By Derek O’Brien – IIHF.com
In the last tune-up tournament for three of Europe’s top under-20 national teams ahead of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championship, Finland’s U20 side went unbeaten in a five-team tournament in the Ostrava suburb of Poruba, Czechia. In three games, the Finns outscored the Swedish U20 team and a pair of Czech junior national teams 18-3. The Finns secured first place with a 4-0 win over Czechia U20 in the last game.
Finnish right winger Jani Nyman recorded two goals and an assist in the last game to finish with a tournament-leading seven points. The 18-year-old from Ilves Tampere was a second-round pick of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken this past summer. One point behind him was Swedish centre Filip Bystedt, a first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks and current member of Linkoping HC, had a goal and five assists. Swedes Leo Carlsson and Oskar Pettersson and Finn Ville Koivunen had five points each, while the top-scoring defender was Finland’s Topias Vilen with three points.
Among goalies, Sweden’s Ian Blomquist and Finland’s Aku Koskenvuo each won both of their starts, while Finn Jani Lampinen earned the tournament’s only shutout in the final game.
Finland’s roster included five players who were part of the silver-medal squad at last summer’s World Junior Championship in Edmonton, including 2004-born Joakim Kemell, who went 17th overall to the Nashville Predators this past summer. Also on the team was 16-year-old defender Aron Kiviharju of TPS Turku.
The Swedes also finished with nine points but played one more game, losing 6-1 in the head-to-head game with Finland U20 on Saturday thanks to a Kalle Vaisanen hat trick. The tournament didn’t schedule the two Czech teams or two Finnish teams against each other.
The Swedish roster included nine members of the U18 team that won gold this past April in Germany and four first-round picks from last year’s NHL Entry Draft – Bystedt and the Djurgarden Stockholm trio of Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Noah Ostlund and Liam Ohgren.
Czechia U20 opened with a narrow 4-3 loss to Sweden and eventually finished third with three points. Eduard Sale – a highly-rated prospect for the 2023 Draft – and Jakub Kos had three points each. The Czechs, who took a very young team to the last World Juniors but have several eligible players in North America, only brought seven of a whopping 19 potential returnees to this tournament on home ice. That includes 2004-born defender Frantisek Nemec, who suited up for the Czech U19 team.
In the matchup between the tournament’s two U19 squads, Finland edged Czechia 3-2 in a shootout.
Elsewhere, on home ice in the alpine town of Monthey, Switzerland won a very evenly-matched four-team tournament. After opening with a 3-2 loss to Slovakia, the Swiss edged Norway 6-4 and Germany 1-0. In the last game, goalkeepers Mathieu Croce of Switerland and Mathias Bittner of Germany were perfect for 45 minutes but, needing a regulation win to secure top spot, Switzerland’s Terraneo Simone scored the game’s only goal with 14:48 to play.
Also on the last day of play, Norway secured second place with a 4-3 overtime victory over Slovakia. The Slovaks had battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the score in the third period but Kasper Magnusen, with his third goal of the game, scored the overtime winner on a pass from rated prospect Martin Johnsen, his third assist of the game.
Johnsen and Switzerland’s Joel Henry led the tournament with four points each.
In St. Polten, Austria, Denmark secured top spot by winning its first two games against Hungary and host Austria. The Danes then dropped a 3-2 decision to the Latvian U18 team in their last game with first place already sewn up. It was the first win for the young Latvian squad, who got a big 40-save performance from goaltender Aksels Ozols.
There was more drama in Saturday’s other game, in which Hungary took second place with a 4-3 win over Austria on an overtime goal by Andras Mihalik.
Also, the Slovenian national junior team won a tournament on home ice in Jesenice that also included France, Hungary and Italy. At the same time, Estonia triumphed in Kaunas, Lithuania in a tournament that also included Poland, Romania and the host Lithuanians.