15U Finale Comes Down To A Border Battle At World Selects

The 13th annual 15U World Selects International Trophy concluded on Sunday with one of the best rivalries in hockey. The International Stars — with a heavy contingent of players from across the United States — squared off against Pro Hockey, whose roster consisted of representatives from six different Canadian provinces and territories.

In a game that featured a wealth of soon-to-be CHL Draft Picks, USHL selections, Division-I commits and NHL superstars, it was Pro Hockey that came away with the 2-1 win over International Stars at the Ford Ice Center in Nashville.

Near the halfway mark of the first period, defenseman Reese Hamilton fired a wrist shot past goaltender Joey Slavick to put Pro Hockey on the board first. Forwards Ryan Roobroeck and Gavin McKenna helped set up the strike by Hamilton, as the duo finished first and second in the tournament in scoring; Roobroeck with 28 points and McKenna with 21.

Less than two minutes later, Hayden Harsanyi tapped in a goal from the weak side after Liam Kilfoil found him with a back-door pass. Just like that, the Canadians were up 2-0 and in control of the contest.

The Stars wouldn’t go down without a fight, though. Despite going into the half trailing by two goals, forwards Evan Jardine, Cullen Potter and John Mooney led a charge to get back into the contest. Five minutes into the second half, Alex Baughman hit a streaking Will Horcoff who came flying into the high slot. Horcoff gripped and ripped a wrist shot past goaltender Owen Butler’s blocker and into the net, putting the Stars on the board and cutting the deficit in half.

Over the next 15 minutes, the Stars swarmed the Pro Hockey net, outshooting the Canadians 17-3 in the second half. Butler came up big for the boys in blue, though, frustrating American shooters as he had done all tournament long. In five games, he stopped 92-of-95 shots and won all five starts, including the championship game. The strong second-half push from the Americans would be denied though, as Butler and Pro Hockey held on to the 2-1 gold medal victory. 

It is Pro Hockey’s fourth World Selects Invitational championship all-time, and first ever at the 15U age group. In 2019, this ‘07 group won the 12U Elite tournament in Bolzano, Italy, making five members on the current squad — Roobroeck, McKenna, Shayne Gould, Will Sharpe and Jayden Connors — two-time WSI champions. 

Ryan Roobroeck (right) celebrates with Callum Mainville (left) and Gavin McKenna (front).

Roobroeck’s Record-Breaking Run

The World Selects Invitational series has seen more than 300 future NHL superstars come through its tournament doors over the last two decades. Names like Alexander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Trevor Zegras and Adam Fox have littered the scoring leaderboard in years past. No player at the 15U level has ever amassed the numbers Roobroeck reached this past week in Nashville though.

The 6-foot-2 power forward led all scorers with 28 points, surpassing Jesse Puljujarvi’s single-tournament mark of 21 points in 2013. Roobroeck also joins Zack Stringer (69), Matthew Savoie (58), Jack Devine (57), Ilya Ivantsov (55) and Connor Bedard (53) as the only players in tournament history to reach the 50-point plateau. In 2019, Roobroeck led the 12U Elite event in scoring as well with 22 points. His 50 total points puts him sixth all-time in tournament scoring. 

Pro Hockey’s Perfect Run

Appearing in the World Selects tournaments more than 50 times in the past 10 years, Pro Hockey has fielded both boys and girls teams across all age levels. The ‘07 team in Nashville dominated pool play, going 5-0-0 and out-scoring its opponent 43-4. Twelve different skaters recorded multiple goals, with Roobroeck, McKenna and Callum Mainville finishing one, two and three in scoring. 

That earned them the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. Pro Hockey made quick work of TPH Selects in the round of 16 and Alps Selects in the quarterfinals before taking on the 12-seed and defending champion DraftDay-Black. Jordan Switzer pitched the team’s fourth shutout of the tournament, with Roobroeck, Kilfoil, Harsanyi, Savin Virk and Kieran Riley tallying a goal apiece in the 5-0 win.

2007-born Pro Hockey (Canada) wins the 2022 15U World Selects Trophy in Nashville 2-1 over International Stars (USA).

A high-powered offense elevated Pro Hockey to the championship game with International Stars. However, Butler stole the show in net with a sensational effort and 28 saves to win Pro Hockey’s lowest-scoring game of the tournament.

A First Look At The Next Wave

Jakob Ihs-Wozniak led all European skaters in scoring with 12 points.

It may be the first time that Canadian prospects like Ryan Roobroeck, Gavin McKenna and Cole Reschny go head-to-head with Americans Evan Jardine, Cole McKinney and John Mooney on the ice, but it certainly won’t be the last. That’s not to mention the 100-plus other Europeans that competed in the tournament from Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, France and Kazakhstan. 

