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Toni Utunen is becoming a household name with strong showing at WJSS

August 2, 2019, 11:14 AM ET [163 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Toni Utunen is becoming the Vancouver Canucks' depth prospect who won't go away.

Known up till now in North America primarily for the overtime goal that eliminated Canada in the quarterfinal at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver last January, Utunen followed up with a two-goal performance in Finland's 8-3 drubbing of the Canadians on Wednesday in Michigan at the World Junior Summer Showcase. He also had TSN analyst Craig Button raving about how much his skating has improved—and how he's a great example of the type of development that scouts hope to see from their later-round draft picks.

Utunen told TSN's Mark Masters that he'd like to be Finland's captain as they try to defend their gold medal in the Czech Republic this Christmas.

There is precedent: Utunen wore the C for Finland's gold-medal winning U18 team in 2018. And just three players from the Finnish team that won in Vancouver are skating in Plymouth this week: Utunen and fellow defensemen Anttoni Honka and Ville Heinola, and forward Anton Lundell.

Finland is back in action in Friday's second game, against the U.S. at 1 p.m. PT. Canada will kick things off at 10 a.m. by taking on Sweden, who were shut out 6-0 at the hands of the Americans on Wednesday.

As for the Canucks' Canadian prospects, they took a bit of a boot to the teeth on Wednesday, falling behind 7-0 before the game was half over on their way to the 8-3 loss.

The Canadian lineup on Wednesday wasn't as strong as the group that dispatched Team USA by a score of 4-1 on Tuesday, but Canucks prospects Carson Focht and Jett Woo both got plenty of ice time.

In a first-line centre role, Focht finished the game with three shots on goal and a minus-three, while Woo had the assist on Serron Noel's first goal with a neat feed after he used his body to protect the puck with a spin-o-rama at the defensive blue line.

Woo wrapped up the game as a minus-one.

I wouldn't worry too much about Woo's performance. It was his first game action since taking time off for minor knee surgery after his WHL season ended, so it could take him a minute to get his timing back. To my eye, he looked to be skating well and using his body at times. When he was scrambling, including on the penalty kill, it looked like the whole team had lost its structure.

Here's more on Woo—including a reminder that he'll be wearing a different WHL uniform this fall. He was traded from the Moose Jaw Warriors to the Calgary Hitmen in May, so he's now teammates with Focht.

Looks like both Woo and Focht will be back in action on Friday against the Swedes. Canadian coach Dale Hunter is keeping quite a few of his star players out again—presumably to use them against the Americans on Saturday.

During their day off on Thursday, the Canadian team visited the University of Michigan, including the famed Big House.

Summer showcase action will conclude on Saturday, then the focus will shift over to Europe, as this year's top U18 players compete for the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. TV coverage will be limited to Canada's games during the round-robin portion of the tournament, which starts on B.C. Day Monday at 6:30 a.m. PT when the Canadians take on Finland.

To wrap up today, Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet helps take us into the long weekend with a new interview with Canucks coach Travis Green.

For the most part, he paints a rosy picture of the team's new signings and how he hopes the current core players can take another step forward next season. His most interesting quotes surround the Loui Eriksson situation:

Green: What did he say, that we didn’t have trust and see eye to eye?

SN: That you didn’t get along 100 per cent and that you don’t trust him the way his previous coaches did.

Green: I was surprised that it came out publicly. But I’m not surprised that he isn’t happy about certain things. Players are proud — they want to play well and want to have individual success. I understand Loui hasn’t scored as much as he wanted to and maybe played at times as much as he wanted to. I understand that and we’ve discussed that. But it happens a lot (in the NHL). I like to think I have an open-door policy and try to be as honest with players as I can. Loui and I have talked about his play and I know he’s frustrated.

Green went on to say that he has not yet spoken to Eriksson since his comments went public, and didn't shy away from the mantra that his job is to ice the best possible team, regardless of salary. "With the additions of some forwards, we’ve got some tough decisions to make. And he’s no different than any other player coming into camp," he said.
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