Sudbury Wolves goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen returned from the World Junior Hockey Championships in British Columbia with a gold medal around his neck, after Team Finland defeated the United States in the final.
The Pack is surely eager to get their star netminder back between the pipes as they have gone winless in his absence dropping seven straight games while picking up just a single point in an overtime loss to the Windsor Spitfires.
Luukkonen met with the media on Wednesday morning at the Sudbury Arena, gold medal in tow and carrying a determination to get back to work with the Wolves.
"I'm really excited to get this going back here, we had a great start of the season here and we played some good games so I'm really excited to be back," said Luukkonen.
The 19-year-old netminder carried a heavy workload for the Finns in B.C., starting all seven games for the eventual gold medal winners. Luukkonen lent credit to the amount of playing time he's had in Sudbury to his success on the world stage.
"I think especially the amount of games I got here before the tournament really made a difference," said Luukkonen. "We have a really good team here, really good teammates, it just builds up your confidence for the tournament."
While a large contingent of the Wolves roster is made of up Canadian-born players who were no doubt rooting for the red and white to take the gold, Luukkonen says that he received a great deal of support from his teammates while he was on the other side of the country.
"I can say I have good friends here, I have really good teammates, it means a lot to me that the guys were standing behind me," he said.
The tournament was Luukkonen's second crack at the World Juniors, after a tough shootout loss in the quarterfinals a year ago that saw the Finns fail to reach the medal round. The netminder started all five of his team's games in that tournament and said that he was able to draw on his experience from a year ago.
"I think the fact of just how big the games are and how fast the hockey really is, sometimes it might surprise you when you play against big countries just how good and skilled the guys really are, but I think I was more ready because I played there last year," said Luukkonen.
In any single-game elimination tournament, teams need a bit of puck luck on their side to traverse through the competition, and the Finns certainly had that in their quarterfinal matchup with Team Canada. A fortunate bounce went Finland's way to tie the game with less than 50 seconds to play, and in overtime, the hockey gods smiled on Luukkonen.
Canadian forward Noah Dobson had a wide open net to shoot at in the 4-on-4 OT period and what looked like a sure game-winning goal evaporated as Dobson's stick abandoned him, snapping in half and sending the Finns the other way on a rush that would see Toni Utunen net the winner for Finland.
The Finns might not have even got that opportunity however, if not for Luukkonen stopping Canadian captain Maxime Comtois on a penalty shot in OT, a save that Luukkonen says definitely stands out as one of the most memorable of the tournament.
"I know you guys don't like it, but that was the biggest one," said Luukkonen with a laugh.
Asked if he had a chance to talk the stick maker for his lucky "break", Luukonen said he hasn't, but was "really happy that the stick broke".
His parting words for Team Canada for next year's tournament were short and sweet.
"I don't know, don't use the same sticks," he said with a smile.
The Wolves will welcome Luukkonen back to the lineup this Friday when they take on Central Division rivals, the Mississauga Steelheads.
So what does a star netminder eat before a game? What are his favourite Canadian treats and who would he not want to face in a shootout? Watch as Sudbury.com shares 10 things you didn't know about Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.