Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finland flies, Austria aches

Press Release

REGINA – After falling 10-1 to Finland for its fourth straight loss on Wednesday, Austria is bound for the Relegation Round at the 2010 World Juniors. The Finns, who sit third in Group B, scored eight power play goals in the victory.

Finland – Austria 10-1 (5-0, 3-1, 2-0)

Captain Jyri Niemi led the way with two goals and two assists, while Mikael Granlund also put up four points. Goalie Joni Ortio recorded his second win as Finland outshot Austria 59-12.

"We have a really strong group right now," said Niemi. "We believe in ourselves. If we can just keep going the way we started tonight, we can go really far. The [2-0] loss to Russia is behind us now."

If the Czechs beat Russia in regulation time on Thursday, they still have a chance to make the Playoff Round. While Sweden has secured its Playoff Round berth, Finland and Russia are still in danger of landing in the Relegation Round, should they fail to gain any points on Thursday. Finland takes on Sweden on Thursday.

"We're all so excited to play against Sweden on New Year's Eve," Niemi said. "We know what's at stake. It'll be a huge one."

It took just 58 seconds for Finland to open the scoring. Joonas Rask snared a loose puck in front of Austrian goalie Marco Wieser and flicked it home. At 2:04, Jani Lajunen banged in a perfect goal-mouth pass from Eero Elo to make it 2-0.

Austrian head coach Dieter Werfring immediately called a timeout. But it made little difference, as the Finns pumped in three straight power play goals before the end of the period.

Finland grabbed a three-goal lead at 5:48 when Mikael Granlund whacked in a rebound. Just 12 seconds into Finland's next man advantage, Aleksi Laakso cranked a high drive under the crossbar to make it 4-0. When Toni Rajala tipped in a puck at the side of the net to make it 5-0 at 11:07, Wieser got yanked in favour of Lorenz Hirn.

Totally dominant, Finland held a 25-0 shots-on-goal edge in the first period, which said it all.

"We were not ready from the beginning," admitted Austrian captain Dominique Heinrich. "We spent too much time on the penalty kill and ended up losing the game. That’s the problem when you’re the underdog."

Austria finally recorded a shot at 2:20 of the second, forcing Ortio to make a good glove save. But the Finns weren't fazed, cashing in with three more power play goals. They went up 6-0 midway through the game on a centre point drive by Jyri Niemi, and Teemu Hartikainen added another at 12:17.

With 4:34 left in the middle frame, Austria's Konstantin Komarek got a big cheer from the Brandt Centre crowd when his one-timer from the right faceoff circle spoiled Ortio's shutout hopes. Niemi retaliated by making it 8-1 with the man advantage in the last minute of the second.

Matias Sointu and Eero Elo rounded out the scoring for Finland in the final stanza.

"Today I think we executed our game plan very well," said Niemi. "Although we dominated the whole game, it's tough to keep focus for 60 minutes. I don't think we did that tonight, but we did enough."

Looking ahead to Sweden, Niemi added: "They're our neighbours. It's been the biggest rivalry between Finland and Sweden as long as I can remember. They've beaten us so many times. We hate to lose against the Swedes. It'll be an intense game."

The Finns are hoping to win a medal for the first time since 2006's bronze in Vancouver.

The Austrians have never won a game in their World Junior history, which includes two previous stints in the top division (1981, 2004).

"Now we have to look forward," said Heinrich. "We have a clear goal now. We have to win both games in the Relegation Round to stay in the top division. We might play against Latvia, Slovakia or Switzerland. Compared to our preliminary-round opponents, we know them better and had exhibition games against them."

(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at

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