Normally hardly anyone in North America is interested in the Ice Hockey World Championship. At home run the playoffs of the NHL, in addition, this tournament in distant Europe is anyway only a Resterampe the world ice hockey. Although there are more and more top stars in recent years, no country really travels with its best squad.
These days, however, excitedly look especially in the greater New York area, because two clubs see in Slovakia, the World Cup hosts, their future. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers have the first two picks in the upcoming draft, with the NHL teams dividing the world's greatest talents among themselves. And it's a foregone conclusion that they choose Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Both have recently turned 18, both blessed with extraordinary skills, both on the ice at the World Cup.
For a long time it seems clear that the American Center Hughes may be on the stage as number one, where he is solemnly presented his first NHL jersey. But it would not surprise anyone if New Jersey is currently discussing what they should do with their number one pick. Because the Finnish winger Kakko is the star of the first World Cup days. Despite the prominent competition: Three of the top four scorers of the NHL main round are represented in Slovakia, as well as four of the six top scorers. And yet everything talks about this 18-year-old.
With Youtube videos in the top of the world
Kakko has scored five goals in their first two games. In the evening he meets with Finland in the fourth World Cup group match on Denmark (20:15 clock). The tournament was less than seven minutes old when it ran away from the Canadians in the first game and trailed two-time Stanley Cup goalkeeper Matt Murray of Pittsburgh. In the final stages he won the puck, was again unstoppable and hit the empty goal. In the second game against Slovakia, he first dribbled a slap in the net, then he played the puck an opponent casually through the legs, and then also to tunnel the goalkeeper. Later in the game, he shook off NHL defender Christián Jaroš easily and scored again in the orphaned goal. Hattrick. “It was really cool,” said Kakko.
“If he has the racket on the ice, only the sky is the limit,” says Finland coach Jukka Jalonen. And does not mean just Kakko's goals. The world ice hockey has seen many talents with nimble feet and fine hands, who dine out their opponents. This can also Kakko, who trained in addition to the training at his hometown club TPS Turku hours ago on street shoes behind the parents, watching Youtube videos of his idols and imitated what he saw. But what distinguishes him especially from players of his age: He can physically compete in the World Cup.
With his 1.87 meters and his 86 kilograms, he even looks for duels against more experienced players – and wins them mostly. Kakko goes to the places on the ice where it can hurt: in the corners, at the gates. Or, as Turku coach Kalle Kaskinen recently told the Canadian “The Hockey News”: “He can handle the puck, he can play you in one-on-one, he can take checks, he can hand out checks, he's already on Man.”
Finland is considered a treasury in junior ice hockey
This is made possible by his biography: Kakko has always had to tackle the older and the stronger. At 15, he ran for the U20, at 17 he played with the pros. And right in the top rows. He scored 22 goals in 45 games. Record for a U18 player in the “Liiga”, which is considered one of the strongest in Europe. And saw the numerous young stars who made their way to the NHL. But none was as successful as Kakko, who also prepared 16 goals.
In the current year, he is considered Finland's greatest talent anyway. Which means something in the currently most exciting country for junior ice hockey. Even in Canada, they look with appreciation or jealousy at small Finland (5.5 million inhabitants), which has won five gold and two silver medals at U18 and U20 World Championships since 2014. Of course it was Kakko who shot the U20 to the World Cup title in early January in the 59th minute of the final against the USA. In the previous year he had also met in the final of the U18 World Cup.
Whether that works now also with the “correct” WM? Difficult. The Finns are much weaker than Americans, Swedes and especially Russians. But no matter how the tournament ends, Kaapo Kakko is already one of the winners.