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Finland Juniors Hit Rock Bottom with Relegation Series Versus Latvia
- Updated: December 31, 2016
Just less than 365 days ago, the Finland U20 team were the darlings of the hockey world as they won the IIHF World Junior Championship on home ice.
But when you lost your top three players (Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho) to the NHL, you could only assume your roster wouldn’t be as good. But no one would have expected it to be as bad as it has gotten this year in Canada.
Playing in the Montreal group with Denmark, Czech Republic, Switzerland along with geographical rival Sweden, the Fins are guaranteed to finish last in the group and are facing a best-of-three series against Latvia to avoid relegation.
Because Switzerland earned two points Friday night in a 5-4 shootout win vs Denmark, they are guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals before having to play Finland later today. Switzerland has four points via two Overtime/Shootout wins while Finland has lost in regulation every time they’ve taken the ice.
Finland becomes the first team in WJC history to win the gold medal and then play in the relegation round the following year.
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) December 31, 2016
Along with Mikko Rantonen, Laine, Puljujarvi, and Aho combined for 10 of the 18 goals Finland scored through three games of last year’s tournament. This year the Fins have scored four goals as a team.
Finland returned four skaters (Olli Juolevi [VAN], Vili Saarijärvi [DET], Kasper Björkqvist [PIT], and Julius Nättinen [ANA]) and a goalie (Veini Vehviläinen) from last year’s roster and they have combined for 1 goal and one assist. Vehviläinen has appeared in all three games, sporting a 2.61 GAA and a .884 save percentage.
The Finnish Ice Hockey Association has already made a change at head coach. Jukka Rautakorpi, who won gold last year with most of this roster at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota was given the boot and will be replaced by Jussi Ahokas. Ahokas was already in Monteal doing broadcasting work for Finland television and had already been given the head coach job for the U20 team for the 2017-18 campaign.
Finland has never finished worse than seventh in any World Junior Championship tournament since it began in 1977.
Here are highlights from Tuesday’s upset loss against Denmark.