Out-of-this-world Avalanche effort in NHL Global Series sweep

Out-of-this-world Avalanche effort in NHL Global Series sweep

TAMPERE, Finland — How Mikko Rantanen i Arthur Lehkonen were making their way to the interview podium after a Colorado Avalanche win 5-1 on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2022 NHL Global Series at Nokia Arena, they walked past a group of wide-eyed kids in hockey jerseys staring at them.

Without provocation, the two Avalanche forwards ran over and began high-fiving the boys, whose jaws dropped in awe at the spontaneous interactions with their hockey heroes.

Lehkonen remembered when he and Rantanen were those kids, growing up here in Finland, hoping to one day be professional hockey players. Now they were the ones being idolized in their home country by young NHL hopefuls.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Lehkonen said. “Mikko and I have been playing together in Finland for a long time, so it’s special. We started playing here with the same team when we were 12 years old.

“We were dreaming of playing in the Finnish League one day. Playing in the NHL and playing in Finland, it’s very special.”

[RELATED: Complete coverage of NHL Global Series in Finland]

Rantanen and Lehkonen were the Avalanche’s key stories in the 2022 Finland Global Series, the proverbial native sons who came home. Lehkonen got his moment in the spotlight Saturday and opened the scoring in the Avalanche’s four-goal victory. A night earlier, it was Rantanen who stole the show, scoring three goals and adding an assist in Colorado’s 6-3 win, prompting the capacity crowd at Nokia Arena to chant his name as the clock went off

But as much a storybook ending as Columbus’ two-game sweep of Colorado was, it was about more than just the two childhood friends.

In fact, Colorado’s biggest offensive star proved to be his linemate, Nathan MacKinnon. For his part, the central did not want to talk about his statistics, and chose to let his wings be in the spotlight. But there was no denying that the 27-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, was the key architect of his success.

Colorado outscored Columbus 11-4 in the two games. MacKinnon assisted on seven of the Avalanche’s 11 goals. He might not have wanted to talk about himself, but his work made it speak for him.

“Everybody played fantastic,” MacKinnon said. “It was fun to have everyone involved, everyone participates tonight.”

Lehkonen’s goal, which opened the scoring 33 seconds into the game, came off a nice pen pass from MacKinnon. The intention, MacKinnon said, was to get his teammate on the scoreboard in front of friends and family.

“It definitely went through my head in the 2-on-1,” he said. “Obviously it’s great. He’s very excited. Like I said last night, I can only imagine how he would feel, scoring an NHL goal in my hometown.

“It was a really passionate crowd. They love their local lads and it was great to see them score.”

MacKinnon said she will cherish the memories of the team’s week in Finland, from the saunas to the salmon soup. But the most important thing, he said, was that the avalanche got back on track on the ice.

The Stanley Cup champions arrived in Finland with a 4-4-1 record, leading some observers to suggest they had a championship hangover. But they showed none of those traits in Tampere, winning with the recipe of raw speed, dogged defense and superior skill.

“The whole experience has been great,” MacKinnon said. “Hockey has been the best part, obviously. And it’s been fun to experience the crowd and go around the ice like one of the stars.

“It’s great. You realize you’re probably never going to play here again, so you appreciate the amazing fans. Lots of jerseys. It was all great.”

Not so much for the Blue Jackets (3-9-0). It was so bad that Columbus moved on Patrick Lainenative of Tampere, suggested that his team should never have come to Finland.

Colorado, on the other hand, is 6-4-1 and appears to be getting back on track. So much so, in fact, that coach Jared Bednar couldn’t, wouldn’t stop praising last week’s entire run.

“Everyone in Finland has been very welcoming,” he said. “They have a great energy about them. They’re excited about the game.

“It’s been a great trip and a very special one for our boys.”

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