Another shot at gold
by Chris Jurewicz|09 AUG 2022
Finland’s Samuel Helenius and Brad Lambert show their bronze medals after finishing the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Brad Lambert and Samuel Helenius were just hitting their strides. Finland defeated Germany 3-1 on 26 December and then hammered Austria 7-1 one evening later.

Lambert registered one goal and four assists in those two games and Helenius was close behind with two goals and two assists. Both Finnish players were plus-6 and determined to continue leading the way at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. But, as the hockey world can easily remember but would rather forget, the IIHF was forced to cancel the 2022 World Juniors at its original dates on 29 December due to concerns around Covid-19.

Fast forward seven months and Alberta, Canada is playing host to the August edition of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Lambert, Helenius and the Finnish U20 national team are set to hit the ice on Tuesday when they face Latvia.

“I think it’s just great that we get to have this now. It was obviously upsetting not being able to finish it last time,” says Lambert. “I’m really excited for our team to have this opportunity and Edmonton definitely looks different in the summer than it did in the winter. It’s been nice. We’ve got to walk outside a bit too because it hasn’t been as strict as it was the last two years.”

If hockey fans in Edmonton are looking to root for a player or team other than their Canadian favourites, Lambert may be at the top of that list. He comes into Edmonton with Prairie roots, having split time during childhood with his native Finland (he was born in Lahti) and Saskatchewan, the western Canadian province known for agriculture, curling, cold winters and, yes, hockey.

Lambert’s father Ross was born in Kindersley and played for the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades before moving on to a short career in the American Hockey League and then playing pro hockey in England. Brad’s mom is Finnish and the young Lambert is a dual Finnish-Canadian citizen.

His English is flawless and, during this interview, Lambert not only answered questions asked of him but acted as translator for his teammate Helenius, who understands English but is much more comfortable responding in Finnish.

Lambert has had a whirlwind of a summer. Following his Liiga season with the Lahti Pelicans, he attended the NHL Draft Combine and then the actual NHL Entry Draft, where he was taken 30th overall by the Winnipeg Jets. He has also spent a lot of the summer weeks in Toronto training with Gary Roberts and his team.

Hockey fans in Edmonton will get their money’s worth watching Lambert.

“I’m an offensive player, I like to drive and play with my speed,” he says. “I like to have the puck quite a bit, make plays, generate opportunities for my teammates. Last season, I took some steps forward in my overall game and being responsible both ways. That’s something I’m looking to do in this tournament.”

Helenius, meanwhile, also has some Prairie roots, although certainly not as deep as Lambert. Samuel’s father Sami Helenius was taken 102nd overall by the Calgary Flames in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and, although Sami ended up only playing seven games for the Flames, he strung together 155 total games in the NHL but is best known for his on-ice antics in other leagues, notably the AHL, IHL and in Finland. Sami had a nose for the penalty box and had 11 seasons in various leagues where he recorded more than 100 penalty minutes. In 1996/97 with the Saint John Flames, Sami had 218 penalty minutes.

The younger Helenius chuckles when asked to compare his game to his dad’s.

“Some similarities that we have is we’re both big and we play physical. I think my dad took a few more penalties minutes than I have yet,” Samuel says with a laugh. “The way we play physical... that’s where the similarities are but, other than that, we are different.

“I think of myself as a two-way centre and more of my strengths are in the defensive zone. But I do like to play physical.”

Finland has had recent success at the World Juniors, winning the 2019 and 2016 and 2014 tournaments. But, prior to that, the country last won the event in 1998. 

Lambert, who also helped Finland to bronze at the 2021 event, believes this group has what it takes to contend for gold.

“Our team believes that we have as good a chance to do that as anyone else. It’s a short tournament and we have a lot of good players, a lot of skill on the team,” says Lambert. “A lot of commitment to the team and the way we play. We play a team-oriented game, a good five-man unit. We play great together. You have to keep in mind that it’s a short tournament and anything can happen. You have to improve even during the tournament. That’s something we’re trying to do. I think we can go far.”

Following the World Juniors, both Lambert and Helenius will prepare for their respective NHL rookie camps. Lambert will head to Winnipeg and Helenius, who was selected in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, will go to Los Angeles and try and crack a roster spot on the Kings. He closed out last season in the Kings’ system with the AHL’s Ontario Reign.

But all of that is to come later on. The focus now is on the World Juniors and bringing back the gold to Finland.