Jakob Ihs-Wozinak and Anton Frondell pushed Sweden Selects into the No. 2-seed after going 5-0-0 in pool play. The Swedes scored a last-minute goal from Ruben Westerling to defeat DHI Ontario 5-4 in the second round of the playoffs. They then knocked off the Czech Knights in the quarterfinals before losing to International Stars in the semifinals. 

Czech forward Adam Novotny scored six goals in pool play — tied for third among skaters — as the Knights qualified as the No. 10-seed in the playoffs. Matyas Jonak scored two goals and an assist to defeat LivePolar Hockey 5-4, before the Czechs were eliminated in the next round. 

Alps Selects — with a roster of players from four different central European countries — finished as one-of-four teams to finish without a regulation loss during pool play. They qualified as the No. 8-seed after tiebreakers were resolved. Matey Pekar and Adam Feher both recorded multi-point games in Alps’ 4-1 win over Twin Cities Selects. In the next round, they would be eliminated by eventual champion Pro Hockey.

Whether it’s the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, U20 IIHF World Juniors, the Olympics or NHL Playoffs, many of these players will certainly share the ice on an international stage again in the near future.

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The world’s best are represented with names like Roobroeck, Frondell, Jardine, Härenstam

If you stay on the World Selects Invitational landing page and watch the names rotate through, it reads like a who’s who of the biggest names in hockey.

Andrei Svechnikov, Adam Fox, Mitch Marner, Kaapo Kakko, Rasmus Dahlin, Trevor Zegras, Aaron Ekblad — no matter the type of player or the nationality, you can find whatever you’re looking for when scrolling through.

With top talent from across the globe coming to the tournament spring after spring, it has become a marquee event for the youth hockey community. It’s also great to have it back and fully operational this time around as the tournament is underway in Nashville, Tenn.

Eight different countries are taking part in this year’s 15U World Selects Trophy, as the 2007 birth-year really begins to make some noise in the hockey circles leading into their junior draft year.

One of those players certainly standing out to the scouts in attendance is Ryan Roobroeck, who has posted a remarkable 18 points in four games to jump out to the lead in the scoring race. Roobroeck, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound forward, won an Alliance Hockey league title with the London Jr. Knights in the winter season, and now he’s skating with the Pro Hockey ’07 team at World Selects.

He said it’s humbling to be included among the top players in his birth-year, but knows it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of his hockey career.

“Yeah, but we’re still young,” Roobroeck said. “There’s still a lot to be done, and everybody’s still learning to play and everything, so being at the top right now is nothing special, until later.”

To put his performance in perspective, Roobroeck’s taking quite the swing at the all-time points leaders totals — Jesse Puljujarvi recorded 21 in 2013, while seven players have posted 19 — most recently, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) U18 Team captain Rutger McGroarty in 2019.

Pro Hockey teammates Gavin McKenna and Callum Mainville join Roobroeck at the top of the points chart with 14 and 12, respectively, while Sweden’s Jakob Ihs-Wozniak has the most points of any European player with 10. It’s quite an adjustment for the Euros to all of a sudden be playing world-class competition in Nashville, as summarized by Sweden Selects teammate Anton Frondell, another highly-regarded ’07 prospect.

“I think the biggest difference is the rink,” said Frondell, who won a Swedish U16 national title playing with the ’06 Djurgården IF club. “In Sweden we have a bit of a bigger rink, so here it’s more physical, there are more hits, and you’re always closer to the boards. When you have the puck, you’re closer to the net, and you always have a good scoring chance. I think that’s the biggest difference.”

The players know they are skating in a must-see showcase for junior, college and professional scouts. Cole Reschny, skating with Pro Hockey after an impressive winter campaign with the Northern Alberta Xtreme of the CCSHL, acknowledged that he’s at least aware of some of the extra attention this week. However, he isn’t letting that impact his performance, as he has eight points in four games. Reschny knows how to find the back of the net; he had 92 points in 25 games with his Xtreme team this year.

“That’s in the back of my mind, but I just try to play my game, improve myself, show my skill and what I can do here,” Reschny said.

With the combination of elite talent and brand-new rosters, life can be difficult for the goaltenders, but the brave souls entering the crease at World Selects are holding their own. Troy Wright of Laytonsville, Maryland and the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers is standing on his head, as he holds a .50 goals-against average and .970 save percentage for Top Line Selects.

Owen Butler of Pro Hockey has the same goals-against, and with one shot on goal less than Wright, he’s got a .969 save percentage.

Bjorn Bronas, fresh off leading Chicago Mission to a USA Hockey national championship, has a 1.03 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. Meanwhile, Love Härenstam of Sweden is leading all the European goaltenders with a 2.00 goals-against and .958 save percentage.

