Friday, 30 December 2016

Sweeping Changes

Normally, the look seen to the left on Jukka Rautakorpi's face are saved for characters in horror movies realizing that the end is near for him or her. With Finland's World Junior Championship team in the midst of their own horror movie when it comes to this year's tournament results, head coach Jukka Rautakorpi's facial expression might be appropriate because the end was near as Finland reportedly fired their coaching staff ahead of their final tournament game. Honestly, this has to be one of the most disappointing results in the tournament's history.

You have to wonder if this move was done knowing that next year's coach, Jussi Ahokas, was in Montreal scouting players for next year's tournament and taking notes on the other teams. Regardless of why it was done, Finland ousted Rautakorpi and his staff as Finland stares down a relegation series after winning the gold medal one year ago. It's the first time in World Junior Championship history that a gold medal-winning team fro the previous year has played in the relegation series. That's not the kind of history that any country wants to make, let alone a proud hockey nation like Finland.

Finland found themselves in the likes of Canada and the US where their best young players were already playing and contributing in the NHL, making those players such as Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi unavailable for this year's event. As a result, Finland came over with a fairly young team looking to carry forward the success of last season's victory that rested almost entirely on the Laine-Puljujarvi-Aho line. Those three outscored a lot of teams, but it was thought the Finns would bring a more complete team game to counter the missing offence that was playing in the NHL.

Instead, the Finns struggled to score at all points, having scored just four goals in three games thus far. Yikes.

With the Swiss beating Denmark in the shootout in their game, the Finns and Latvians will meet in the relegation series with the loser in the best-of-three series being demoted to the IIHF Division-1 World Junior Championship next season. If Finland were somehow to lose two of three games to Latvia, this would be one of those moments where hockey would come to a screeching halt in Finland and a national examination would be done of the program. I suspect that Finland will beat Latvia, however, despite both teams being among the lowest-scoring teams. Latvia has given up significantly more goals thanks to their beatings at the hands of Russia, Canada, and the USA.

Finland has yet to record a point ahead of what is now a meaningless game against Switzerland tomorrow. Ahokas, who will take over on the bench tomorrow, was here working as a video coach after serving as the head coach of the Finland U-17 team. While there is almost zero pressure on him in the Switzerland game, it would serve Ahokas well to pick up three points with a win in regulation time. Finland's national program will undoubtedly be keeping a watchful eye on this game with thoughts on next season's tournament in Buffalo already in the planning stages.

Extraordinary circumstances resulted in extraordinary decisions being made. I can't think of the last national program to fire its coaching staff mid-tournament based solely on results in that tournament. With Finland etching their name in the historical records with their rather dismal results, changes had to be made at some point.

I guess the Finnish National Team decided sooner was better than later.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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