So it turns out a 16-year-old Finnish goalie by the name of Juuso Kopra has something in common with Craig Anderson and Mike Condon of the Ottawa Senators. All three of them backstopped teams that were outshot and beaten by identical scores of 5-0 on Sunday.
At one point during the broadcast of the Senators game against the Winnipeg Jets, a graphic showed the shot attempts at 115-5 in favor of the Jets. That was, of course, a typo since the actual shot attempts ended at 72-50 for the Jets. But for our man Kopra, the nightmare was very, very real. The Kisa-Eagles of Finland’s Jr. B league gave up a whopping 105 shots Sunday in their game against the Assat U18 team, a mind-boggling 100 of which were stopped by Kopra. Anderson and Condon, meanwhile, faced fewer than half the shots Kopra did. They only had to deal with 49 of them.
“This morning I was a little bit tired on my legs,” Kopra told thn.com in an email. (No kidding.) “I have high school training in the morning and in the evening I have my own team training and everything is fine!”
Things got off to a roaring start for Kisa when they were outshot by a 32-6 margin, but found themselves down only 2-0. Things began looking grim in the second when they were outshot 32-1, but they were still hanging in there and trailing only 3-0. Assat really turned it on in the third, directing 41 shots at Kopra, only two of which found the back of the net. Kopra’s teammates, even in defeat, gave him a standing ovation in the dressing room after the game.
“It was a great job by Juuso. He was the man in the game,” Kisa-Eagles coach Jouni Rantala said in a telephone interview with thn.com. “He was awesome, just awesome.”
Kopra and Jesperi Moesala, the team’s other goaltender, have had to be awesome a good number of nights this season. In the 28-team league, the Kisa-Eagles are 3-17-2. Kopra, who just turned 16 last Tuesday, has faced an average of 64.8 shots per game this season. “Our other goaltender faces lots of shots, too,” Rantala said. “Most of the games our opponent has about 70 shots and we have 20 or 30. We have played some very good games this season, but we have lots of problems to make goals.”
And when he says “lots of problems,” he means it. According to the website www.eliteprospects.com, the team’s top scorer is Santeri Tahvanainen, who actually has a pretty respectable five goals and seven points in just nine games. That puts him in 226th in league scoring. The Eagles, meanwhile, have only three players in the league’s top 300 scorers.
As for Kopra, the coach likes what he sees and says the young man doesn’t appear shell-shocked by the number of shots he has faced this season. “He is used to taking lots of shots,” Rantala said. “It’s a normal day for him when he takes lots of shots. He’s kind of a young guy, but his feet are on the ground.”
As for him facing so many pucks, Kopra doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. “If you get feel of the game, it’s not a problem,” he said. “It’s pretty fun to play when you face many shots!”
There’s little doubt it has been a long, long season so far for the Kisa-Eagles. And according to eliteprospects.com, they have the highest average age in the Under-18 loop at 17.25 years old. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that’s not a real good combination.
Kopra obviously brings that average age down a little bit and there’s little doubt he’s picking up some very valuable goaltending experience playing with such a porous team in front of him. Like every other 16-year-old kid who is still playing as the bottleneck to the top level gets smaller, Kopra has big dreams. “Of course the NHL, but it’s a very hard trip to go to the top,” he said. “Just now I want to play my own team’s games as well as possible.” Rantala said Kopra is making some good progress and sees no reason why he shouldn’t be able to move up the ranks in Finnish hockey, “if he wants it.”
Or if he doesn’t succumb to sheer exhaustion by the end of this season.