The playoff bracket kicks off Friday evening. These players have spent the last several months competing for national recognition and now with the spotlight bright in the Music City, will clash for world supremacy.

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Czech Selects go ‘from worst to first’ in impressive playoff turnaround

In one of the more stunning outcomes in World Selects Invitationals history, the Czech Selects shocked the girls youth hockey world last week, winning the 14U championship. 

After the conclusion of pool play, the Czechs were fifth out of six teams in the standings, and it’s only regulation win was over the sixth-seeded Alps Selects. When the elimination rounds began, the Czechs needed a 2-0 win over Germany Selects in the quarterfinals. That win gave them a rematch with top-seeded Sweden Selects; a team that had beaten them 4-1 just three days earlier. The Swedes had dominated their way to the top spot, out-scoring opponents 26-3 in round-robin action. 

It was a tough semifinal, but a pair of goals from Alena Luxemburgová would change the tides in the rematch. That early offensive surge helped the Czechs knock off the No. 1 team 3-1 and advance to the gold medal game.

The stage was set for the Czechs to take on the No. 2-seeded Finland Selects; another team they lost to earlier in the tournament. Again, this rematch would be all about the Czechs as Merkéta Kafková scored four goals to lead the team to a 6-1 victory and WSI championship.

A pair of Finns Yenna Kolmonen and Julia Kuhta led round-robin action in scoring with 12 points and 10 points respectively. Eventual champion Aneta Florýková also had 10 points. Goaltender Wilma Hallbeck played 139 minutes of scoreless hockey and didn’t allow a single goal against until playoffs. France Selects Lysa Nogaretto had a .914 save percentage, stopping 53-of-58 shots.

It’s just the second time that the Czech Selects have won a girls WSI event and the first time since 2015. This tournament in particular is a unique accomplishment after the WSI had been on pause for the past two years. Circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and international travel had made such events virtually impossible to operate. However, in 2022, the situation was such that several European countries were able to travel in some capacity and the six-team event was able to go off without a hitch. 

The early success of this event — and the 12U Boys Elite event — is an encouraging step back towards normalcy regarding WSI. The World Selects Trophy in Nashville will feature 30 teams from eight different countries next week as well. Coupling all that together with the remaining slate of WSI events this month, and it adds up to a lot of progress for a series that was on hold for the better part of 24 months. After a full slate of tournaments this spring, the goal for 2023 will certainly be to have a full slate of teams in the competition, and the return of North American programs in European events.

Want more coverage of the World Selects Invitationals this spring? There’s seven events over the next two weeks, and WHH will have exclusive coverage of the top teams, players and champions. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the last news!

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WSI returns to Europe after two-year hiatus; Six countries clash in Prague

Some of the top 2010-born European hockey players in the world gathered in Czechia last week for the 10U World Selects Invitational, and they put on quite a show.

The hometown Czech Knights ended up prevailing in the European showcase that featured teams from Czechia, Slovakia, Latvia, Sweden, Finland and the Alps. 

In the final, the Knights topped the Slovakia Kings 4-1 to capture the title inside the Letnany Ice Arena in Prague.

The win capped off a perfect week for the Czech club, as they posted a 5-0 record in the preliminary round before rolling through the playoffs, as well.

To start, they beat the Latvia Selects 5-0 Tuesday morning, before beating the Alps Selects 7-1 later in the day. On Wednesday, they took down the Slovakia Kings 4-1 and the Sweden Selects 2-1, before wrapping up the prelims with a 7-1 win over the Finland Selects on Thursday.

That earned the Knights a bye to the semifinals, where they took on the winner of the Sweden Selects vs. Alps Selects quarters. Sweden beat the Alps club 14-1, but their scoring streak ran out when they took on the Czechs, as the Knights picked up a 4-0 shutout victory. 

The Czechs wrapped things up Friday evening with the aforementioned 4-1 win over Slovakia in the final. The Knights scored four goals in the first period to take control of the contest and coast to victory in their rematch with the Slovakian club. The Slovakia Kings were undefeated in all of the other contests they played in, finishing with a 5-2 record on the week.

Czechia’s representatives thrived on their home ice, as they out-scored the competition 33-5 in their seven games. Nobody managed to score more than a single goal on them during the duration of the tournament.

Czechia’s Matyas Vik led the tournament and the Knights in scoring during the five-game preliminary round, as he racked up nine points over the five contests. Vik found the scoresheet in every game but the final, showing a consistent presence for his club each and every contest. His nine-point mark was matched by Slovakia’s Simon Sisik, who had four goals and five assists for the runners-up.

Oliver Hammerman of the Sweden Selects finished with eight points, one point off the tournament lead. Even more impressive than his eight points in five games was his eight points in two games in the playoffs, as Hammerman did everything he could to help his Swedes in the elimination rounds.

