Dallas Stars: Tuomo Ruutu

Kari Lehtonen made his mark at World Juniors

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
8:55
PM CT
The World Junior Championship, which gets underway Monday in Canada, can be a proving ground for young players as they try to work their way to the National Hockey League. And it’s a tournament where Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen made his mark early in his hockey career.

Lehtonen played three years for Finland (2001-2003) at the World Juniors, and the 2002 tournament in Czech Republic was the one where he really stood out.

“It was my first tournament as the starter,” Lehtonen said. “It was my first season playing in the Finnish Elite League, too, so it was just a great year for me. “

Finland had taken the silver medal in 2001. Lehtonen was the backup in that tournament, playing in one game. The Finns were considered a favorite to medal again in 2002. They had an impressive roster with future NHL players like Jussi Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu, Sean Bergenheim and Joni Pitkanen.

And then there was Lehtonen, who was the top rated goaltender for that year’s NHL draft and had been impressive in the Under-18 World Junior Championship, leading Finland to a gold medal in 2000.

But the World Juniors, also known as the Under-20 World Junior Championship, was the big stage. And it was a big tournament for players who were in the mix to be drafted. A player’s stock could go up or down based on his performance at the World Juniors.

“You try not to think about it, but everybody knew it,” Lehtonen said. “That’s the hard part of that tournament. It’s so short; it’s two weeks or something like that. It’s just seven or eight games. If you have a bad stretch everybody thinks you’re not that good, but you are trying not to think about it and then after the tournament you’re ‘Whew, I’m happy that it went well.’ Especially that year, the year I was going to be drafted.”

Things went better than well for Lehtonen at the 2002 World Juniors. Lehtonen, 18-years-old at the time, was named the best goaltender at the tournament, posting a 1.17 goals against average and a .943 save percentage (116 saves on 123 shots) in six games.

The highlight of the tournament for Lehtonen was a 4-1 preliminary round victory over Canada in which he stopped 42 of 43 shots.

“That was the greatest feeling ever,” he said. “After that we felt we could go all the way.”

The Finns beat the Czechs 3-1 in the quarterfinals, but then in the semifinals they lost 2-1 in overtime to Russia, which went on to beat Canada in the gold medal game.

“It’s one of those things where sometimes you think about it and what could have been,” Lehtonen said.

Finland went on to beat Switzerland 4-1 to take the bronze medal. Lehtonen, considered the top goaltender for the 2002 NHL Entry Draft heading into the season, helped solidified that position with his performance at the 2002 World Juniors.

“It was one of those times where I started feeling that I could be a really good goalie,” Lehtonen said. “I saw myself playing against the best players of my age, and I was doing very well.”

Lehtonen capped off that season by helping Jokerit win the Finnish Elite League championship, and was named the playoff MVP. He was then selected 2nd overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.

He played in his final World Juniors in 2003, leading Finland to another bronze medal in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lehtonen had a 2.19 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in six games played.

“The building was packed, crazy media attention,” he said of the tournament held in Canada. “It was a good step forward in playing under pressure, and getting used to that. Lots of fun and good memories.”

Encountering an agitating Steve Ott

The World Junior Championship was Kari Lehtonen’s first encounter with the agitating abilities of current teammate Steve Ott, who was a member of Canada’s World Junior team in 2001 and 2002.

“He was agitating. I remember him shooting pucks at me,” said Lehtonen. “I played against him two years. I don’t remember which game it was, but he was shooting at me while I was trying to stretch during the warmups. He kept shooting pucks at me.”

Ott said he doesn’t specifically remember shooting pucks at Lehtonen, but did admit he could have done something along those lines.

“He probably doesn’t remember because he has done that dozens of time,” Lehtonen said with a smile.

2012 World Junior Championship

The 2012 World Junior Championship begins Monday in Calgary and Edmonton. Four Dallas Stars prospects will play in the tournament: Goaltender Jack Campbell (USA); defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (Canada); defenseman Patrik Nemeth (Sweden); defenseman John Klingberg (Sweden).

Stars get off to strong start on road trip

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
4:41
PM CT


The Dallas Stars opened their four-game road trip impressively, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 in Raleigh Sunday afternoon.

The Stars became the first team to hit 10 wins this season and their 10-3-0 record gives them the best points percentage in the league at .769.

“Guys are really working hard to want to get better. You have to remember that last year they missed the playoffs by two points. They’ve got something to prove,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of his team’s strong start to the season. “As a new coach it’s been easy going into that locker room when you’ve got 20 hungry guys. The seven new guys we’ve brought in have contributed to our character and, obviously, to all elements of our game. We’re a confident group right now and that’s half the battle.”

The Stars got off to a strong start, scoring early in the game, taking a 3-1 lead into the first intermission and extending it to 5-1 through the first 40 minutes.

“We played really well today,” said Stars forward Loui Eriksson. “We had a good start, we played really hard and it’s a good start to this road trip.”

And in their last two wins the Stars have found some offense, scoring 12 goals. The line of Eriksson (three assists), Jamie Benn (two goals) and Ryder (one goal and two assists) chipped in a total of eight points.

