The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER–Jack Hughes still had tears in his eyes Saturday night as he talked about losing the gold-medal game at the world junior hockey championship.
“Right now, there’s nothing I really want to learn from this,” the 17-year-old said after Finland beat the Americans 3-2 in a dramatic finals performance.
“It’s sad. I don’t want to go through this again.”
Hughes is expected to go first overall at this year’s NHL draft.
Kaapo Kakko, who’s expected to go second overall, scored the game-winning goal in the last minute-and-a-half of Saturday night’s game.
“It was a great feeling. There are no words,” the young Finn said through a translator.
Kakko’s teammates gushed about his performance at the tournament and predicted he’ll be the one picked first by an NHL team come June.
“I think he’s unbelievable,” said Finnish captain Aarne Talvitie. “First tournament and he scores a goal like that? Unbelievable.
“It sums up his tournament, for sure.”
“He’s so young but he seems like a third-year veteran guy out there. He don’t fear anything,” echoed Eeli Tolvanen, who played four games with the Nashville Predators last month.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s going to be the first overall, for sure.”
Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas called the teenage forward “a future superstar” but said his group won as a team Saturday night.
“We were really tight,” he noted. “We have great personalities on the team. We grew up as a team.”
The win was special for Ahokas, who has been coaching some of the players for several years. He remembers being a skills coach for Talvitie when he was just nine years old.
“Kinda cool that he was here now,” the coach said. “It’s been a long journey and we had such a great bunch of guys.”
The win marks Finland’s fifth gold at the tournament and comes after the team was eliminated from competition in the quarter-finals last year.
They last won at home in Helsinki in 2016.
The Finns also got scoring from Jesse Ylonen and Otto Latvala, and strong goaltending from Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
The 6’5″ Buffalo Sabres’ prospect was named the tournament’s top goalie after making 25 saves in the final.
“We showed at the end of the tournament why we are one of the best teams,” Luukkonen said.
“We have grown up as players and a group.”
The Americans had clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit in the third period with goals by Josh Norris and Alexander Chmelevski.
Cayden Primeau stopped 28-of-31 shots for the U.S.
“At the end of the day, it’s about who stops the puck more,” Primeau said.
“We didn’t get that on our side so that’s why we came up short.”