Two of the Knights — Niko Fatyka and Marek Sedlacek — both had eight points in the prelims, while Tomas Albrecht had six, and Adam Novotny had five.

In the playoffs, David Jahn and Niko Fatyka both had three points apiece, while a total of nine different Knights found their way to the scoresheet over the two games.

Tobias Orechvsky and Tomas Zmitko split time between the pipes for the Czechs; in the preliminary round, Orechovsky posted a .966 save percentage with only one goal against, while Zmitko finished with a .903 save percentage and only three goals against. 

In the playoffs, Orechovsky saw 60 minutes of action between the pipes, stopping all 11 shots sent his way for a perfect 1.00 save percentage and 0.00 goals-against average. Zmitko only needed to make five saves on the six shots sent his way during his 20 minutes of postseason action; he finishes with a .833 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. 

Slovakia’s David Brucek deserves some high praise as well – the Kings’ goaltender played every minute of the preliminary round and stood on his head while doing so. Brucek finished with a 1.40 goals-against average and .933 save percentage while allowing only seven goals in the five games. He faced 105 shots on goal in the timeframe.

Want more coverage of the World Selects Invitationals this spring? There’s seven events over the next two weeks, and WHH will have exclusive coverage of the top teams, players and champions. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the last news!

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The World’s Best 2007-Born Youth Hockey Players Take Center Stage In The Music City

It is one of the most iconic events in youth hockey.

The 2022 World Selects Trophy 15U tournament returns to Music City, USA, for the second consecutive year. A field of 32 teams from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Central and Western Europe will feature some of the absolute best 2007-born youth hockey players in the game today. More than a dozen different countries will be represented at the 13th annual 15U WSI — a tournament that has seen more than 400 future NHL Draft picks and 1,000 NCAA athletes during its run.

The 2022 event is sure to be loaded with top talent yet again, with programs like DraftDay, Pro Hockey and ELD Hockey Academy representing the best players from across Canada. Stateside, various programs come from coast to coast. From the California Patriots to New England’s Exposure Hockey, and everywhere in between. Hockey hotbeds like Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts represented by MN Fire, International Stars and Power Play Operations. Other notable programs like 1NE Academy, DHI Octane, HD Engine, Live Polar Hockey, Northstar Elite, Pittsburgh Oilers, Topline Selects and Total Package Hockey filling in any gaps throughout the lower 48.

European programs like Sweden Selects, Finland Selects, Norway Selects and Czech Knights will compete on behalf of their native countries. Alps Selects are made up of as many as eight central European countries on its own, and Barys will bring some of the best from western Europe.

Teams will take to the ice on Wednesday, May 11, where they will compete in five pool games. The top 20 teams will advance to the elimination rounds that will begin on Saturday morning, and will be whittled down to a champion by Sunday afternoon. Complete tournament schedule, standings and stats will be available HERE

World Hockey Hub will have exclusive coverage leading up to, and throughout, the 2022 15U World Selects Trophy. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for previews, updates, top prospects, highlights, interviews and more!

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Uplandia Trophy and Resport Trophy host top-level European teams in season finale

Two iconic events marked the end of one season and the beginning of another in Europe. The U14 Uplandia Trophy and U13 Resport Trophy were hosted just outside of Stockholm, Sweden, welcoming 68 teams from nine different countries. These tournaments were a symbolic season-ending championship for many, as countries like Sweden and Finland do not have national tournaments at these age groups.

U14 Uplandia Trophy

Held in five different arenas just north of the capital city, 28 AAA-level teams were split up into two divisions, as well as a AA division of 16 teams. 

The top four teams from each of the AAA Divisions advanced to the playoffs. Täby HC went undefeated to earn the top seed, while Slovakia-based HC Slovan Bratislava earned the top seed in the other division. The rest of the eight-team playoffs were rounded out by Tappara Blue from Finland, and Nacka HK, Boo HC, SDE Hockey, AIK Hockey and HA74 from Sweden.

Täby continued its dominance in playoffs, knocking off the No. 8-seed AIK and No. 5-seed Nacka to get to the championship game. However, No. 6-seed SDE was able to pull off three straight upsets against Boo, Tappara Blue and ultimately, Täby in the finale to take home the hardware. 

Forward Viggo Bjӧrck led all scorers with eight goals and 27 points in eight games for Täby. His teammate Max Johannesen had 17 points in last year’s Report Trophy, and surpassed that performance with 24 points alongside Bjӧrck in this season’s tournament. Norway’s Niklas Aarm Olsen followed behind with 11 goals and 19 points in just six games for Vålerenga IF

Goaltending was exceptional as well over the weekend. Frode Wadstromer was in net for all seven of SDE’s tournament wins with a .950 save percentage and just 1.14 goals-against average. 

