In Finnish hockey, everyone has to contribute, or nothing happens. Right from the stars down to the role players. Especially in age-restricted tournaments, it’s the only way.
When Finland defeated the U.S. 1-0 on Oden’s third-period power play goal in the 2020 World Junior quarter-finals, it was a nation of 5.5 million with 30,931 registered junior players knocking off a nation of 327.2 million with 322,453 registered junior players.
Humbly, Oden gave lots of credit to crafty linemate Kristian Tanus for setting up his one-timer that beat U.S. goalie Spencer Knight: “It was a good fake. We were talking about that fake that he’s going to pass it to the D and then give it to me and I'll just shoot it.”
Of course, the three players who scored Finland’s gold medal-winning goals at the 2014, 2016, and 2019 World Juniors – Rasmus Ristolainen, Kasperi Kapanen, and Kaapo Kakko – are well-known NHL names today. But lately, the Finns have gotten lots of big U18 and U20 goals from unlikely sources.
For instance, nobody foresaw Niklas Nordgren scoring his tournament-leading eighth goal at the 2018 U18 Worlds in Russia to lift Finland to a 3-2 gold medal win over the Jack Hughes-led Americans. If you’re a gambler, it’s unlikely you put your money on Vancouver Canucks pick Toni Utunen silencing Rogers Arena with the 2-1 overtime winner on host Canada in the 2019 World Junior quarter-final.
It’s like these kids are in training to be future Marko “Morko” Anttilas. (In the “standing tall with multiple playoff goals in shocking IIHF World Championship runs” sense.)
One Swiss hockey writer said: “It feels like he came out of nowhere.” An undrafted 19-year-old winger, Oden is in his second Liiga season with KooKoo and has posted six points (2+4=6) in 25 games so far this season. That’s the same number of points he has with the Junior Lions here in the Czech Republic through five games (3+3=6).
“We have pretty good confidence that we’re going to try to get the gold again,” said Oden.
Notably, the 183-cm, 83-kg forward holds dual Finnish and American citizenship. Born in Benton City, Washington, he is representing Finland in IIHF competition for the first time.
Only a handful of other dual citizens have worn the blue-and-white. They include the likes of NHL superstar Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers (Russian), veteran New York Islanders grinder Leo Komarov (Estonian), and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jesse Ylonen (U.S.). The latter is the son of former NHLer Juha Ylonen and a 2019 World Junior gold medalist. On the women’s side, 2014 Olympic points leader Michelle Karvinen (Danish) is a prominent example.
Oden may have been overshadowed until Thursday by his partners, Tanus (2+6-8) and sniper Patrik Puistola (4+3=7), but he’s been quietly effective all tournament long. He capitalized on goalie Samuel Vyletelka’s mistake to make it 3-0 with the man advantage in the 8-1 demolition of Slovakia. He also got the second Finnish goal in a 5-2 loss to Switzerland with a nice deflection of Lassi Thomson’s shot.
These accomplishments haven’t come without sacrifice and dedication – and not only on Oden’s part. As a single mother, Minna Hakala-Oden worked multiple jobs and went into debt in order to help Joonas and his younger brother Markus (18), a fellow forward in KooKoo’s junior system, achieve their hockey goals. According to an YLE report by Anu Leena Koskinen, they also received financial support earmarked for low-income families from the Finnish Ice Hockey Association.
The Finns bring a strong team spirit, and Oden said his competitive fires burned even brighter after American forwards John Beecher and Oliver Wahlstrom threw controversial hits in the quarter-final.
“I didn't really like it, the way they were just throwing us from behind,” said Oden. “It was not cool. I just wanted to help out the team, get their backs.”
Another physical, talented, and motivated North American squad now stands in Finland’s way. Will star Finnish goalie Justus Annunen (1.97 GAA, 93.6 save percentage) be the antidote to Canada’s top-ranked power play (44 percent)? In Saturday’s semi-final, Oden knows that maintaining the same level of discipline as versus the Americans will be essential.
“It’s going to be a tough game too, just like USA,” he said. “We’ve just got to have good defence and get pucks to the net.”
And if he fires one or two of those pucks in, you can expect Finnish fans to shout: “Hail Oden!” Even if he’s just doing his duty.