It's a really good sign for Aku Koskenvuo that he was trusted to start Finland's first game of the 2023 World Junior Championship. It's less of a good sign that he lost that game, as Switzerland upset Finland to kick off the tournament.
The Vancouver Canucks' fifth-round pick from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft worked his way onto Finland's junior team with some excellent performances in international competition but he hasn't played much this season, starting just two games with Harvard University. He wasn't even a lock to start a single game for Finland, but earned the trust of Finland's coaching staff and got the first start, giving him the inside edge to be the team's number-one goaltender throughout the tournament.
After winning silver in the 2022 World Juniors, Finland was expected to once again be one of the top teams in the tournament, while Switzerland finished in eighth in 2022. Switzerland has managed to make the medal round in the World Juniors before but their primary focus will be avoiding relegation. But you wouldn't know that from their performance against Finland on Monday.
Switzerland played a tight defensive game, blocking dozens of shots, and shockingly out-shot Finland 27-to-16. That put the pressure on Koskenvuo, who didn't play poorly but also couldn't completely shut the door, making 24 saves on 27 shots as Switzerland stunned Finland 3-2 in overtime.
It's easy to tell what the Canucks see in Koskenvuo, who has excellent size, moves smoothly and effortlessly around his crease, and has the battle level that goaltending coach Ian Clark likes to see in his goaltenders. That showed up against Switzerland, as Koskenvuo made some sharp saves and had a quick stick on pokechecks to disrupt Swiss forwards around the crease.
The 19-year-old goaltender still needs refinement in his game, however. His stance has a tendency to become too wide as he's challenging a shooter, which leaves a surprising amount of room upstairs for a 6'4" goaltender.
That's not necessarily why the excellently-named Lorenzo Canonica was able to beat Koskenvuo over his glove to tie the game 1-1 in the first period. That had a lot more to do with Finland giving up a wide-open shot in the slot to one of Switzerland's top players.
Switzerland took the lead 2-1 in the third period when Mats Alge outbattled Finnish defenceman Otto Salin to get to the front of the net for a chance. The issue for Koskenvuo is less that the puck snuck through him but that he had no idea it had snuck through him. Instead of scrambling to cover the puck behind him, he stayed rooted to one spot while Jeremy Jabola got to the loose puck first to poke it in.
Finland was able to tie the game thanks to a great individual effort by Kalle Vaisanen to peel off the boards and snipe a shot past Swiss goaltender Kevin Pasche, getting the game to overtime.
In overtime, however, it was the same game from Switzerland that we saw in regulation: they outworked Finland, created chances, and capitalized.
Lian Bichsel stole the puck from Joakim Kemell and drove the other way. While Finnish captain Oliver Kapanen was able to pressure Bichsel and Koskenvuo poked the puck away, Bichsel won the battle in the corner and got the puck to Attilio Biasca, who fired a hard shot that Koskenvuo couldn't snag with his glove.
It's hard to blame a goaltender for losing a game in which his team was badly out-shot and this loss was not primarily Koskenvuo's fault. But in a short tournament, coaches will run with whatever goaltender is hot. Koskenvuo may still get another start later in the round robin, but Finland has two other goaltenders and if one of them comes up with a big performance, they may end up as the number-one goaltender.
One game doesn't define a prospect and Koskenvuo is still a promising goaltender worth keeping an eye on in the future.