All participants qualified for playoffs — in a tiered format — with the top four from each division qualifying for the top tier, the next four in the second tier, and so one. While Täby won the top tier as the best of the best, Finland’s Pelicans won the tier-2 playoffs, while Norway’s Frisker Asker won the tier-3 playoffs and HV71 won a four-team tier-4 playoffs. 

U13 Resport Trophy

Just south of the nation’s capital, Resort featured 24 teams across AAA and AA Divisions. Both Kållered SK and Kiekko-Espoo Blues went undefeated in pool play of the top division, with Tappara Blue going 4-0-1 as well.  

Similar to Uplandia, all teams qualified for playoffs as well, with the top eight competing in the top tier and the bottom eight in the standings going onto the second-tier playoffs.

Kållered and Kiekko validated their top spots in the tournament, as both would roll through the first two rounds to collide in the championship game. The matchup lived up to the hype, as the two played to a 2-2 tie until Gustav Corneliusson scored the game-winning goal for Kållered.

Four of Corneliusson’s five points came in the elimination rounds to help his team to a championship. Teammates Wiggo Forsberg and Olle Willén led Kållered with 10 points apiece. Goaltender William Thegerstrӧm played arguably the biggest role in the championship run, winning all seven games and allowing just four goals against with a .965 save percentage. 

Finland’s Max Syrjäläinen led all skaters in scoring with 19 points in seven games for second-place Kiekko. Teammate Felix Wollsten factored in on a lot of the offense as well with a tournament-high 13 assists.

Kiekko-Espoo had good success in the tier-2 playoffs as well, as its EPS squad not only made the championship game, but also defeated Gӧta Traneberg 4-1 to win it. In the AA playoffs, Värmdӧ HC beat SDE Hockey 3-2 in the championship game. 

This year’s Resport Trophy and Uplandia Trophy — both operated by the team at World Hockey Group – Europe — featured teams from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Israel. The events serve as a bookend to the current season and a launching point into the next season for European teams. 

WHH has year-long coverage of the biggest events in youth hockey! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for more news and updates from around the world.

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Finland Youth Hockey Season Comes To A Close With Two-Game Sweep

After seven months of intense action across the country, Finland youth hockey has finally crowned its U16 national champion. Jokerit — the No. 1 seed in the playoffs — swept HIFK in a best-of-3 series to take the title on Saturday afternoon. A 4-3 win in Game 2 clinched the series victory for Jokerit, earning the championship for the Helsinki-based program. 

In Game 1, Jokerit put HIFK goaltender Otto Nuto to the test in the form of 49 shots on goal. A hat trick from forward Renny Tainio fueled the surge of offense, while Atte Vikla, Juho Keinänen, Natan Teshome and Arttu Määttä piled on in a 7-1 win.

HIFK pushed back in Game 2 though, with the season on the line. In the first period, they threw 15 shots on goal, and Matias Torkki was able to give HIFK an early lead just 6:30 into the game. Jokerit quickly responded to tie it up just 18 seconds later, but another first-period goal by Edvard Grönholm would regain the lead for HIFK. 

Joonas Paqvalin and Santeri Veiksola would combine to score the next three goals — Paqvalin with one on the power play — to take the lead for Jokerit for good. A late goal, timeout and pulled goalie for more than a minute would not be enough for HIFK to tie it up, and Jokerit would hang onto the 4-3 win.

Similar to neighboring country Sweden, Finland only awards a champion of youth hockey at the U16 age group. This year, Jokerit’s 2006-born team proved to be the best in the country by going undefeated in the playoffs. They swept No. 10 TPS 2-0 in the quarterfinals, then swept No. 8 Lukko 2-0 in the semifinals and finished with a 2-0 sweep of No. 5 HIFK this weekend.

It is the final season of youth hockey for these players, as next season, the 2006 age group will embark on its first in the SM-sarja junior leagues. Want more coverage of Finland youth hockey and other news from around the world? Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the latest updates in the sport.

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Top two teams compete in best-of-three series for Finland championship

A new champion in Finland youth hockey will be crowned this weekend, as Jokerit and HIFK are the only two teams left standing in contention for the U16 championship.

JUMPING WITH JOKERIT

Jokerit entered the playoffs as a favorite, with a 32-8-0 record and a top seed in the tournament. Forward Natan Teshome finished the season among the top five in the league in scoring with 34 goals and 60 points. He hasn’t played with Jokerit in a few weeks, since being called up to the U18 team. In his absence, Joonas Paqvalin, Juho Keinänen and Eemil-Olavi Hiltunen have carried the offensive torch, combining to score 10 goals and 24 points. They have accounted for more than half of Jokerit’s offense in the postseason.

