On January 14th, Jokerit and Kiekko-Espoo U18 faced each other for the third time during the regular season. Jokerit had won the previous two meetings in Espoo by a score of 5-2 and 4-3. With Jokerit being atop the U18 SM-sarja and Kiekko-Espoo second, this game promised to be a very competitive one, and it did certainly not disappoint. Both teams impressed with their puck management and ability to execute plays at high speed. Each side competed hard and did not give up an inch in battles. Eventually, the away team Kiekko-Espoo would take a 2-1 win with goals from Venni Tolppola and Matej Giesl, who scored the game winner early in the second period. Niclas Willström scored the lone Jokerit goal with a shot from further out.
A lot of players had strong performances, but there were a few who stood out in my eyes. Kalle Kangas and Arttu Paqvalin were two Jokerit defensemen whose games I liked a lot. Kangas was assertive defensively, tough to get around and defended with a strong stick. He has good foot speed and moves well given his 6’3″ frame. He had a good selection of shots (snap shot, slap shot, wrister) and got pucks through traffic and past the first defender. Kangas has a good foundation to build his game on. Paqvalin was reliable on the defensive side of the puck and his puck play was solid. He did not attempt fancy or risky plays, instead he made the high-percentage plays and that enabled him to contribute at both ends.
As for Kiekko-Espoo, I liked what I saw from sturdy Slovenian defenseman Maks Percic. The 2004 was involved in both of his team’s goals. On the first one, he picked up the puck and gave a first pass to the center for a middle zone exit. He did not get an assist but he did start the play up the ice. On the second goal, he stepped up from the blueline and used his stick to keep the play alive. Percic was very physical, finished his checks and played with some nastiness. He’s a solid skater with strong balance to manage in physical confrontations. His head was on a swivel in the defensive zone and he was dependable when defending the net front. Percic was also very good offensively, on two occasions he carried the puck into the offensive zone and then attacked to the net in a decisive manner. His passes were crisp, flat and arrived consistently on the tape.
Both teams got reliable goaltending and that was one of my main takeaways. 2006 born Kiekko-Espoo goalie Petteri Rimpinen made 29 saves, whereas Jokerit netminder Sisu Heikkeri stopped 30 shots. They made the routine saves and came up with multiple strong stops to keep this a low-scoring contest. Both Rimpinen and Heikkeri have played well in the U20 SM-sarja this season, so their strong performances in this game did not come as a surprise.
Cover photo: Riku Laukkanen / Leijonat.fi