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Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela faced an uphill battle against Canada

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Photo credit:Jon Steitzer
Jon Steitzer
3 months ago
Canada is a bit of a tough customer for the two Leafs prospects compared to the rest of the division. Roni Hirvonen especially had to scoring at will and it was an entirely different reality against Canada.
Similarly, Niemela has his defensive chops put to the test, and Canada is not the best measure of what his offensive game can provide as Finland needs him to play more conservatively than what we’ve seen from Niemela in Liiga.

The First Period

We’ve definitely seen Finland opting to go with shorter line changes than what we’ve seen with the United States and Knies. Hirvonen had 8 shifts, with Niemela getting 10, including one on the penalty kill.
Hirvonen:
Roni Hirvonen might not have much size to him, but certainly no one has told him that. He is a chippy, agitating player who is not afraid to get under the skin of the often bigger Canadian opponents.
He had a couple of chances around the Canadian goal, and set up as a net presence despite his side. He is quick to retrieve the puck, and this was yet another element of his game that I was previously ignorant to. Each game makes me a little more excited for him.
Niemela:
Niemela had a tougher start to the 1st, as the first Canadian goal happened on his watch as he was not able to tie up Othmann coming out from behind the net and allowed him to effectively screen Merilainen before deflecting the puck past him.
Topi’s play was improved throughout the period, and at his shift around the four minute mark he had an effective clearing of his own zone, a nice pass for a zone entry, and pinched slightly to create some additional offensive opportunity for Finland.

The Second Period

Another unfortunate start for Hirvonen and Niemela, especially Niemela as the Canadians came out aggressive to start the second. Both were on the ice for a goal against, and Topi was pulled well out of position for the play to begin taking shape. Hirvonen attempted to stop the puck moving towards the net, but didn’t get in front of it enough to prevent the goal. Unfortunately this is going to be what sticks from the period.
Hirvonen:
Roni was definitely attempting to generate a bit more offense this period but to no available. He led a 1:1 into the Canadian zone and had a drop pass for a shot on goal. He provided a good screen on Niemela’s powerplay point shot attempt, and was generally aggressive behind the Canadian goal fighting for the puck and attempting to get something going.
Niemela:
It was a really tough period for Niemela. His sloppy play on the point during the powerplay led to a shorthanded breakaway by the Canadians. He spent a good chunk of time pinned in his own zone around the midway part of the period as well and couldn’t get control of the puck. At the same time he did provide a decent shadow for Kent Johnson on that shift, but couldn’t gain the upper hand at any point.
At times, Niemela demonstrated that he can use his smooth skating to move the puck out of trouble and has good vision to move the puck out of his zone in a controlled way with crisp passing to the Finnish forwards. Still not a period to celebrate by any means.

The Third Period

The third period offered a bit more of a glimpse into the offense that Niemela and Hirvonen can produce as the Canadians spent the majority of the period shorthanded, and while Finland was able to pull closer, it was still very much Canada controlling their fate and holding on for the win.
Hirvonen:
There’s not a lot to add to what we’ve already seen from Hirvonen this game. He’s a solid down low player and about as good a net presence as a 5’9″ forward can be. Every one of his shifts was maximum effort, but even he was notably gassed during the five minute major.
Niemela:
Getting to see Niemela in his powerplay quarterback situation was important given how the rest of the game went for him. He has real value not only in controlling the movement of the puck, but he has a heavy enough shot that he’ll eventually be an exciting addition to the Leafs powerplay in the coming years.

Final Thoughts

Despite how things turned out this game, I can’t help but continue to fall in love with Roni Hirvonen. I came into this tournament completely unaware of the offense in his game, and I came into tonight having no idea what an agitating little bulldog Hirvonen is. The fact that he is constantly attacking the puck in the offensive zone and providing reliable coverage in his own zone is quite endearing and feel he can be a skilled player that addresses a lot of the Leafs middle six forward needs in the coming years.
Niemela is a tougher player to have meaningful conclusions on from this game. He’s a solid skater and despite the two goals against him he is better defensively than I expected. Of course, there is still work to be done there.
It was good to see Niemela showcase his powerplay skills in the third as it gave a better example of the player Toronto wants him to be.
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