International Ice Hockey Federation

Future home

Future home

Nylander, Lehkonen at spotlight at their NHL venues

Published 24.12.2014 13:43 GMT-5 | Author Risto Pakarinen
Future home
William Nylander and Artturi Lehkonen will play the World Juniors in front of their NHL teams’ home crowd in Toronto and Montreal. Photos: Richard Wolowicz, Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
When William Nylander and Artturi Lehkonen enter the ice at the World Juniors in Canada, they will also play in the venues of their future NHL teams.

On 28th December 1977, Sweden played its first game in the “championship division” of the 1978 World Junior Championship, against Czechoslovakia. The tournament was officially hosted by Montreal and Quebec City, but the Swedes had played their preliminary round games in Chicoutimi, and Cornwall as well as Quebec City, but not in Montreal, until the game against the Czechoslovaks.

One of Sweden’s biggest stars that year was a small but fast forward by the name of Mats Naslund.

“I have such great memories of the tournament, and I’m reminded of it regularly because I have a huge metal Canada goose statue at my summer cottage. I think I was first star in three games and the prize was so big I had to get help from local Swedish companies to get them shipped to me at home,” Naslund said.

“It was a fantastic adventure. I think we even got to see a Canadiens game there during the trip,” he added.

Little did he know that a few years later, the people would come to see him play for the Canadiens, and that he’d have a stall inside the Canadiens dressing room. The Canadiens drafted him in 1979, 18 months after his visit to Montreal. (The Swedes lost the gold medal game to the Soviets, at the Montreal Forum, 5-2).

Unlike Naslund, Finland’s Artturi Lehkonen already knows that if he keeps on developing the way he has until today, he’ll play for the Canadiens, too.

“The World Juniors is one of my goals of the season. It’s going to be a fantastic event, because the crowds are going to be so fanatic in all games,” said Lehkonen, who’s also Finland’s captain in Montreal.

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Just a little over a week ago, the Montreal fans gave another Finnish captain, Saku Koivu, a standing ovation when the long-time captain of the Canadiens returned to the arena for a final goodbye. Koivu is an inspiration to Lehkonen as well.

“It’ll be fun to play at the Bell Center, especially since Saku used to play there for so long. And, of course, the Canadiens drafted me,” Lehkonen told Finnish YLE.

Finnish coach Hannu Jortikka is fully aware of the fact, but he’s confident that Lehkonen is mature enough to handle the added pressure. That’s why he made him the captain.

“He’s still a young player, but he’s already moved from [his hometown] Turku to Kuopio, and this season to Gothenburg in Sweden. It’s not going to be a problem for him,” said Jortikka.

This season Lehkonen has played with Frolunda Gothenburg in the Swedish Hockey League, where he’s scored 11 points in 30 games, while averaging a little over 14 minutes a game. The leading junior aged player in the league is MODO Ornskoldsvik’s William Nylander, who has scored 19 points in 19 games since returning to Sweden from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’ll be the centre of attention in the Toronto group, having charmed the local media during the Maple Leafs training camp.

“It’s going to be great to play in the World Juniors, especially since the tournament’s in Toronto, my home ice as many people have called it. The crowd is going to be phenomenal,” Nylander told Swedish Aftonbladet, echoing Lehkonen’s sentiments.

His short stay in Toronto during the Leafs training camp gave him a glimpse into the scrutiny hockey players are under in the city.

“I hadn’t even done anything yet, hadn’t played in the NHL or anything, and had 30 reporters asking me questions after practice. The players [on the Swedish team] who haven’t been there before this will understand the magnitude of things when we get there,” he said.

Just like Lehkonen, Nylander is looking forward to the experience. In fact, he’s even entertaining the idea of getting back to Toronto already this season. The deadline for the transfer is mid-January.

“I felt that I could have played in the NHL this season, and the Leafs told me that had it not been the Leafs, I could have stayed in the league, but I’m not sure what they meant with that. Maybe they meant the added pressure of playing in Toronto.

“This gives me a chance to play in front of the entire Leafs management team, and naturally, there’s a chance for me to return there. Anyway, a good tournament will only improve my chances,” he said.

Things have changed since Naslund’s days.

“When I played in the World Juniors, my teammates and I didn’t know what to expect. We just played. These days, the players know everything; who’s going to get drafted first and who fourth, and maybe having all that knowledge isn’t always good,” he says, referring to the pressure.

“As with sports in general, the key is just to have fun,” he adds.


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