Jack Hughes still had tears in his eyes Saturday night as he talked about losing the gold-medal game at the world junior hockey championship.
“Right now, there’s nothing I really want to learn from this,” the 17-year-old said after Finland beat the Americans 3-2 in a dramatic finals performance. “It’s sad. I don’t want to go through this again.”
Hughes is expected to go first over all at this year’s draft.
Kaapo Kakko, who’s expected to go second, scored the game-winning goal in the last minute-and-a-half of Saturday night’s game.
“It was a great feeling. There are no words,” the young Finn said through a translator.
Kakko’s teammates gushed about his performance at the tournament and predicted that he’ll be the one picked first by an NHL team come June.
“I think he’s unbelievable. First tournament and he scores a goal like that? Unbelievable. It sums up his tournament, for sure,” Finnish captain Aarne Talvitie said.
“He’s so young, but he seems like a third-year veteran guy out there. He don’t fear anything,” said Eeli Tolvanen, who played four games with the Nashville Predators last month.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s going to be the first over all for sure.”
Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas called the teenage forward “a future superstar,” but said his group won as a team on Saturday night.
“We were really tight. We have great personalities on the team. We grew up as a team,” he said.
The win was special for Ahokas, who’s been coaching some of the players for several years. He remembers being a skills coach for Talvitie when he was just nine years old.
“Kinda cool that he was here now,” the coach said.
“It’s been a long journey and we had such a great bunch of guys.”
The win marks Finland’s fifth gold at the tournament and comes after the team was eliminated from competition in the quarter-finals last year. They last won at home in Helsinki in 2016.
The Finns also got scoring from Jesse Ylonen and Otto Latvala, and strong goaltending from Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
The 6-foot-5 Buffalo Sabres prospect was named the tournament’s top goalie after making 25 saves in the final.
Cayden Primeau stopped 28-of-31 shots for the United States.
The Americans lost a single game in the round-robin, dropping a 5-4 overtime decision to Sweden on Dec. 29.
They punched their ticket to the finals by beating the Czechs 3-1 on Wednesday, then downing the Russians 2-1 on Friday.
Earlier on Saturday, Russia beat Switzerland 5-2 to capture bronze.
Next year’s tournament will be held in the Czech Republic.