The top four seeds — Jokerit being No. 2 — earned first-round byes in the U16 Finland youth hockey playoffs. Eight teams competed in the wild-card rounds; a best-of-three series where the four victorious teams advanced to the quarterfinals. 

Jokerit drew a quarterfinal matchup with No. 10 TPS; a team they had beaten twice before by a score of 9-1 and 3-2. The playoffs went in a similar fashion, with a 6-2 win and 3-1 win to eliminate TPS from the playoffs. Goaltender Harri Juntunen didn’t face a ton of action, but did stop 41-of-44 shots faced in the series.

The semifinal series with No. 8 Lukko proved to be a bit tighter. Jokerit needed to stave off a late comeback by Lukko in Game 1, where Sasu Päivärinta and Jasper Inkinen scored a pair of goals in the final minute of regulation. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as Jokerit held on to win 5-4. Paqvalin and Hiltunen posted three-point performances to help Jokerit earn the first win and set the tone for the rest of the series.

There was no comeback to be had in Game 2, as goals by Paqvalin, Keinänen and Santeri Veiksola would propel Jokerit to a commanding 5-1 win and a spot in the championship.

NO ONE HOTTER THAN HIFK

A 25-13-2 record kept HIFK near the middle of the pack; not quite a top team but certainly not the bottom either. Just three points in the standings kept them from passing HPK in the standings, and put HIFK among the eight teams needing to win a wild-card series to keep their playoff hopes alive.

What could have been an intense situation with the season on the line, HIFK rolled through its wild-card series with Ilves by way of 8-4 and 5-0 victories. The next two rounds proved to be far more nerve-racking.

Aleksi Tuovinen — the team’s leading scorer — followed up a big regular season with an even better performance in the 4-v-5 matchup in the quarterfinals. He assisted on four goals in HIFK’s 6-1 win in Game 1, and when the team dropped Game 2, he scored two goals and an assist to clinch the series win in Game 3.

That set the stage for what has been the best series of the tournament so far, when HIFK took on No. 3 Tappara in the other semifinal. 

HIFK dropped Game 1 after they were unable to put a puck past Juha Riekki, in a 1-0 finish. Tuovinen tied Game 2 with 1:16 left to force overtime and keep HIFK’s playoff hopes alive. After six minutes of extra time, Jonatan Hirschovits cashed in on a power-play goal to force a deciding Game 3.  

In all three games, HIFK would throw 50-or-more shots at the Tappara goal. Only Edvard Grönholm and Viljo Kähkönen were able to put shots past Riekki through 60 minutes, and like Game 2, Game 3 would need overtime to determine a winner of the game and the series. Jere Somervuori and Matias Torkki would connect to set up Thomas Lahtinen for the game-winning goal almost eight minutes into the extra period, putting HIFK in the championship with Jokerit.

CROWNING A CHAMPION

Jokerit carries a 3-1 lead head-to-head in the regular season and comes in as the higher of the two seeds in playoffs. Game 1 of the series is scheduled for Thursday, with Game 2 set for Saturday. If necessary, Game 3 would be Sunday afternoon.

Otto Nuto has elevated his game in the postseason, with a 1.67 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, accounting for five of HIFK’s six playoff victories. HIFK does an exceptional job controlling the flow of the game and throwing plenty of shots on goal. Tuovinen and Grönholm have been the two big pillars in HIFK’s offense, while Kähkönen, Somervuori and Onni Kalto have made significant contributions late in the season. 

Will that be enough to keep Jokerit’s high-powered offense at bay? Paqvalin, Keinanen, Sakari Kostilainen and Renny Tainio make for a balanced offensive attack. Defensemen like Jeremy Mänd, Atte Vikla and Arttu Määttä get involved in a big way too, having scored 22 goals in the regular season.

Jokerit has rolled through the playoffs thus far though, and faced little adversity sweeping teams in both of its playoff series. If HIFK can keep games close enough to make Jokerit sweat, this championship series should be very interesting.

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Finns win first Olympic gold in men’s hockey

The Finns solved the puzzle.

In a wild and whacky 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Finland found the right combination of players to capture gold in Beijing.

Despite long being regarded as a hockey power, it was the first victory at the Olympics for the Scandinavian country of 5.5 million people.

Finland — along with its neighbor and main hockey rival, Sweden — has been a case study for the rest of the hockey world the last few decades. The Finns continue to produce NHL talent and earn international medals year after year despite small population bases to pull from.

For a point of reference, Finland’s 5.5 million compares with the U.S. state of Minnesota, with 5.7 million.

So how did they go about assembling a roster that emerged victorious in this year’s Olympics? Where did the players come from, and how did they develop? Good questions to ask, even before they beat Russia 2-1 on Sunday.

