Heading into this game, Olli Juolevi had been quietly effective for Finland at the 2018 World Junior Championships. He and 18-year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect Henri Jokiharju spent most of the tournament in the offensive zone thanks to their ability to break up opposition rushes and quickly transition the puck back up ice.
In fact, in Finland’s 5-4 loss to Team USA, Juolevi had an 84.6% corsi, while Finland’s top pairing of Miro Heiskanen and Juuso Valimaki were both below 50%. In other words, when Juolevi was on the ice at 5-on-5, Finland dominated, in a game where Finland was out-shot 37-to-24.
Despite the dominance in possession, Juolevi had just two assists through four games in the round robin stage of the tournament. It was enough to make me wonder if “quietly effective” was enough for the Canucks’ fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. Canucks fans were hoping to see a little more than some efficient work in the defensive zone and a good first pass.
Juolevi was just as effective on Tuesday against the Czech Republic, but there was nothing quiet about his game. In their quarterfinal matchup, Juolevi was Finland’s best player on the ice and was voted so by his teammates after the game.
Unfortunately, Juolevi’s goal and an assist simply weren’t enough, as an incredible goaltending performance by Josef Korenar kept the Czechs in the game long enough for them to tied things up late and win in the shootout.
Finland out-shot the Czech Republic 54-to-30, including a 21-to-9 third period, but Korenar stood on his head. Juolevi provided eight of those shots, with only shot-happy forward Eeli Tolvanen bettering him on Finland.
Juolevi and Jokiharju took over from Miro Heiskanen on the first power play unit and it immediately looked more effective than previously in the tournament. Juolevi quarterbacked the power play from the left boards and created numerous chances with his vision and puck distribution.
That’s where Juolevi picked up his assist, setting up a chance from the slot for Kristian Vesalainen that Aapeli Rasanen deposited on the rebound.
Later in the second period, Juolevi scored his first ever goal at the World Junior Championships. Despite leading all defencemen in scoring as a 17-year-old two years ago, he did so with nine assists in seven games, and last year he only had two assists.
This goal was therefore a long time coming, but it was a gorgeous shot, a long wrist shot from the point past a screened Korenar that went just under the bar.
Juolevi and Jokiharju were so effective during this game that it was shocking they didn’t get more ice time and it may have been the Finn’s downfall.
During regulation, Juolevi had just 18:26 in ice time, his lowest total of the tournament. He played just 4:23 in the third period, the lowest of any Finnish defenceman apart from seventh defenceman Robin Salo, who didn’t play at all.
Neither Heiskanen nor Valimaki looked particularly good on the Czech Republic’s last two goals. Valimaki got caught standing still inside the Czech blue line as the rush went the other way, allowing a breakaway goal from Kristian Rychel as Heiskanen got tangled up with his man in the neutral zone.
Then, with the Czech net empty, Heiskanen got beat off the boards and Valimaki couldn’t out-battle Filip Chytil in front to prevent a screen. With that, the game was tied 3-3.
The Finnish coach seemed to realize his error in overtime, playing Juolevi more than half of the overtime period’s ten minutes, with a team-leading 5:04, but it was too little, too late. The game went to the shootout, where Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who struggled all tournament, was once again not as excellent as his name, allowing three goals on five attempts.
Oddly enough, Juolevi was selected to take the fifth shot in the shootout. It’s unusual to use a defenceman in that situation, but particularly one who is better at distributing the puck than scoring with it. Juolevi didn’t do enough to get the goaltender moving as he approached, and Korenar made the stop on his wrist shot.
Getting eliminated in the quarterfinals is a better result than missing them entirely like last year, but the result likely hurts no less for Juolevi and Finland.