CALGARY – At age 16 years and four months, it’s too early to predict whether Finnish forward Aleksander Barkov will ever follow in Sidney Crosby’s footsteps, but on January 2, 2012, he bettered the Canadian superstar as the youngest Finnish player to ever score a goal in the U20.
Crosby was 21 days older when he scored his first goal during the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship. The all-time youngest player is Kazakhstan forward Viktor Alexandrov who scored a goal at the 2001 U20 at age 15.
It was the 6-2 goal – the game-winning goal in Finland’s 8-5 quarter-final victory over Slovakia – that brought Barkov into the history books.
The Finn is only one of four players at the tournament born in 1995, the others being Danish forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Mads Eller, and Swiss defenceman Phil Baltisberger, the youngest of the quartet.
“I didn’t know that,” Barkov said about besting Crosby. “I don’t feel anything [about]. Maybe later.”
Barkov, who also answered many questions to journalists in Finnish and Russian after the game, didn’t show much emotion upon hearing that he had just made history.
His behaviour fits well to his style of play on the ice. He’s a player with great hockey sense for his young age. He’s a player who doesn’t act based on emotions on the ice, but stays calm and cool when making decisions. It’s these qualities that brought him onto the U20 national team roster during the ongoing season.
The 189-cm, 93-kg forward made it to the U20 World Championship here in Alberta even before having played a single U18 World Championship game. Before this season he had only played some exhibition games with the U16 and U17 national teams, and he wasn’t even on the roster for the U20 training camp in the pre-season.
The camp with his club team Tappara Tampere during summer changed everything. The big difference to last year was that Barkov moved up from the juniors to the professional team of Tappara Tampere – and survived the cuts.
U20 national team coach Raimo Helminen didn’t have a long way to watch Barkov play as he’s the assistant coach of Ilves Tampere, the city rival that shares the arena with Tappara.
Making his debut, Barkov notched sensational 12 points (7+5) in 21 games in the Finnish top league as a 16-year-old. Incredibly, but he’s even ranked fourth in team scoring. And he became the youngest player to score in the Finnish league, too.
Given his numbers in one of the best leagues in Europe, his nomination to the U20 team didn’t come to such a huge surprise despite his age.
Barkov has hockey blood in his veins. His father carries the same given name (although usually spelled Alexander) and hails from Novosibirsk where he played in the second Soviet division before moving westwards, first to Spartak Moscow, then to the Italian team Courmaosta before landing in Finland where he played for Tappara Tampere for ten years – a period he also became father.
During his career, papa Barkov was not only one of Tappara’s top players, he represented Russia in three IIHF World Championships.
Barkov Sr. stayed in Tampere after hanging up his skates and became a coach of Tappara’s U18 team – before his son made it to this age category – and was later named assistant coach for Tappara’s men’s team. In 2010 he moved to Metallurg Magnitogorsk to become an assistant coach in the KHL. For the 2011-2012 season he was promoted to head coach, but he was released only a few weeks into the season.
“My father is now in Finland. He helped me a lot with ice hockey,” Barkov Jr. said about his dad, with whom he always speaks Russian.
Despite the win and his goal against Slovakia, Barkov wasn’t entirely happy about the game.
“It was maybe not our best game, but we won,” he said the night before the semi-finals clash against Sweden.
“Sweden is a very skilled team and fast. They play a very nice game,” Barkov said. “We need to play better.”
Fans can be assured to see a great new chapter in the Finnish-Swedish rivalry.