Game recap: KOOVEE – Ilves U20

Ilves U20 took a convincing 7-4 win over KOOVEE on January 31. Ilves generated more offensive opportunities and controlled possession for large portions of the game. It was a physical, tight-checking game and both teams showed intensity. Joona Korhonen and Jani Nyman each recorded two goals and one assist for Ilves, however, it should be noted that Nyman’s goals were scored into an empty net. Ilves goalie Ondrej Bizon made 19 saves for the win, while at the other end Verneri Virtanen made 33 saves for KOOVEE. Below are six players who stood out in this high-scoring affair.

Joona Korhonen #38 (Ilves) – Opened the scoring with an excellent shortside wrist shot on the power play. Scored another goal on a wide open net after executing a terrific tic-tac-toe passing play with Jani Nyman. Korhonen is a mechnically sound skater with good mobility, acceleration and initial burst. Coaches trusted him as he played both on the power play and penalty kill. He was reliable on the backcheck, returned to his own end and picked up his man. A versatile winger, who has potential to improve and play at the next level.

Karri Aho #39 (Ilves)– Strong performance – effective at both ends of the ice. He’s mobile with good foot speed, agility and balance. He was quick to pressure opponents and defended well with positioning and his stick in order to take away time and space. Showed poise and made calculated decisions in possession. Aho is a strong and deceptive shooter with a quick and accurate wrist shot. He gets his point shots past the first defender. His passes are crisp and accurate, hitting his teammates right on the tape.

Nikolai Hakala #23 (Ilves)– A massive center who already played really well in the U18 league last season, but has taken a big step forward this year. Especially his decision making, skating and physicality have improved significantly. Hakala processed his options quickly and gave accurate lead passes in this game against KOOVEE. He didn’t need many puck touches to make plays. He had good puck control and some skill in stickhandling when having limited time and space. He already knows how to use his size and length to his advantage, and his strength on the puck enables him to protect it well and extend possession. He still has plenty of time to improve his speed, mobility and mature as a player. I like where his game is trending.

Otto Heinonen #8 (Ilves) – Heinonen is a smaller defenseman with good offensive abilities. He showed some deception in the offensive zone, looking one way and passing the other way. On one occasion, he made an excellent royal road pass to set up a scoring chance. He also made some intelligent plays in his own end and wasn’t afraid to move pucks under pressure. He has decent mobility, but could be more explosive and quicker from a standstill. He was active away from the puck, maintained tight gaps and correct defensive side positioning. He is already one of the top defensemen on this Ilves team, but as he gains experience and improves his physicality and skating, I think we will see quite a bit of improvement in his overall game.

Veeti Hietaniemi #9 (Ilves) – The right-shot defenseman stood out somewhat in the U18 league last year, but was even more noticeable this season and logged quality minutes before earning a promotion to the U20 team. He hasn’t looked out of place at all – in fact, in my eyes he’s already one of the better defensemen on this Ilves team. Hietaniemi can start the attack with an accurate first pass and then join the rush. He makes smart decisions with the puck and distributes it on time to the forwards. He likes to get involved on the offensive side of the puck and active in the final third. He keeps his game simple most of the time, but is also capable of making plays that require real skill and vision. I have seen noticeable improvement in his quickness, explosiveness and agility from last season. He confidently takes away time and space and trusts his backwards skating and mobility.

Brett Harrison #29 (KOOVEE) – The 2003 born forward is playing in Finland on loan from the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. He played wing on the second line and recorded two assists. He had strong puck skills and he made the right decisions. He did not force the game or give “hope passes”. Did not look like the most dynamic player, but showed deception, offensive vision and made some plays.