The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind adventure for Juuso Välimäki.
The Tri-City Americans defenseman attended the Independence Day Celebration on Dec. 6 in Helsinki, Finland.
Shortly after he returned to the Tri-Cities, he was selected to attend Team Finland’s camp for the upcoming World Junior Championship to be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto. Finland is the defending champion.
“It’s a great accomplishment for him to represent his country at World Juniors,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “It will be a good experience for him.”
Välimäki, who is eligible for the 2017 NHL draft in June, was the captain of Finland’s U-18 team that won gold in April at the World Under-18 Championship in Grand Forks, N.D.
“It was a big moment,” Välimäki said of the WJC invite. “I was waiting for it. I have had a pretty good season so far (12 goals, 23 assists in 32 games). I was happy to see my name on the list. I was disappointed I wasn’t on the list last year. Now, I’m just going to go to camp and do what I can and hopefully get a spot on the team. This is a really big tournament and it would be an honor to be on the team and do what I can for my country.”
Team Finland opens camp Wednesday in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and will play exhibition games against Canada on Dec. 19 and Slovakia on Dec. 22.
If Välimäki sticks with Team Finland, he will miss at least nine games with the Americans, granted that Finland makes it to the medal round.
The Americans are on a four-game road trip heading into the Western Hockey League’s holiday break. They play Tuesday and Wednesday in Prince George before finishing at Everett and Seattle this weekend.
“That was good timing,” Välimäki said of missing the trip to Prince George, where the temperature was minus-8 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday. “I told them I would miss them. It will be almost a month — most of the Christmas break — but hopefully I will join them on the road when I get back.”
Välimäki was extended an invitation to the Independence Day Celebration after captaining Team Finland to the U-18 title. With the blessing of the Americans, Välimäki accepted.
“It was a big honor for sure,” said Välimäki, who was greeted by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and First Lady Jenni Haukio. “There weren’t a lot of young guys there. I was the youngest one there. It was pretty awesome to be there. All those years when I was young, I have watched the event on TV. It was pretty sweet to be one of those guys there.”
Välimäki rented a tux, black with a white bow tie, before he left the Tri-Cities. He attended the event alone.
“It was a little different, but a lot of fun,” he said. “The invitation was just for me, no plus-one. I guess I have to be married to bring my wife. I don’t have one yet.”