1920’s bootleg whiskey inside NY home
[SPECIES: why can’t this happen to me in my basement!]
The complete Maple Leafs prospect rankings, autumn 2020 edition – The Athletic
Social Media Stocks Jump After Snap Results Suggest Ad Strength – Yahoo Canada Finance
FTB: Kyle Dubas moves on to Travis Dermott – Pension Plan Puppets
Calgary COVID outbreak of at least 49 active cases linked to recent wedding: officials – National Post
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