EDMONTON – Finland defeated the United States for the first time in six years in IIHF U20 play. After a mediocre start the Finns ran away in the last period. Joel Armia was the man of the match with two goals and an assist.
Previously, Finland had lost to the U.S. in four straight games. Their last win before today’s game in Edmonton happened at the 2006 edition in Vancouver, when Finland defeated the U.S. 4-2 to take home bronze – the last time Finland medalled in the U20 category.
For a long time it didn’t look like Suomi would be able to win, same as two days ago in a 8-1 defeat against Canada. The Americans outshot the Finns 39-27, but the Finns made up for slow 40 minutes with a strong performance in the last 20 minutes of play.
The Finnish team started off with a pesky performance against the United States. With lot of puck possession, the Finns were able to keep the disc in the American zone for long periods, however, the American defencemen did a good job during two periods in keeping the Finns away from goaltender John Gibson. They allowed the Finns only four shots in the first period while having eight on the net of Sami Aittokallio, who was back after a slight injury from the last game’s warm-up.
The Americans had the faster and more straightforward attacks and were not far from creating some decent scoring chances, but the first period ended scoreless.
It was the Finns who surprised only 81 seconds after the middle stanza had begun. Again, the Americans tried to keep their opponents along the boards, but Armia was fighting hard against two U.S. players at the end boards and Miikka Salomäki got the puck to defeat Gibson with a wrist shot that went in just below the crossbar.
The Finnish goal made the Americans even more determined. Sitting on their lead, the Finns were busy defending their net as the Americans outshot them 16-5 in the second period. However, the Americans didn’t find the recipe to overcome Aittokallio while the Finns rarely finished an attack with a scoring chance.
Same as the second period, the third started with a bang – this time on the other side. Charlie Coyle won a face-off in the offensive zone and the puck went to the left boards to Emerson Etem, who sent a centering pass towards the Finnish net, where Brandon Saad tipped the puck in for the 1-1 tie.
The stage was open and both teams created much offensive action. Midway through the period the Americans had a good opportunity when a Finnish player was sent to the sin bin, but U.S. goalie Gibson neutralized the penalty with an unnecessary interference penalty.
It was an unpardonable mistake that ended up with hanging heads on the American side.
Finland did well with four vs. four skaters on the ice and Armia managed to escape with 9:07 left in regulation time. Falling down, Jacob Trouba tried to stop him, but with no avail. Armia defeated Gibson with a low shot for what would become the game-winning goal.
29 seconds the atmosphere among the 14,000 spectators at Rexall Place exploded in disbelieve. Finland had just scored again. Captain Mikael Granlund attempted a side pass to Teemu Pulkkinen, but instead he hit the blade of U.S. defenceman Jon Merrill, from where the puck went it – 3-1 Finland.
Team USA coach Dean Blais took his time-out, but the Finns continued to be on a high and showed little willingness to get themselves burnt.
With 3:33 left, American defenceman Derek Forbort lost the puck to Armia in his own zone. Armia double-passed it with Joonas Donskoi before scoring his second goal of the day for the final score of 4-1.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)