WJC: Luukkonen hoping to use World Juniors as a spring board

December 28, 2017

Team Finland got their first win of the tournament Thursday afternoon, earning a 4-1 win over Denmark.

It was also Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen's first win in goal for the Finns after suffering a 4-2 loss to the Canadians on Tuesday. Luukkonen had a very easy day in net for Finland, stopping six of seven shots faced while staying composed as he did not face much action after the second period.

This is the first time Luukkonen has been back in Buffalo since taking part in the team's development camp back in July. At camp, Luukkonen showed off his big 6' 4" frame, and showed everyone why the Buffalo Sabres selected him with the 54th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft with his strong positional play. The 18-year old feels that his game has already changed since the last time he was in Buffalo.

"I think my whole game has grown since last year," Luukkonen said. "I've gotten more strength in my body, and I think I'm more complete now than when I was at development camp."

So far in two games played this tournament, Luukkonen has recorded a 2.54 goals-against average and a .872 save percentage. Those numbers may not look pretty after two games, but Finland head coach Jussi Ahokas feels his big goalie is only going to get better as the tournament rolls along.

"I think he got better as the game went on [on Tuesday]," Ahokas said. "He's a good goalie, and I think he'll do even better when the tournament continues to go on.

"He's calm, he has good size, he positions himself well."

Luukkonen is not new to playing in some big international tournaments for his home country. He has played in each of the last two IIHF Under-18 World Championships, winning a gold with Finland in 2016 and a silver in 2017. In nine combined games for that tournament, Luukkonen posted a 2.45 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage while backstopping the Finns in both tournaments to both of their medals.

This time around, Luukkonen gets the chance to backstop Finland in one of the biggest and best international tournaments in the hockey world. The opportunity he has in Buffalo at this year's tournament is something that Luukkonen takes to heart.

"It's a big thing for me to play here in Buffalo," Luukkonen said. "I know there's a lot of people from the Sabres organization, and from the city here to watch these games. It's nice to play here.

"It's a big honor to play for Finland and put the Finnish jersey on. It's a great place to make sure you're building off your play, and [seeing] how you're developing through the year from the summer to here and see where you're going."

This season, Luukkonen has put up some decent numbers playing in Finland's second-tier professional league (Mestis) with LeKi. In 18 games played, Luukkonen has a 2.78 goals-against average, which may not look pleasing, but he has a good .914 save percentage. He's hoping that his play in this year's World Juniors, and after his return back to LeKi, will help him reach his ultimate goal of being promoted to the Finnish Liiga.

"The main goal is to get to the top division of Finland and play there," Luukkonen said. "I think that's the next step."