HELSINKI — Kasperi Kapanen is very grateful the Maple Leafs released him from the Marlies so he could play at home in Finland at the world junior hockey championship.
“It’s great to come back home and see my family for Christmas and play here at home with a crowd like this,” said Kapanen, whose Finnish squad is playing at the larger Hartwell Arena, home to the KHL Jokerit. “It’s amazing. Every kid doesn’t have a chance to do that.
“But if they wanted to keep me (in Toronto), that would have been fine, too. It’s a win-win for me.”
So far, things haven’t worked out for the Finns, deemed a powerhouse by some with the likes of Kapanen, Jesse Puljujarvi, Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine. They have one win and one stinging loss, blowing a lead to Russia.
And Kapanen, expected to lead the team in scoring, has yet to register a point.
“The points haven’t been there, but I’ve still been playing well, skating, and creating chances,” said Kapanen. “Hit a couple of posts. Just doing all the other stuff that I can do if the goals aren’t going in. We still got a lot of games left, so I’m not panicking.”
Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen said his young team might be feeling the pressure of expectations — Finland won gold two years ago in Sweden — with the home crowd.
“It’s great to play in front of 13,000 people,” said Jalonen. “For most of our guys, it’s the first time. There’s a little bit more pressure playing on home ice, but we try to use it to our advantage, focus on the moment, enjoy the moment.
“But we have young guys like everybody and sometimes it’s difficult and the players sometimes get little bit nervous and they don’t trust themselves enough.”
Jalonen has no problem with how Kapanen is performing because of his strong two-way game.
Kapanen’s numbers with the Marlies pale in comparison to those of his friend and Marlies teammates William Nylander, whose continues to lead the AHL in scoring with 34 points despite being here at the world juniors.
Kapanen had 10 points in 17 games, sidelined by sickness and a back injury.
“I’ve recovered; I feel good,” said Kapanen. “Obviously you never want to get injured, it kind of messes everything up, but I feel I’ve gotten back on track.”
Kapanen called Nylander when the Swede was injured in his first game. Nylander was back working out on the bicycle and doing other dry-land training Tuesday.
“He told me he was okay,” said Kapanen. “It was nice to hear.”