Three Stars from Day 1 of WJC: Joakim Kemell puts on offensive showcase for Finland

Finland's Aatu Raty (34) and Joakim Kemell (37) celebrate a goal against Latvia during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. (Jason Franson/CP)

Eight months after the first day of the 2022 World Juniors Championship… it’s the first day of the 2022 World Juniors Championship. Competitive hockey in August – who would’ve thought? 

While a few details of the fan-favourite tournament may be slightly different from what we’re all used to, the essence remains the same – ten countries coming together to showcase the exceptional talent of their junior programs. 

The rescheduled tournament opened on Tuesday with three games. Here is a three-star ranking of the most impressive individual performances from Day 1 in Edmonton: 

3rd Star: Simon Latkczy, Slovakia 

The first game of this summer edition of the World Juniors was anything short of dull, thanks to an abundance of goals coming from a matchup between Czechia and Slovakia, who met for the first time since 2015. 

With Slovakia coming into the tournament off of a great year of hockey — from the country winning Bronze at the Olympics to producing the first two selections at the 2022 NHL Draft — the team came out hot for the first period. Using Czechia’s initial sluggishness to their advantage, Slovakia was able to get up 2-0 on their opponents, with goals from Servac Petrovsky (185th overall, Minnesota Wild, 2022) and Matej Kaslik. 

Being down by two must have served as a wake-up call for Czechia as the team quickly tightened things up to end the first and open the second — looking more like a team with 12 NHL-drafted players (nine more than Slovakia has). Czechia’s goalie, Jan Bednar (107th overall, Detroit Red Wings, 2020), also appeared better settled into the net throughout the second, which undeniably played a part in helping the team get four unanswered on Slovakia to bring the score to 4-2, just under eight minutes into the third. 

After a string of penalties were called (on both sides), Slovakia was able to make full use of a two-man advantage, and then another, to rally back and tie the game at four apiece. With under two minutes to go in the game, Gabriel Szturc scored what ended up being the game winner, getting a high shot over the glove of Simon Latkoczy to take it 5-4. Latkoczy, an undrafted 20-year-old from Trencin, SVK., faced 52 shots on goal in the match up, holding off 47 for a save percentage of 90.38. 

The University of Nebraska-Omaha commit was the one player on the ice during the second period actively keeping Czechia from getting completely blown out, during which he faced 25 shots on net. Latkoczy shut out Slovakia in the second period, and allowed just one goal in the third. His team will be looking to use this victory for momentum as they try to break their 16-year medal drought at the World Junior Hockey Championship. 

Honourable mentions:

Michal Gut, Czechia – 1 goal, 1 assist 

Jan Mysak, Czechia (Montreal Canadiens) – 1 goal, 1 assist 

Matej Kaslik, Slovakia – 2 goals

Rayen Petrovicky, Slovakia – 1 goal, 1 assist 

2nd Star: Luke Hughes, USA

Coming into the tournament as the defending champions from 2021, the United States faced off against Germany in the last game slot of the day. They returned to the tournament with four of the same players from their win that year, in addition to five of the six coaches. 

With a roster bolstered by 20-NHL drafted players, compared to Germany’s four, a dominating performance by the U.S. was definitely something we could have seen coming. After countless shots on goal for the United States and none for Germany, scoring was eventually opened from the point by 18-year-old Luke Hughes (4th overall, New Jersey Devils, 2021) over halfway through the first period. The third (and final) Hughes brother to play in the World Juniors, Luke is the first to tally a goal in the tournament. 

The first period ended 2-0 after Logan Cooley (3rd overall, Arizona Coyotes, 2022) increased his team’s lead as Germany took a five-minute major. Germany’s goalie was put to work, facing 25 shots. The United States then continued to control the game going into the second period, netting two goals in a matter of seconds, increasing their lead to 4-0. Hughes earned the primary assist on the third, reminding us yet again of his offensive inclination as a blue liner.

While it appeared the U.S. had added to their collection of goals 11:30 into the second, a goalie interference challenge by German coach Tobias Abstreiter resulted in an overturned call after a lengthy review. However, the United States were able to make it up with their fifth goal of the evening leading right into the third period. 

Things changed up a little bit in the last period of play, with the US finally letting up on the goal-scoring, and Germany finally getting one of their own. Joshua Samanski, in a highlight-reel-worthy play, broke Kaiden Mbereko’s bid for a shutout on the power play. Only having faced 11 shots on goal all game, the United States got the win over Germany 5-1, for the seventh consecutive time. 

Honourable mentions:

Sasha Pastujov, USA (Anaheim Ducks) – 2 assists 

Riley Duran, USA (Boston Bruins) – 1 goal, 1 assist 

Nikita Quapp, Germany (Carolina Hurricanes) – 45 saves

Joshua Samanski, Germany – 1 goal 

1st Star: Joakim Kemell, Finland 

After winning an Olympic gold for the first time ever this year, Finland went into their contest with Latvia ready to prove the country’s reputation as a hockey powerhouse, runs down to their junior team as well. 

Not that this was much of a secret, considering the U-20 squad has played for a medal in the last three WJC tournaments (winning gold in 2019, losing bronze in 2020, and winning bronze in 2021). As Latvia found themselves back in the competition for the first time since 2017, finding themselves also matched up against a roster of 20 NHL drafted players (compared to their three), was sure to be somewhat less inspiring.

Though Latvia wasn’t originally a part of the tournament back in December, they entered in place of Russia, who are currently disqualified from all IIHF competitions. While Finland clearly dominated the game offensively, Latvia managed to put up a fair fight, utilizing their feisty style of play to slow their opponents when possible.  

Opening the scoring for the second game of the day was 18-year-old Joakim Kemel, with a shot getting through from the right faceoff circle off the rush. Kemell (17th overall, Nashville Predators, 2022) quickly netted a second, converting a pass from Roni Hirvonen (59th overall, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2020) in tight on a 2-on-1 giving Finland a 2-0 lead to finish the first period. Their lead grew to 4-0 during the second thanks to goals from Brad Lambert (30th overall, Winnipeg Jets, 2022) and Hirvonen. 

The possibility of a shutout for Leevi Merilainen (71st overall, Ottawa Senators, 2020) ended just over a minute into the third after Klavs Veinbergs (224th overall, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2022) was able to get one past the netminder. After what appeared to be Finland’s fifth goal of the game, until it was deemed to not have crossed the goal line, the team was able to successfully score two more to take the game 6-1. 

Kemell was credited with the primary assist on both of Finland’s third-period goals. The forward, from Jyvaskyla, FIN., had an incredible chance to secure his bid for a hat trick with less than two minutes remaining in the game, forcing Latvia’s goalie to make an equally incredible save. At the close of day one, Kemell is tied for first in points and goals. 

Honourable mentions: 

Aatu Raty, Finland (New York Islanders) – 1 goal, 3 assists 

Roni Hirvonen, Finland (Nashville Predators) – 1 goal, 2 assists 

Martins Lavins, Latvia – multiple shots blocked, hits 

Bruno Bruveris, Latvia – 33 saves 

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