On paper: sports cliché borrowed from English, is intended to be an interpretation of the value of something theoretically, without knowing the result in practice.
Analyzing the composition of the teams present, Finland had no chance of defeating the Americans in the semi-final of the World Junior Championship.
The United States had 10 first-round picks on its team, including two in the top 5, compared to none for the Finns. The Americans had scored an average of seven goals per game, the Finns had suffered defeats in their first two matches against Canada and Germany. On paper, then, the United States was too strong for its adversaries.
The United States was surprised in the first period by two quick goals from the Finns, the first of which came on a monumental blunder by defender Sam Rinzel, late first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Americans dominated the second and third periods after suffering this two-goal deficit, but the Finns, failing to take the initiative in the game, were able to resist until the final minutes.
The penalty imposed on Finland – during which Gauthier scored the winning goal – was a questionable decision on the part of the referees, but on the other hand, they had failed to punish the Finns for three rather obvious high sticks in the third period and they seemed to want to redeem themselves by cracking down on a rather innocuous collision on the part of Gabriel Perreault with a little over two minutes left in the match.
One of the Canadian’s most promising prospects on defense, Lane Hutson, played a strong game. He set up Cutter Gauthier’s winning goal and was responsible for numerous offensive breakthroughs.
But above all he was solid defensively. Hutson obviously isn’t the biggest at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but he makes up for it with intelligence, quickness and a consistently well-placed stick. He nipped several shorthanded Finnish attacks in the bud and did not lose any battles for possession of the puck in the defensive zone.
At the end of the game, he and his partner Ryan Chesley did not leave the ice during the two minutes of the American numerical inferiority. The coach could have removed them during a break in the second portion of the penalty, but he preferred to trust his duo, who spent 2:33 on the ice to close the game. Hutson played 25:12 in that game, Chesley a second longer.
This 19-year-old had a sixth assist in as many games, a record of 6 and an average usage time of 23:24, three minutes more than the runner-up in this regard, Chesley, and five more than the third, Zeev Buium, 18, a draft prospect next summer.
The logic is respected since the two favorite clubs meet in the final, with the victory of Sweden, 5-2 at the expense of the Czech Republic, defeater of Canada. Noah Östlund and Jonathan Lekkerimäki, again, led the Swedish attack. Center Östlund, first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabers in 2022 (16th overall), and his winger Lekkerimäki, drafted one spot earlier by Vancouver, now each have nine points in six games, three fewer than leader Cutter Gauthier .
The final will be played Friday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time. It will be a sort of revenge for several players from these two teams, since Sweden defeated the Americans 6-4 in the final of the World Under-18 Championship in 2022 in Germany.
Fifteen players from the Swedish squad at this tournament are competing in the World Junior Championship, compared to twelve for the Americans. Gauthier, Hutson, Smith, Nazar, Howard, Leonard, Snuggerud and McGroarty will therefore want to have the last word on Östlund, Lekkerimäki, Öhgren, Pettersson, Havelid, Lindstein and the others. From this famous 2022 final, only Leo Carlsson for Sweden and Logan Cooley for the Americans will be missing, two top 3 choices retained in the NHL…