Former NHL star Jere Lehtinen served as general manager for Team Finland at the Games, and like all the other countries, he wasn’t able to use any players skating in hockey’s highest league. Therefore, the Finns mined professional leagues outside of North America for their Olympic roster, mainly pulling from the KHL.

In fact, five of the players on the Finnish squad in Beijing play together for Jokerit, the lone KHL team residing in Finland. Jokerit skates out of Helsinki, the capital of the gold medal-winning country. Eighteen of the 25 players came from the KHL this season, while five came from the NL Swiss league, two from the Finnish league Liiga and one from the Sweden-based SHL.

Pulling entirely from the professional ranks, the Finnish roster was the oldest out of all the competing countries in Beijing. The ‘experienced’ group had an average age of 30.48 years old; Denmark was the only other country with an average age that crossed into the 30s.

For comparison’s sake, the silver medalists from Russia checked in at roughly 26 years old, while bronze medalists from Slovakia averaged roughly 26 as well. The United States was the youngest at 25, and Canada was at 29.

A deeper dive into the Finnish roster paints an expected picture; these were homegrown hockey players through and through. The Finnish hockey development model puts an emphasis on players having a home club that they grow up through; these clubs have pro teams all the way down to the youngest youth ages. While there is some movement, the players develop within their own programs, slowly rising through the ranks and competing against their peers at the youth and junior levels before they reach the pros. 

While the U.S. and Canada see lots of moving across the border during a player’s formative years, you don’t see that between Finland and Sweden. None of the players spent any time skating in Swedish programs until the professional ranks.

With limited travel even next door, it’s no surprise to see that only two of the players opted to take part in the North American development model.

Goaltender Juho Olkinuora, currently playing for Metallurg in the KHL, played one season of 18U AAA hockey in Salt Lake City, Utah, before going home for one year. He later returned to the States to play for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede and the NCAA’s University of Denver. He played in the AHL and the ECHL before venturing back to Europe, where he has since played in Liiga and the KHL.

Forward Toni Rajala, currently skating in the Swiss league, played one season in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings. From there, he played AHL and ECHL hockey before returning to play in the SHL and other leagues in Europe.

Nine of the Finns have never played professional hockey ‘across the pond’ in any of the North American leagues, instead spending their entire careers in Europe. 

The Beijing Games weren’t the first time for the players to don the Suomi jersey, either. Finland has clearly made it a point for as many of their top players to earn international hockey experience, as every single player on the roster has had prior IIHF competition. Nineteen of the players competed in the World Juniors in their U20 years, and all but four have played for Team Finland in the IIHF Men’s World Championship. 

The Finns finished with a perfect record in Beijing; their only blemish would be from an overtime win over rival Sweden in the preliminary round.

They only allowed ten goals over the entire tournament, thanks in large part to Harri Sateri, who played in five of the six games. He finished with a 96.21 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average, along with one shutout.

Sakari Manninen and Teemu Hartikainen led the way up front, both tying for the tournament lead of seven points with Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky and Canada’s Adam Tambellini

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All 11 World Selects Tournament Dates, Locations And More This Spring

Known globally as the premier international event in youth hockey, the World Selects Invitational (WSI) tournament series is slated to begin April 12th, and returns with high expectations for all 11 events scheduled for the 2022 spring season. From 18U girls to 2010-born boys, the mountains of Chamonix to the honky tonks of Nashville, the lineup of events is second to none for this world-class spectacle. For five consecutive weeks, elite youth hockey athletes of various age groups and genders will compete in exotic cities in the ultimate clash of culture and competition.

14U Girls Elite in Chamonix, France
April 12 – 16, 2022

Some of the best amateur girls hockey players on the planet will be in the resort area where France, Switzerland and Italy all come together in the heart of Europe. Near the base of Mont Blanc — the highest summit in the Alps — the only thing more unique than the scenic landscape is the backdrop at the Courmayeur Ice Rink. This event is typically the first opportunity for girls athletes to experience the WSI; a starting point for future events and locations in the years that follow.

15U Girls Elite in Chamonix, France
April 19 – 23, 2022

Less than 48 hours after the 14U girls vacate the rink, hotels, local shops and restaurants, the 15U girls pick up right where their younger counterparts leave off. More exciting action, more sight-seeing and another world champion crowned after the older girls take their turn on the ice. Current NCAA standout and Canadian native, Katie Chan holds the all-time tournament scoring record with 23; a mark that hasn’t been touched since 2015. 

