Finnish juniors perfect
by Derek O'Brien|12 NOV 2018
Aleksi Heponiemi (left) was Finland's scoring leader as the U20 lions won the Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The recent international break saw four U20 tournaments with Finland, Germany, Latvia, Hungary and Poland coming out on top.

Finns win in Hodonin

The U20 national teams of Europe’s traditional top four hockey nations went to Hodonin, Czech Republic, with Finland winning all three of its games by a combined score of 16-5 to claim top spot over Russia, the host Czechs and Sweden.

The Finnish roster included several young players, but most of the team has experienced success at the U18 level before where Finland has been very strong in recent years. One of them is 17-year-old right winger Kaapo Kakko, who is projected to be a top pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

“Of course we’re happy, but I don’t think any of us is surprised by this because we knew we had a good team,” Kakko said confidently after registering three points in three games.

On the amount of ice time he gave to several of the team’s underaged players, Finnish head coach Jussi Ahokas said: “We wanted to see how much they’ve progressed and how they can play at this level, and they did pretty well. Of course, we also have some guys in the NHL right now, so that will have a big influence on who makes the team, but the guys here all showed that they want to play in the World Junior Championship.”

Florida Panthers prospect Aleksi Heponiemi led the Finns in points with two goals and three assists. He was one of four five-point scorers in the tournament, along with Russians Grigori Denisenko and Vitali Kravtsov, and Czech defenceman Jakub Galvas.

After opening with a 5-3 loss to Finland, the Russians reeled off two straight wins, with the highlight game of the tournament being a wild 6-5 affair over the host Czechs before a lively crowd. Denisenko, another Florida prospect, led the attack with a hat trick, showing off a nice wrist shot and a spectacular deke. The Russians were dominant 5-on-5, outscoring the Czechs 5-1, but the host team struck four times on the power play, which was quarterbacked by Galvas, the Czech captain and Chicago Blackhawks prospect. 

“Lots of positives and some negatives,” was how Czech assistant coach Patrik Elias evaluated the weekend. “The first game (a 5-1 win over Sweden) was excellent from our side, the second game there were a lot of good things, especially on special teams, and we never gave up. Both of those games, the guys showed a lot of heart.”

The Czechs entered the last game against Finland still with a chance to win the tournament by forcing a three-way tie and winning on goal difference with a two-goal win. They led 1-0 after one period but the Finns responded with four goals in a span of 10:53 in the second period en route to a 7-2 win. 

“Our special-team play was good – we scored lots of power-play goals and the penalty-killing was good,” said Ahokas. “I liked our team spirit. We had four lines and all four played really well.”

“Today was a tough game,” Elias said about his team’s third game. “Finland was in excellent form pretty much the whole weekend – they were great on the puck, skated well and we had a lot of trouble with them. It was our worst game, for sure, but you’ve got to tip your hat off to a team when they play really well.”

The biggest surprise and disappointment of the tournament was the performance of the Swedes, who lost all three games by a combined score of 14-2 despite bringing a veteran roster of all 18- and 19-year-olds. 

“The results are disappointing,” acknowledged Swedish head coach Tomas Monten. “I think we played better than the scores show, but we didn’t capitalize on our scoring chances and let too many easy goals in, so there’s plenty of work to do.”

When asked how much of the current team will be on Sweden’s World Junior Championship roster, Monten said: “We’ve got a couple of players in North America and we have three or four players that didn’t come with us because they are injured or recently came back from injuries, but some of these guys will definitely end up there.”

German juniors triumph at home

Meanwhile, in Deggendorf, Germany, the host Germans topped a four-team weekend event of their own against Switzerland, Norway and Slovakia, winning all three games in regulation time. 

The top two scorers in the tournament were Norwegian forward Simen Andre Edvardsen and German defenceman Moritz Seider with five points each. Swiss goaltender Luca Jan Hollenstein appeared in all three games – two complete and once in relief – and surrendered only two goals on 43 shots against for a save percentage of 95.3 and a goals-against average of 0.82 – both tops in the tournament. 

The Swiss and Slovaks will both play in the top tournament in Canada while the Germans and Norwegians will play the Division I Group A in Fussen, Germany, 9-15 December.

Latvia, Hungary and Poland win tourneys

Another team going to Canada is Denmark, which hosted Latvia, Belarus and Austria in Vojens, finishing third. The Latvians took top spot by winning all three of their games, with an overtime decision over Belarus the only blemish on their record.

Latvia, Belarus and Austria will all join Germany and Norway in Fussen. The sixth team going to Fussen is France, which was in Budapest this past weekend and finished third behind Hungary and Italy and ahead of fourth-place Slovenia. 

Hungary, Italy and Slovenia will travel to Tychy, Poland to play in the Division I Group B 8–14 December, along with Japan, Ukraine and the host Poles.

Poland and Ukraine, finally, were both in Bili Tserkvi along with Dynamo Minsk’s U20 team from belarus. The Poles won both games, in regulation over host Ukraine and in overtime over Dynamo Minsk, to take the three-team tournament.


Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic
9 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Finland   Russia   5-3
9 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Czech Rep.   Sweden   5-1
10 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Sweden   Finland   0-4
10 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Czech Rep.   Russia   5-6
11 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Russia   Sweden   5-1
11 Nov.   Hodonin (CZE)   Czech Rep.   Finland   2-7
Standings: 1. Finland 9, 2. Russia 6, 3. Czech Rep. 3, 4. Sweden 0
Four Nations Tournament in Germany
8 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Norway   Slovakia   5-4 OT
8 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Germany   Switzerland   4-0
9 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Switzerland   Norway   4-2
9 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Germany   Slovakia   4-3
10 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Slovakia   Switzerland   0-2
10 Nov.   Deggendorf (GER)   Germany   Norway   3-2
Standings: 1. Germany 9, 2. Switzerland 6, 3. Norway 2, 4. Slovakia 1
Four Nations Tournament in Denmark
7 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Austria   Latvia   2-3
8 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Belarus   Austria   3-2 OT
8 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Denmark   Latvia   1-2
9 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Latvia   Belarus   3-2 OT
9 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Denmark   Austria   4-2
10 Nov.   Vojens (DEN)   Belarus   Denmark   3-1
Standings: 1. Latvia 8, 2. Belarus 6, 3. Denmark 3, 4. Austria 1
Four Nations Tournament in Hungary
8 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   France    Slovenia   5-1
8 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Hungary   Italy   6-2
9 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Italy   France   2-1
9 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Hungary   Slovenia   3-4 SO
10 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Slovenia   Italy   0-4
10 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Hungary   France   4-3 OT
Standings: 1. Hungary 6, 2. Italy 6, 3. France 4, 4. Slovenia 2
Three Nations Tournament in Ukraine
9 Nov.   Bili Tserkvi (UKR)   Ukraine   Poland   1-6
10 Nov.   Bili Tserkvi (UKR)   Poland   Dynamo Minsk   4-3 OT
11 Nov.   Bili Tserkvi (UKR)   Ukraine   Dynamo Minsk   5-3
Standings: 1. Poland 5, 2. Ukraine 3, 3. Dynamo Minsk 1