Finland’s under-20 national team has fired its world junior hockey championship head coach after failing to make the tournament’s quarter-finals.
A team spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press on Friday night that Jukka Rautakorpi had been fired.
The Finns won the event last year on home ice in Helsinki, but lost their first three preliminary round games at this year’s tournament. Finland was forced into a best-of-three relegation round against Latvia after Switzerland edged Denmark 5-4 in a shootout earlier Friday.
It’s the first time in tournament history that a country has gone from winning gold to playing relegation games the following year.
Jussi Ahokas will take over in Rautakorpi’s place. The 36-year-old has been the head coach of Finland’s under-18 team for the past three years and led them to gold at the 2016 world championship. Seven players from that team are currently playing for the Finns at the world juniors.
Ahokas has also coached Finland’s national women’s team and was part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic staff. He won two bronze medals at the 2008 and 2009 women’s worlds.
Finland is missing NHL rookie sensation Patrik Laine, who is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers and Kasperi Kapanen, who all played on last year’s gold medal winning team.
The Finns have never ranked worst than seventh since the world junior championship began in 1977.
Finland will conclude the preliminary round against Switzerland on Saturday before the relegation round against Latvia begins on Monday. The second game takes place on Tuesday and third on Thursday, if necessary.