World juniors: 5 things to watch in Canada vs. Finland
Finnish 1st line of Puljujarvi, Aho and Laine sit 1-2-3 in tournament scoring
Canada is facing Finland in the quarter-finals of the world junior hockey championship. The Canadian junior team struggled in the preliminary round, earning a win, a shootout win and two losses. Now it's win or go home. Here are five things to watch for in Canada-Finland.
Head coach Dave Lowry has been tinkering with his forward lines throughout the tournament and often period to period. Keep an eye on who top centres Dylan Strome and Brayden Point as well as dynamic winger Mitch Marner are playing with as Canada tries to find chemistry on its offence. Those rotating lines make Canada's attack unpredictable, but may also create miscues.
Although Canada had a disappointing, undisciplined 5-2 loss to Sweden in the final preliminary round game, its physical game came alive. Forward Travis Konecny said after the loss that he saw it as his responsibility to energize Canada with his physical play and he delivered with several thundering checks. Forwards Jake Virtanen, Lawson Crouse and defenceman Joe Hicketts are also capable of dropping a shoulder into an unsuspecting opponent.
Canada started the tournament without its presumptive No. 1 goalie in Mackenzie Blackwood, who had to miss the first two preliminary games as he completed an eight-game suspension from the Ontario Hockey League. Mason McDonald started in his place, but Blackwood has seemingly reclaimed the starter's job since a 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland and the 5-2 loss to Sweden. Finland, on the other hand, has statistically the worst goaltending of any team in the playoff round.
Finnish forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine are the best line at the world junior championship and, not coincidentally, the tournament's top three scorers, leading Finland to a 3-1 record to finish second in Group B. Puljujarvi has five goals in four games, Laine has four goals and Aho three. Canada's defence must contain these three.
Home ice advantage
Vocal Canadian fans helped simulate home-ice advantage throughout the preliminary round at Helsinki Ice Hall. The 8,200-seat arena was at times deafening with Canadian fans chanting "Let's go Canada!" and "Maple Syrup!" even though it was never filled to capacity. However, the quarter-final matchup will be in Hartwall Arena, home of the Kontinental Hockey League's Jokerit, which seats 13,349 fans. The thousands of Canadian fans will almost certainly be drowned out by Finnish supporters unless Canada can get a few early goals to silence the hometown crowd.