Entering the tournament as the IIHF’s top team, Team Finland began the 2023 World Junior Championship with a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to Team Switzerland in the tournament’s opening game. One of the only bright spots of the result for the Finns is that they secured one point for the overtime loss.
While Team Finland came into the tournament ranked first in the world, they have not been discussed as being in the same conversation as Team USA or Team Canada. However, after not finishing worse than fourth in the last four tournaments, a loss to Team Switzerland is not how they wanted to start.
In a group that appeared to be a two-team race between Team Finland and Team USA, the Finns now will look to avoid a colossal collapse on Tuesday against Team Latvia to stay in the race in Group B.
Here are three takeaways from Finland’s loss to Switzerland.
Finland’s Best Players Kept Quiet
While Finland does not have the same group that finished runner-up to Team Canada in August’s 2022 World Junior Championship, the team still has NHL draft picks up and down its lineup. On Monday, it seemed every skater for Finland had trouble on offense.
Brad Lambert was expected to be one of the highest-producing players for Finland entering the tournament. Prior to being drafted in the first round of the 2022 draft by the Winnipeg Jets, he posted 27 points in 99 appearances in Finland’s top league with JYP and the Lahden Pelicans.
Lambert has spent the 2022-23 season with the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. He has had an up-and-down start to the AHL season, recording just three points (2G, 1A) in 14 games for the Moose. But regardless of his rocky start to the AHL season, Lambert was expected to be a big part of the Finns’ offense.
The 19-year-old registered just one shot against Team Switzerland in the tournament’s opening game and recorded just 14:36 of ice time. What is even more concerning for Team Finland is that Lambert played just 3:13 in the third period and did not see the ice in the 40 seconds of overtime.
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Fellow forward Joakim Kemell, a first-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2022 draft, was also absent from the scoresheet against the Swiss. He recorded three shots, all coming in the third period of the game, and was on the ice for two of the goals from Team Switzerland.
Kemell is on loan to JYP in Finland’s top professional league. In 24 games before the WJC, he had 10 points (8G, 2A). He is on pace for a 17-goal season, which would be his most in a single campaign since scoring 22 goals in Finland’s U20 league.
If Finland wants to have a chance to move toward the medal round of this year’s tournament, they will need their best players to be their best players. Unfortunately, the lack of firepower from the team’s stars is a big reason why they are starting the tournament 0-0-1.
Trio of Finns Provide Offense
Just three players for Team Finland recorded points in the opener against Switzerland. Kalle Vaisanen and Sami Paivarinta recorded two points each in the loss, while Konsta Kapanen netted a goal in the second period to open the game’s scoring.
It was the third line of Vaisanen, Kapanen, and Paivarinta that recorded all of Finland’s scoring, and all three players were watching from the bench as the game-winning goal from Switzerland found the back of the net 40 seconds into overtime.
The Finland third line, on paper, does not match up with the other national powers of the tournament, like Team Sweden, Team Canada, and Team USA. However, if Team Finland can continue to get depth scoring and allow their top-6 forwards to figure out their game, it can go a long way in helping the team before playing Team USA on New Year’s Eve.
Aku Koskenvuo Gets the Start
After much anticipation as to who Team Finland would start in goal, the team decided to throw Aku Koskenvuo in net to begin the tournament against the Swiss. A fifth-round pick in 2021 of the Vancouver Canucks, Koskenvuo looked shaky at times in net and eventually took the loss against Switzerland.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
He has played in just two games for Harvard in the NCAA this season, recording a 1-1 record with a .875 save percentage while allowing 3.56 goals per game. The 19-year-old also got the start against Team USA in a 5-2 preliminary loss before the tournament.
Finland took a trio of goaltenders to Canada for the World Junior Championship, and Niklas Kokko figured to get the majority of the starts for them. A former second-round pick of the Seattle Kraken, he plays in Finland’s second division, which may have resulted in Koskenvuo recording the start.
Finland’s game against Latvia on Tuesday has now turned into a must-win. Dropping the first two games of the tournament seemed impossible for the Finns last week. Now, however, they will look to turn the page against a beatable Latvian team.