Julius Honka returned to the Credit Union iplex a champion Saturday. The Swift Current Broncos’ rookie defenseman won a World Junior Hockey Championship with Finland after an overtime win over host Sweden.
Honka was greeted by a warm ovation from Broncos fans in a pregame ceremony recognizing his accomplishment.
“It is unbelievable,” said the 18-year-old before stepping out on the ice. “That was an unreal experience for me. It is good to be here after the tournament and I am glad to carry home that gold medal.”
Honka finished with a one assist, a plus-one rating and nine shots on goal in seven games at the tournament. His only point came on the first goal in a 5-1 win over Canada in the semi-finals.
“I think I played pretty good. I played my own game and just helped the team to win. We won a lot of games and I think the whole tournament was good for me.”
Honka said he had to step up his game to play against the top players from around the world.
“Yeah it was a little bit faster and stronger, but still when you play your own game and you play with your team together that is the key to success.”
It was only Finland’s third title after winning in 1987 and 1998. They had last won a medal of any colour in 2006 with bronze in Vancouver.
“Yeah it meant a lot. It is huge medal for the Finnish Hockey Federation,” said Honka.
The Finnish team was pictured on the internet in saunas and wearing golden helmets as their celebration continued when they returned to Finland.
“The sauna belongs to Finnish culture and we were in a lot of sauna and partying. The golden helmets are like a routine there. It was unreal,” grinned Honka.
Despite missing the past nine games, Honka remains among the Western Hockey League leaders in scoring among rookies and defenseman with 36 points in 32 games. His anticipated return to the line-up was delayed due to his equipment being lost during his return to Canada. He said it was difficult to remain out of the line-up.
“Yeah of course. It could be my first game after the tournament but I can’t play because my gear is stuck somewhere, but next week.”
He said he followed the team while chasing a medal overseas and was happy to be back with his teammates.
“Yeah I talked to the guys this morning and they congrats me. It was good to see the boys after a long time.”
The team now includes two new faces, Nathan Burns and Geordie Maguire, since he last played a game on December 14.
“Yeah I think the Broncos made good trades and I think we have a good team now. That is hockey, you make trades sometimes.”