The big question before the game was whether Finland’s forwards would finally start to generate some serious offence. The Finns had only scored three goals in their first two games, both losses (3-1 versus Sweden, 5-2 versus Russia). This was Finland’s first win at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The reply came only two minutes into the game (on a power play) when Teemu Hartikainen dropped a pass to Tomi Sallinen, who flipped the puck past Latvian keeper Nauris Enkuzens.
Nestori Lahde, parked at the doorstep, doubled the lead twelve minutes later after receiving a cross-pass from Niclas Lucenius. The good start allowed Finland the luxury of missing a penalty shot with two minutes left in the opening period. Antti Roppo shot a backhander over the crossbar.
Roppo redeemed himself midway through the second period by notching the 5-0 goal. By then, Finland had basically put the game away after a pair of goals from Mikael Granlund.
Finland outshot Latvia 56-18.
The biggest cheer of the evening from the 9,376 fans came after Latvia’s only goal, 14 minutes into the middle stanza, when Roberts Jekimovs connected with a two-man advantage. That period featured some chippy elements, and saw Latvia’s Vitalijs Pavlovs receiving a game misconduct for kneeing.
For the Finns, the game was just the first step towards securing third place and a spot in the quarter-finals. They must defeat Slovakia on New Year’s Eve. A win in OT or shoot-out will get it done, as both teams have three points each (1W-2L). Finland has never been involved in relegation struggles in the World Juniors.
The Latvians will now head to the relegation round. As they will not carry over any points, the Latvians will most likely have to win both their relegation round games, against Germany and most probably Kazakhstan. They will open their quest to remain in the top division on January 2. Latvia was in the same position two years ago in Vancouver, where their lone relegation round win versus Norway was not enough.
The top two teams in that round will retain elite status and take part in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and Regina.
NOTES: This was the first time the two teams have met in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Finland gave goalie Harri Säteri a rest and backup Juha Metsola played in his first game of the championship.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)