Question regarding Finnish Jr. Teams
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01-10-2013, 05:14 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
The Finnish hockey system is not based around different leagues and dedicated teams, but age groups formed within clubs. So one club can have a men's team, and different junior groups (with 'Junior A' meant for players eligible for IIHF U20 and 'B' for IIHF U18 level). Age groups reach all the way down to 'G' which is meant for kids who are around 7 to 8 years old. Competitive hockey is played from 'D' (U14) level onwards.
Of course, the players are not limited to their own age groups, at least what comes to playing with older players, and it's not rar to see the best players play in a class or two higher than the rest of the prospects of same age. Those deemed real cream of the crop can get a taste of men's games. Earlier, the age groups were a bit stricter, and essentially even the top players of their age were deemed to spend most of their time their respective letter stages. But like I said, nowadays the most promising ones are allowed to reach better stages as early as possible, even up to grown men - if not among the SM-liiga elite, then at least with the Finnish Tier 2, Mestis.
There is nothing equivalent to college or university sports which are prominent in North America. There are some groups formed out of students, but that's all beer league hockey.
Let's take Haula. While still in Finland, he was a player deemed too good for his own age croup and was promoted to Ässät Junior A at 16 years old. In the end, he became too good to leave, too bad to stay, so to speak. He was no Mikael Granlund or Aleksander Barkov who started taking their first strides in men's games at 16. This also just before the time when clubs started to realize that their best prospects deserve men's games as early as possible (a notion which has greatly contributed to Finland's junior mill developing top prospects again) - so he chose to seek out more fitting development elsewhere.
As for Olkinuora, I can see that he followed a more traditional path, mostly sticking to his age group all the way up to 'A', but apparently was not going to break any men's team soon.
As far as our feelings go, I don't think too many regular hockey followers are exactly aware how the guys in the NA junior or university leagues fare or even know who exactly we do have over there - need more of a hardcore kind of junior hockey follower for that.
But if they did, I don't think it'd be much of an issue for them. They'd likely just shrug and say, "good for him". See, our men's national team is the most followed sports team in Finland, and for as long as we keep having players good enough to keep us among the elite countries and winning medals, it makes no difference whatsoever which path they took to get there.
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