TORONTO — Kasperi Kapanen expects there will be some good natured chirping in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker-room when the world junior hockey championship begins on Boxing Day.
Kapanen represented Finland in two world juniors, scoring in overtime against Russia in the gold-medal game of the 2016 tournament. With most of the Maple Leafs having played in the world juniors at least once — 17 of Kapanen’s teammates have competed in the annual tournament — he expects it will be a hot topic during their down time.
“I’m sure it will get pretty competitive,” said Kapanen. “World juniors are world juniors. I’ve been lucky enough to win it once and I’m sure there are a lot of guys on this team that have also won it back in the day. I’m sure it will get plenty competitive.”
A testament to the Maple Leafs’ youth movement is that five players on the current rosters competed with or against each other at the world juniors in Helsinki in 2016.
In addition to Kapanen, who won gold with Finland, forward Mitch Marner and defenceman Travis Dermott represented Canada, Auston Matthews played for the United States before getting drafted by Toronto the next summer and William Nylander played in half a game for Sweden before getting concussed by a brutal check to the head.
Forward Dmytro Timashov, who also played for Sweden in 2016, is a member of the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ affiliate in the American Hockey League.
“It’s crazy,” said Kapanen. “They’re all amazing hockey players and they deserved to be there. At the time, it was cool to see them and meet them back then.”
Kapanen’s game-winning goal in 2016 came after Russia tied the game 3-3 with six seconds left in the third period. In extra time, Kapanen deked around two defenders, skated around the back of Russia’s goal and threw the puck into a wide-open net as goaltender Alexander Georgiev failed to dive back into position, bringing the sold-out crowd at Hartwall Arena to its feet.
“People play it sometimes and I see it and obviously it’s a great moment, but it’s in the past,” said Kapanen. “I’ve been lucky enough to win it once, the most amazing feeling ever, but I think Finland has a good chance to win it every year now and I hope that they play well this year.”
Canada kicks off its world junior tournament against Denmark in Vancouver on Wednesday. Kapanen’s countrymen will face Sweden in Victoria later that night.