12U Boys Elite in Bolzano, Italy
April 26 – 30, 2022

A team from Canada or Russia has accounted for each of the last five 12U Elite championships. The best boys from the 2010-birth year and below will take to the ice in the South Tyrol city of Bolzano. PalaOnda Ice Arena has hosted several WSIs in previous years, and will do so once again with teams from around the world expected to be in attendance. In 2016, Matthew Savoie (28), Ivan Miroshnichenko (27) and Shane Wright (22) finished one, two and three in scoring in what proved to be one of the highest-scoring events in the tournaments’ history. Six years later, that trio of names is slated to be high first-round picks in this summer’s NHL Draft. 

14U Boys Elite in Bolzano, Italy
May 3 – 7, 2022

The boys go back-to-back in Bolzano, with the 14U Elites stepping in the very next week. The 2008s were supposed to make their WSI debut in the spring of 2020, before COVID-19 shut down — or restricted — international travel for the next 18 months. So two years later, the world will get its first look at top-level 14U talent. The past five teams to win the 14U tournament have come from five different countries: East Coast Selects (USA), DraftDay (CAN), RUSS Moscow (RUS), Finland Selects (FIN) and Czech Selects (CZE). The 2022 event is anyone’s to win.

2009 Boys AAA in Chamonix, France
May 4 – 7, 2022

The AAA series of WSI tournaments is unique, in that it works similar to that of relegation and promotion in soccer leagues. If a team wins the AAA tournament, they could find themselves competing in the elite event the following season. It’s a way for any AAA-level player to enjoy the same experience as the elite events, while potentially earning a spot in the following season’s premier field of teams. One of four WSI events — joining 14U and 15U girls, and 13U boys elite — slated to be in Chamonix, it is the most WSI tournaments hosted in one location in a single season.

2010 Boys AAA in Prague, Czech Republic
May 4 – 7, 2022

The first event of the spring in the city of Prague, this field of teams will have a heavy European contingent. In fact, it will be the most diverse group out of all WSI events with representatives from Alps, Austria, Czech, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine. The week will be filled with the beautiful sights of medieval castles and gothic cathedrals, as well as an competitive champion looking to climb the WSI ladder to greater heights in the years to come.

15U Boys Elite in Nashville, Tennessee, USA
May 10 – 15, 2022

DraftDay is the reigning, defending, two-time champion of the 15U Elite tournament. The event moved to the Music City for the first time last summer, and will return again this May. The best 2007-born athletes on the planet will be on-hand to compete for the world championship in one of the most highly-scouted events of the summer. Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Adam Fox, Andrei Svechnikov, Miro Heiskanen, Moritz Seider, Trevor Zegras… More than 400 current, former, and soon-to-be NHL players first competed in this very tournament. Get your first look at the next wave of elite hockey talent right here.

13U Boys Elite in Chamonix, France
May 10 – 14, 2022

Running parallel to the ‘07s, the best ‘09s will be competing at the same time, just on the other end of the globe. With great coordination, the team at World Hockey Group is able to plan and execute multiple events in multiple countries, seamlessly. European teams have won three of the last four 13U world championships, and will once again feature a heavy contingent of nearby teams. Belarus, Czech, Finland, Latvia, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden are expected to be represented, among others. A 13-year-old Connor Bedard once led this tournament in scoring with 32 points in seven games and didn’t win the championship

2008 Boys AAA in Prague, Czech Republic
May 11 – 14, 2022

The last boys event in Europe for 2022, it will run concurrently to the 13U Elite event which will be happening less than 1,000 kilometers away from each other. The Letňany Ice Rink has been home to several WSI champions in years past, and 12 teams will have a shot at being the next to do so in 2022. “The City of A Hundred Spires” has breath-taking sight lines of old architecture and beautiful bridges that span across the Vltava River. The boys’ European finale should feature plenty of fireworks with teams from as many as 11 different countries.

16U Boys Elite in Boston, Massachusetts, USA
May 26 – 30, 2022

The United States Hockey League (USHL) Draft and Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection are slated to take place just days before this event. Many of the 2006-born participants in this tournament will be fresh off having their names called in one or both leagues, and should be one of the biggest events of the summer for the age group. Hosted in the heart of college hockey country, it’s an easy destination for nearby scouts to get to, with more than a dozen Division-I universities within an hour drive of the venue.

18U Girls Elite in Prague, Czech Republic
July 27 – 30, 2022

The finale of the World Selects tournament series, the oldest age group of girls has closed things out as the final event of the season for the last several years. Hosted in one of the most historic and colorful cities in Europe, Prague is filled with old architecture, beautiful scenery and excellent hockey at the nearby ice arena. Typically one of the smaller fields of teams, the 18U group only consists of eight-to-ten teams, providing for a very intimate and exclusive experience for participating players.

World Hockey Hub will have exclusive coverage of all the action, highlights, recaps, top performers and more from all 11 World Selects events. Be sure to follow WHH on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the latest regarding WSI, and learn more to get involved in future events.

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