Switzerland’s thrilling win 5-4 shootout victory over Denmark at the World Junior Championship ensured Finland, the defending champion at the tournament, would be forced to play in the relegation round, and landing on the wrong side of the elimination round has cost the Finnish coaching staff their jobs.
Following Switzerland’s victory on Friday — a game which the Finnish team watched from the stands — it was announced that Finland’s coach Jukka Rautakorpi, as well as assistants Rauli Urama, Aleksander Barkov and Marko Ojanen, had been fired. The move shockingly comes before Finland even plays their final game of the round robin, which is slated for Saturday against the very same Swiss club that forced Finland to the relegation side with their come-from-behind victory over Denmark.
In Finland’s opening game, they were shocked by the Czech Republic, dropping the contest 2-1, which was followed by an even more shocking 3-2 defeat at the hands of Denmark before yet another loss, this time 3-1, when squaring off against the rival Swedes.
Finland’s inability to make it through to the elimination round marks the first time in tournament history that a defending champion has been bounced to the relegation round.
With Rautakorpi and staff on the outs, Jussi Ahokas, who has coached the Finnish team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and the U18 juniors this past season, will take over behind the bench. According to the IIHF, it was expected that Ahokas would take over the top post with the 1998-born players by the time the 2017-18 campaign rolled around, but the job falls to him sooner than expected after the Finns’ struggles and his coming into the top job at this juncture signals obvious unhappiness with the poor result through Finland’s first three games of the tournament.
Ahokas has a certain level of familiarity with the players who are at this tournament for Finland, having coached several of them over the past few seasons at international events. He also has experience at high-level international tournaments, having been an assistant at three prior women’s World Championship competitions and working as part of the Finnish women’s national club at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Ahokas’ first game behind the Finnish bench will be Saturday against Latvia, as the club begins the relegation round, but his big test will come against the Latvian club come Monday when the best-of-three relegation round against the Latvians begins.
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