Head coach Lauri Mikkola was encouraged by what he saw in the tournament, with his team scoring 19 goals in four games to secure top spot.
“The team played well together and was willing to work hard throughout the tournament,” he told Leijonat.fi. “There is a lot of skill and attacking power in this team and individuals were able to show what they could do.
“We had a really short preparation, with only one ice practice before the competition started. But we looked at a lot of videos and the players really bought into the gameplay.”
Finland’s success owed much to some rock-solid defence and goaltending. The Junior Leijonat allowed just three goals in four games, with Sabres prospect Topias Leinonen recording two shutouts in his two games. He stopped 49 shots in Finland’s 5-0 wins over Czechia and Switzerland. The 19-year-old currently plays for JYP Jyvaskyla and secured his first win in a Liiga game this season. He previously represented Finland at the U18 World Championship in 2022. Topias’ father, Tero, was also a goalie whose career took him to Sweden, Czechia, Italy and Germany as well as playing five seasons in the Finnish top flight. Leinonen senior made a single international appearance in the 2005/06 Euro Hockey Tour.
Impressive as Leinonen’s performance was, Niklas Kokko got the start in the crucial game of the tournament. He guarded the net for the showdown against Sweden – a clash between two undefeated teams – and withstood a fusillade from the host nation to earn his team a 3-2 victory. He faced 30 shots in a game that saw the Swedes rally from 0-2 to tie the scores in the second period. However, Kokko kept the home team at bay in the third and Aaron Hakala potted the winner in the 47th minute. Kokko already has some World Junior experience after he was an unused understudy this season. The 18-year-old, drafted in the second round by the Seattle Kraken last year, won both his games including a tight 3-2 verdict over host nation Sweden. Like Leinonen, Kokko is currently playing in his native Finland. He’s spent most of this season with Hermes in the Mestis, but recently joined Liiga outfit SaiPa Lappeenranta on loan.
Behind the Finns there was a three-way tie on six points. Czechia claimed second spot thanks to its 5-2 win over Sweden in the final game of the weekend, pushing the hosts into third with Switzerland fourth. Germany, defeated in all of its games, brought up the rear.
Among the individual performances of note, Finland’s Oiva Keskinen and Nestor Noiva led the scoring. Both had 8 (4+4) points. Sweden’s Rasmus Rudslatt had the most goals, potting five, while his teammate Hannes Hellberg caught the eye with seven assists in the competition.
Many of these players will be back in Sweden in ten months. Sweden will host the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg from 26 December 2023 to 5 January 2024. Tickets will be available as of 2 March.
Austria hosts France in KlagenfurtIn addition to the five-team tournament in Sweden, Austria and France took the chance to continue their preparations for the 2024 World Juniors with two games in Klagenfurt. The Austrian team, under head coach Kirk Furey, held a four-day camp which culminated with two exhibition games against their French counterparts.
The first encounter was a decisive French victory. Tom Gidoux and Valentin Grossetete both had a goal and two assists to lead Alexandre Roullard’s team to a 5-1 success. Stephan Rossmann netted the Austrian reply.
The following day, though, Austria got its revenge with a 5-2 verdict. This time, the French led twice on goals from Ulysse Tournier and Tomas Pardo. However, two goals in three second period minutes saw Aron Summer and Lenz Moosbrugger put Austria ahead. Winston Frimmel’s tally 32 seconds into the final frame gave Les Bleus too much to do before Jakob Engelhart sealed the deal with an empty-netter.
Scores & Standings
|Five Nations Tournament in Sweden|
|7 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Switzerland||Czechia||3-2|
|7 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Sweden||Germany||8-2|
|8 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Germany||Finland||1-6|
|8 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Switzerland||Sweden||1-4|
|9 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Germany||Switzerland||0-3|
|9 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Czechia||Finland||0-5|
|10 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Czechia||Germany||5-1|
|10 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Sweden||Finland||2-3|
|11 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Finland||Switzerland||5-0|
|11 Feb.||Angelholm (SWE)||Sweden||Czechia||2-5|
|Standings: 1. Finland 12 points; 2. Czechia 6; 3. Sweden 6; 4. Switzerland 6; 5. Germany 0|
|8 Feb.||Klagenfurt (AUT)||Austria||France||1-5|
|9 Feb.||Klagenfurt (AUT)||Austria||France||5-2|