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Finland wins their opener in a shutout over Belarus

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Kasperi Kapanen stepped onto the ice at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki with a lot to prove.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

He didn't exactly set the world on fire at the tournament last year, and he's had a slow start to his year with the Marlies, dogged by an illness that made him seem slow and sluggish for the first weeks and kept him on the fourth line for a time. He has appeared higher up the depth chart, swooping in on the wing in recent weeks, looking like a new man, and adding to his point total, giving him 5 goals and 5 assists in 17 games.

To the fans at Hartwall, he's Sami's son. It isn't just his own potential he's carrying on his back, but all those expectations too. But hockey is a team game, and he was skating out with two guys who know all about expectations, and a little about success: Mikko Rantanen, who scored half of Finland's goals in the tournament last year, and Roope Hintze who's also playing this tournament for the second time.

They were facing a team from Belarus without much star power who were forced to rely on their team strength of familiarity. Apart from Stepan Falkovsky, the top scoring defenceman with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL, most of the team is from Dinamo Bobruysk the junior team for Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. They were backed up by Ivan Kulbakov, who's put up a .887 save percentage for Dinamo U20 so far this year.

The first good chance on Kulbakov came from the line featuring 2016 draft-eligible arch rivals Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi along with Sebastian Aho.

Shortly after, Kapanen took off from a great stretch pass and swooped in to the net at high speed to get the first really exciting scoring chance for the Finns at about 4 minutes in. The crowd were cheering Sami's son just like they'd wanted to, but Kasperi was letting everyone know he was there to play hard.

It became a siege for Kulbakov as the Finns rolled their kid line and then Kapanen's big line at him. The speed from Rantanen and Kapanen was overwhelming for the opposition, but Kulbakov couldn't be beat.

Shots were 14-2 for Finland at the end of the scoreless first.

The Finns owned the neutral zone in this game, and made unchallenged stretch passes to their forwards. Defenceman Vili Saarijärvi is the master at this, and they controlled the play deep into the offensive zone through the second period. Belarus stood up defensively, blocked a lot of shots, and slowed the pace of the Finns, but they rarely had any control of the puck and no meaningful scoring chances.

At the end of the second, after a long period of swooping Finns, circling, passing, creating seams and space, Jesse Puljujärvi got the first goal of the game. Kapanen followed it up with another good chance on net, but Kulbakov had that one.

Shots in the second were 7-5 for Finland.

In the opening minutes of the third, it was Patrik Laine's turn to dazzle, on a sweet, sweet pass from Puljujärvi. 2-0 Finland, and they had control of the ice and the game.

Sami Niku, Puljujärvi again and then Sebastian Repo made it 5-0 and chased Kulbakov for Vladislav Verbitsky. It ended as a rout on an empty net goal from Rantanen. Veini Vehilainen got the shutout for the Finns and 6-0 was the final score.

Puljujärvi and Laine are chaotic and aggressive, and along with Aho they play around the net like buzzing bees looking for the tiniest bit of an opportunity to score. They led the team in shots on goal with 5 for Laine and 4 for Puljujärvi.

Kapanen was often the aggressive net-front presence on his line, and he had no trouble getting into the slot wherever he wanted to be, and had 3 shots on goal. Rantanen is a playmaker and a passer who brings the same level of aggression and speed that Kapanen has, and they play well together. They couldn't get it past the Belarus goalies, but they were a force in the game, particularly in the early stages.