Tolvanen’s lucky bounce
by Dhiren Mahiban|03 JAN 2019
Finland's Eeli Tolvanen (right) skates with the puck while Canada's Jared McIsaac chases him down during the quarter-final game.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Eeli Tolvanen has seen it all. Two years ago, at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, Finland fired head coach Jukka Rautakorpi mid-tournament after failing to make it to the quarter-finals. Then in 2018, Finland lost in a shootout to the Czechs in the quarter-finals.
On Wednesday, Tolvanen’s lucky bounce off teammate Aleksi Heponiemi with 46 seconds remaining in regulation helped force overtime against the Canadians and Toni Utunen scored 5:17 into the extra period sealing the come from behind victory and punching Finland’s ticket to Friday’s semi-finals against Switzerland. 
Tolvanen put his initial shot off the side of the netting and then bounced his own rebound off the leg of Heponiemi and underneath the arm of Canadian goaltender Michael DiPietro. 
“That was the thing I tried to do: just put it on net. There was 40 seconds left - you never know,” Tolvanen said of the play. “I just tried to get it on net and when you put it on net, you’re going to get lucky and bad bounces. Today we got the lucky one.”
For the Nashville Predators prospect, the victory was made sweeter as a result of past disappointments. In 2017 Finland needed to defeat Latvia in order to avoid relegation. Last year, in Buffalo, Finland finished sixth. 
“It’s way better than playing the relegation games,” Tolvanen said. “I was nervous at that time and now playing against Switzerland, it’s going to be a good matchup. For me, personally, I haven’t won the big games in this tournament yet, it’s a good chance for me and the guys to show Finnish hockey is back.
“I remember last year we lost in the shootout. We have to be happy for this result and we showed them, we didn’t give them much. We battled the whole game.”
Coach Jussi Ahokas, who took over from Rautakorpi at the 2017 tournament in Montreal, has seen steady growth in the forward. 
“Of course he’s played well and of course he’s all the time jumping up and he’s a top forward. He’s a great player,” Ahokas said. “I think he works hard and that’s the biggest thing. He’s a great player and I think the points will come.”
A 2017 first-round pick of the Nashivlle Predators, Tolvanen has spent a bulk of the season playing with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals where he had four goals and eight assists in 24 games prior to joining his national junior team. 

The 19-year-old also spent part of December with the Predators skating in four games and scoring his first career NHL goal on Dec. 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s been great. I mean it’s just different hockey. Playing in the AHL, there’s guys running around and not much of systems and then you go to the NHL, and everything is settled and you play with all the best players,” Tolvanen said. “It’s a good thing for me. It’s a confidence boost to play a couple games (with Nashville) got my first goal and all that stuff. Then go back to Milwaukee and try to just develop my game.”
The 179 cm (5-foot-10), 82-kilo (181-pound) native of Vihti, Finland knows that in order to become an NHL regular he’ll need to work on his play without the puck.
“I’m just working on my defence and overall game,” he said. “Hopefully I can score some more goals.” 
For now Tolvanen will use Thursday to recover from his country’s biggest win at the World Juniors since the 2016 tournament and prepare for Switzerland. 

“We showed today, we battled the whole game and we didn’t give (Canada) lots of chances,” Tolvanen said. “For me, that was a huge win for us and we showed them. Nobody believed we could win this and we showed. The whole team was confident the whole game and we showed them. We battled hard and we out-skated them and outshot them. That was a huge game for us.”