We asked our IIHF.com correspondents to analyze the chances for the Canadians and Finns – who took silver and bronze respectively in 2021 – in the form of a debate. So let’s dive right in!
Five reasons Canada could win1. Garand is grand in Canada’s net
Canadian starting goalie Dylan Garand has been spectacular in his steadiness and positioning. The native of Victoria, British Columbia hasn’t made some crazy saves and hasn’t won a game with a 50-stop performance, but he hasn’t allowed a stinker either. The skaters in front of him know he can be relied on.
It sounds simple, but simple works. And in terms of numbers, Garand has a 5-0 record and a GAA of exactly 2.00.
2. Captain McTavish leads the way
Coach Dave Cameron said it best – he’s an NHL player. Mason McTavish almost certainly won’t be playing in the World Juniors this coming Christmas; he’ll be skating for the Anaheim Ducks. But for now, the gifted forward – a 2022 Olympian – is dominating this tournament with an MVP-like performance.
McTavish leads the tournament with eight goals (no one else has more than five) and 15 points, and is also tied for first in plus/minus at +12. He can do it all, and it’s clear his mindset is gold.
3. Bedard’s shot is a wonder
Physics can’t explain why woodpeckers don’t have permanent concussions, how Usain Bolt can take an average stride of 2.5 metres in a race, or how someone can do a Rubik’s Cube in three seconds. Similarly, it’s impossible to understand Connor Bedard’s shot.
Bedard just turned 17 and still looks like a kid. Yet his shot rivals that of any veteran NHL player. The North Vancouver native hasn’t been dominating with his passing, but if he can get even fractionally open to release that laser beam, he can be a factor. In eight career World Junior games, including the cancelled tournament here in Edmonton in December, Bedard has eight goals and 13 points.
4. They’ve cranked up the intensity
The Canadians have brought a work ethic and relentlessness to every game that opponents haven’t been able to match. They are hard on the puck; they are physical without being reckless; they move the puck with confidence on the power play and are tenacious on the penalty kill. They do nothing by halves.
Good luck to Finland trying to match Canada shift after shift for 60 minutes.
5. There are no spare parts on this Canadian roster
You might gravitate towards the big names when talking about Canada’s chances, but literally every player has contributed. For example, Logan Stankoven brings effective energy and leads these World Juniors by a mile on faceoffs (76.4 percent); William Dufour is a big-body presence; and Tyson Foerster has a nose for the net as his preferred destination. And the defence, well, if it hasn’t been flawless, it’s been excellent.
The only time the team faced real adversity was in the third period against Finland in the preliminary round, thanks to a series of penalties. But the PK was so effective there, it portends a determination and bullet-proof defence under pressure. Bottom line: there is virtually no weakness on this team, nothing obvious to circle as a way of beating them.
Five reasons Finland could win1. Finland’s power play is on fire
At the 2022 World Juniors, this has been Finland’s bread and butter. So far, coach Antti Pennanen’s team has generated 14 power-play goals to Canada’s six, including Kasper Puutio’s winner in the 1-0 semi-final victory over Sweden. With a combo of great one-timers and net-front presence, Roby Jarventie (four PPG), captain Roni Hirvonen (three PPG), and Joel Maatta (three PPG) have all outscored every Canadian star in this situation.
Is Canada’s power play conversion rate slightly higher than Finland (57.1 percent to 53.8 percent)? Sure, but that also reflects how Finland has outperformed Canada in drawing penalties. Discipline-wise, 33 of Canada’s 61 PIM – third-highest at this tournament – came in the 6-3 round-robin win over Finland. The Finns will make adjustments and make the Canadians pay if they decide to run around and “send a message” on Saturday.
2. The Finns face less pressure and scrutiny
Canada is hosting a World Juniors at a strange time of year, lost last year’s gold medal game on Edmonton ice, and has competed against a backdrop of controversial allegations related to its organization. The favoured Canadians are not only trying to rewrite narratives as the domestic media spotlight and fan expectations intensify, but they will host all over again in December in Halifax and Moncton.
Not all of this pressure falls directly on the Canadian players’ shoulders, of course, but the Finns don’t have to worry about any of it. They can just go for it on Saturday.
3. They’re no longer intimidated by Canada
In the old days, Canada traditionally had a big edge in goaltending and physicality over Finland. Yet in a one-game final scenario now, the statistics of newly installed Finnish starting goalie Juha Jatkola (1.50 GAA, 92.3 save percentage, one shutout) stack up fine against those of Canada’s Dylan Garand (2.00 GAA, 92.2 save percentage, zero shutouts), and Canada hasn’t faced Jatkola yet. Size-wise, Canada didn’t run the Finns out of Rogers Place in the round-robin and won’t in the final. Both teams average 185 cm (6-1) in height and are virtually identical in weight (84 kg/185 lb for Finland, 85 kg/187 lb for Canada).
More importantly, these Finnish U20 players grew up knowing their country’s extraordinary team play gives them a real chance every time they meet Canada. They watched goalie Kevin Lankinen outduel two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray when Finland won 3-1 in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship final. They have ultra-fresh memories of Sakari Manninen’s 4-3 golden goal at the 2022 Worlds in Tampere in May. So why not write their own golden history in Edmonton, especially given Finland’s World Junior success versus Canada since 2014?
4. Suomi has outdone Canada in recent playoff meetings
The Finns have three wins and one loss in their last four World Junior medal round games against Canada. Artturi Lehkonen – who also potted the 2022 Stanley Cup winner for Colorado – scored the decisive goal in a 5-1 semi-final romp in 2014 in Malmo. Patrik Laine got the 6-5 quarter-final winner in 2016 in Helsinki, and Toni Utunen tallied in overtime for a 2-1 victory in Vancouver in 2019. And in each case, the Finns went on to win the gold medal.
Only in 2020 did the Canadians break that losing streak with a 5-0 semi-final win. So this gold medal game isn’t anything like a Canadian Goliath versus a Finnish David. Hang on a second, David won...
5. 2022 is Finland’s year
Finland won its first Olympic gold medal in February, beating the ROC team 2-1 in the final three months before winning the World Championship. The “double gold” in Tampere – a feat only previously achieved by Sweden in 2006 – turbocharged the confidence flowing through the entire Finnish program.
The Finns can become the only nation in hockey history to hold the Olympic, World Championship, and World Junior titles simultaneously. And they don’t care if the Canadians have bigger names. Finland doomed World Junior bids for gold by Connor McDavid in 2014, Brayden Point in 2016, and Alexis Lafreniere in 2019. In 2022, Pennanen’s boys are capable of skating off with gold medals around their necks.