Finland vs USA , 2015 U18WJC Pre-tournament game April 13th

FIN #6 D Valimaki, Juuso (2017) – He made some good reads for a 16year old kid and didn’t look out of place. However, he had some struggles defending against the most agile American forwards and had a bad play on the offensive blue line when he mishandled the puck and his feet couldn’t react fast enough, generating an odd men rush for the US.

FIN #9 D Saarijarvi, Vili (2015) – This undersized defenseman was able to adjust to American forwards pace right from the start and displayed great mobility with the puck, always looking in control while escaping their forecheck. His stick work was good when defending, and terrific with the puck. He hit a couple of perfect passes through the neutral zone and made a great play at the red line where he showed poise and intelligence, initiating a rush by Puljujarvi with a backhand pass. Was the catalyst of the 1st PP unit play, showing he also possesses a good shot.

FIN #14 RW Niemela, Joonas (2015) – Consistently battling throughout the game, was able to win some puck battles along the boards despite his less than ideal size. Offensively he was not able to get much going, aside from a nice backhand pass through the slot. His skating didn’t look bad overall, but seemed to lack a top gear to take advantage of open ice.

FIN #18 C Saarela, Aleksi (2015) – Centering Laine and Puljujarvi, Saarela was more effective on special teams than at even strength, where his line struggled defensively all game long, even if not for lack of trying. Aleksi was close scoring a shorthanded goal when his nice wrister hit the pipe, on the powerplay he was better at distributing the puck than at finalizing the play. His size seemed to limit him in battles, but he did have a good hit along the boards.

FIN #19 RW Tammela, Jonne (2015) – Played on both special teams, had a couple of take-aways early on and showed his speed through the neutral zone. Even if he wasn’t very effective offensively he appeared 100% recovered from the concussion he recently suffered while playing for KalPa in the Liiga.

FIN #21 RW Puljujarvi, Jesse (2016) – A blocked shot and a rush down the right wing with a nice little toe-drag were his only noticeable plays along a disappointing first half of the game. More than once he had troubles keeping full control of the puck when carrying it up, and chasing it exposed him to the risk of a dangerous collision where he managed to avoid any injury. Puljujarvi turned it on in the 3rd period, he was much more active and the crossbar-in wrister that seemed to bring Finland back into the game was something special; calling it a NHL snipe wouldn’t do it justice.

FIN #24 D Vainio, Veeti (2015) – A couple of times he managed to enter the offensive zone with the puck on his stick sneaking through opponents waiting for him with apparent ease, but overall his offensive impact was limited. Trying to spark his team comeback, had a costly turnover in the neutral zone when attempting a difficult pass in the 3rd period. Vainio was on the receiving end of a couple of dirty plays and slashed two Americans in retaliation; he was not caught by the referee in either case, but he will certainly need to clean that up when the games will matter.

FIN #25 C Nattinen, Julius (2015) – Wasted his only two scoring chances wristing it just wide on a 2 on 1 and misfiring a one-timer. Perhaps more importantly, he was slow getting his shot off and getting to loose pucks on the powerplay. Nattinen was however very good at making himself available in the neutral zone, showing good speed and reading well the US defense. He was also very effective in the faceoff circle.

FIN #27 LW Laine, Patrik (2016) – Played an unselfish game trying to combine with his linemates rather than forcing his shots like in some previous viewings, however his passing game was not always accurate and his line struggled at even strength, even if the effort was there. Patrik was often backchecking pretty hard, showing decent speed. Battling for pucks, he tried to compensate for his lack of agility with strong stick work, but more than once it was not enough. Scored Finland 1st goal going top-shelf from the right faceoff circle with an impressive and perfectly placed one-timer like it was routine for him.

USA #4 D Fitzgerald, Casey (2015) – Made several good defensive reads in the neutral zone, even though in one circumstance he was caught trusting too much his anticipation and had to take an obvious penalty as a result. Among the US defensemen eligible for this year draft he was probably the most effective one in this game.

USA #7 LW Tkachuk, Matthew (2016) – Less visible than in other games during the first half, created more troubles for Finland defense as the game progressed and complemented Matthews’ game very well. A quick one-touch pass and a nice top shelf backhand finish were his best moments.

USA #17 RW Bracco, Jeremy (2015) – Playing on a line with Matthews, Bracco enjoyed a 4 point game and was +5 by the end of it. While it’s hard to argue with those numbers, it needs to be pointed out he was for the most capitalizing on the work of his linemates (one of them in particular). The most effective part of his game was making himself available in the right place at the right time. He could have used his good feet to get on loose pucks quicker and he wasted a great chance in the 2nd when he didn’t shoot from an ideal position.

USA #19 C Matthews, Auston (2016) – Credited with 4 points, Matthews actually got 5 and dominated the game. Consistently buzzing around and creating danger in the Finnish zone, Auston seemed to remain equally effective even in the last part of longer shifts. He thinks fast and executes even faster, apparently too fast for the Finns today. When his 2016 challenger (Pujujarvi) brought Finland back into the game, it took him less than 40 seconds to re-establish the distance deking out the goalie with impressive ease at the end of a perfectly executed counter attack by his line.

USA #21 C Fischer, Christian (2015) – Fischer didn’t really look into this exhibition game early on and he was not skating as hard as he usually does throughout the game, but to his credit he got better as it progressed and he ended up scoring a beautiful goal in the 3rd when on a counter attack he fooled both the defenseman and the goalie with a deke that allowed him to backhand the puck into the gaping net.

USA #25 D McAvoy, Charles (2016) – Had a couple of rough plays and missed wide a great chance on the powerplay, but overall had an impressive game, logging big minutes and consistently leading the play. He was able to complete accurate passes both off the rush and on the PP or to hold onto the puck and carry it deep instead. By far the best US defenseman.