After being outdueled by fellow Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick Justin Pogge, Tuukka Rask hopes to do better against the USA on Wednesday night, should he get the start in goal. Rask, a native of Savonlinna, Finland, surrendered five tallies on 31 shots in a losing cause against Canada in his first start at the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“We have to play better as a team,” said Rask after Finland’s Tuesday practice. “We took too many penalties, and made [some] pretty big mistakes.”
Was it just a case of nerves?
“Maybe we were too nervous, and you could see that in the game,” Rask admitted. “Especially when it was 2-0 for Canada, at that point we stopped playing.”
Rask is no stranger to international competition. He was a member of Finland’s World Junior team at last year’s tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he shared the goaltending duties with Joonas Hallikainen. There, Rask earned a 1-2 record while posting a 2.96 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
Rask’s most memorable hockey moment came while he was playing for Finland at the 2004 Viking Cup in Camrose, Alberta. Rask was named the top goaltender of the tournament as Finland took home the gold medal.
“That was a great tournament for us. We won the gold, so that’s probably the best memory of my career.”
Rask is known for his butterfly style of goaltending, his horizontal movement, and his quick ability to get up off the ice. One of the concerns surrounding Rask’s game is his stamina, which sometimes leads to inconsistency in his game.
The 6-foot-3, 165-pound Rask is playing in the Finnish Elite league this season with Ilves,Tampere. He played just four games with Ilves last season, vying for playing time with locked-out NHL goalie Vesa Toskala of the San Jose Sharks.
In 2005-06 Ilves has welcomed a seasoned veteran to their club in former NHLer Jyrki Lumme, best-known for his 1994 run to the Stanley Cup finals with the Vancouver Canucks. The smooth-skating offensive defenceman retired from the NHL in 2003 but has mounted a comeback.
“He has a lot of experience,” said Rask. “Of course he’s played in the NHL, the Olympics, and the World Championships. We have a pretty young team, so he helps bring our self-confidence up.”
Away from the rink, this first-round draft pick is like any other 18-year-old. He likes to watch movies and go to the mall with his girlfriend, who enjoys shopping.
In order for Finland to enjoy its Vancouver experience, Rask knows his team will need to pick up its game, especially with the explosive Americans next on the menu. Heading into the tournament, Rask was looking to improve on last year’s disappointing fifth-place result.
“It doesn’t get any easier than it was yesterday,” said Rask. “It’s probably going to be a lot tougher game than it was yesterday. The Americans are a skillful team and skate well, so it will be a tough game.”