Eriksson and Benn both now have 15 points this season and are currently tied for 7th in the league in scoring. Eriksson is tied for seventh in goals and Benn is tied for fifth in assists.

“They are both cerebral players and they just kind of feed off each other,” said Gulutzan. “They think the game so well. You’ve got two smart guys playing together and they’re having a good streak right now.”

Eric Nystrom scored his third goal in the last four games and Stephane Robidas scored on the power play.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 30 of 32 shots, bouncing back from Friday’s game when he gave up a season-high six goals.

“It was good for him to get right back in the saddle when you’re half off it,” said Gulutzan. “It was a good game for him.”

The Stars scored a little more than five minutes into the game and never looked back. Vernon Fiddler set up Eric Nystrom off the rush and Nystrom beat Carolina goalie Cam Ward with a shot from the left circle to put the Stars up 1-0 5:20 into the game.

The Stars extended the lead to 2-0 by cashing in on their first power play as Stephane Robidas scored off a blast from the point at the 12:55 mark.

Carolina answered with a power play goal by Chad LaRose just 23 seconds later, but the Stars were able to extend the lead with 27.8 seconds left in the first when Eriksson sent a pass from behind the net to Benn to make it a 3-1 game.

The Stars added two more in the second period to make it a 5-1 game. Eriksson set up Ryder, who roofed a shot over Ward early in second to make it 4-1. That ended the afternoon for Ward, who was replaced by Brian Boucher.

Eriksson set up Benn on a shorthanded two-on-one late in the second to make it 5-1.

“I saw the puck go around the corner there and we got a two-on-one,” said Eriksson. “It was a nice shot by Benny.”

Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu scored a power play goal in the third to round out the scoring in the game. Carolina has lost it’s last two games by a combined score of 10-3.

“It’s a physical man’s game and we tried to play on skill. It just wasn’t going to get it done for us,” said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. “We were just soft on pucks all over the ice.”

The Stars continue the road trip Tuesday when they take on the Washington Capitals, who are 9-3-0 this season and are 6-0-0 at home this season.

Notes

*Steve Ott missed his second straight game with a hip injury.

*Jake Dowell and Adam Pardy were healthy scratches for the Stars.

*The Stars have won five of their last six games against Carolina.

Q&A with a Hurricanes blogger

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
3:20
PM CT

Bob, from Canes Country, answered some questions about the Hurricanes for us. Here goes:

Q: Can you give us a scouting report on the Hurricanes and how they've been since the Stars last played them in late November?


A:
The Canes have not fared very well lately. They have a record of 2-7-1 since their loss to the Stars and while their play has been good in spots, it has not been good enough to turn their ugly season around.

Q: If you had to pick one reason for Carolina's struggles, what would it be and why?


A:
That is impossible to do, because it's been a combination of things. We can start off with a lack of scoring, inability to stop the other team from scoring, poor discipline regarding penalties, and an ineffective powerplay. When you rank last or near last in most major categories, it's an epic fail, not just one thing.

Q: How has goalie Cam Ward looked since returning from a leg laceration? Will he play tonight?


A:
Yes, Ward will start tonight. He has had good moments, and looked especially good in an overtime loss to Washington last week. But he has not earned a win yet, and is 0-2-1 since returning from his injury.

Q: Give us the Jussi Jokinen update. Stars fans love to hear how he's doing. Dallas could sure use him on the shootout.


A:
Jussi is a fan favorite here. He is third on the team in scoring with 18 points and has been very flexible in his ability to move around on different lines as the team has needed, due to a variety of injuries to other players. He continues to be effective on the shootout. By the way, he also leads the team with two game winning goals as well. Jussi has been the definition of clutch since coming to Carolina.

Q: Which player has been the biggest surprise this season?


A:
Eric Staal has been a surprise in a negative way. He has been fighting injuries but has not been the prolific scorer he has been in the past. Brandon Sutter has been a bit of a surprise in a positive way. He has shown much more offensive skill than what many have anticipated.

Q: Talk about the Hurricanes' special teams.


A:
The powerplay is ranked 28th in the league at 14.3%. It has struggled mightily. The penalty kill has been pretty decent and is ranked at 18th in the league at 79.4%.

Q: Which players should Stars fans keep an eye on tonight?


A:
Look for Eric Staal to continue to try to break out. He will be on the top line with Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu. Jussi will be with Matt Cullen and Sergei Samsonov, also an effective line.

Q: Injury update?


A:
There are plenty. Joe Corvo is out long term. Nic Wallin has been out and Tim Gleason is also out for tonight. He took a puck to the face last week and has tried to play through it, but will take tonight off. Three defensemen from Albany will fill in.


The forwards missing are Chad LaRose and Erik Cole, both out for a couple of weeks.

Q: Anything else Stars fans should know about the Hurricanes?


A:
While the Hurricanes have struggled on the road, (1-12-4), they have played decently at home, (6-7-2). It should be a good game tonight.

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