Sweden – Finland 7-3 (1-1, 2-2, 4-0)
BRNO – The Finns gave the team a run through two periods, but Tre Kronor triumphed once again in the U18 semi-final, booking its spot in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship gold medal game for the third year in a row.
Sweden’s game-winning goal came in the third period on a point shot from Jesper Pettersson. Tobias Tornqvist took the puck into the Finnish zone and skated around the net before passing it off to Pettersson at the blue line. With two Swedish forwards and a Finnish defenceman in front of the crease, Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo never saw the shot as it sailed through players’ legs and into the back of the net.
Two key mistakes following the goal buried Finland’s chance at a comeback. After Artturi Lehkonen was assessed a penalty for interference, defenceman Ville Pokka shot the puck out of the field of play seven seconds later, resulting in a delay of game penalty and a 5-on-3 advantage for Sweden. Swedish captain Filip Forsberg wasted no time on the ensuing power play, getting the puck from Sebastian Collberg near the top of the left circle in the Finnish zone and firing it straight into the top right corner, giving his team the vital two-goal lead with less than ten minutes left in the game.
“We just tried to come out hard, play our game and also to get pucks in deep and forecheck them,” said Forsberg. “And I think we started good and maybe got lucky with a few penalties, but after that we were able to take the game over offensively and get some pucks in the net.”
Forsberg’s goal led to a goaltending change for the Finns, but the team in blue could not produce any more offence. Collberg added two more goals as the clock ran out and Sweden celebrated its third straight trip to the U18 championship and now awaits the winner of the Canada-USA semi-final.
The game opened up in the second frame as both teams found their offensive rhythm. First it was Sweden that struck for a pair of goals early. Forsberg stole the puck away from Faane Nutinen behind the Finnish net, and got it out in front to Gustav Possler for the goal just over a minute into the period. Then five minutes later Erik Karlsson crossed the blue line and cut inside before firing a low wristshot that beat goaltender Joonas Korpisalo five-hole for the 3-1 lead.
Finland did not throw in the towel following the two early Swedish goal, thanks in large part to Korpisalo’s efforts to not allow the Swedes to run up the score any further. The Finns finally replied at 9:10 with a score by Lehkonen from the blue line. Then Finland’s defence chipped in with a goal from blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen two minutes later, after Forsberg went to the box on a tripping call. Ristolainen fired a slapshot coming off the point on a one-timer, and Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk was again beaten with a goal from long-distance and Finland tied the game up at 3-3 going into the final period.
Finland got on the board in the first period thanks to a goal from Lehkonen, coming off of a scrum in front of the Swedish net. After a sloppy start to the game, Sweden tied things up with 3:39 remaining in the period. Possler shot the puck from the side of the net, and the rebound came out to Jacob de la Rose in the high slot, who buried the puck into the top corner past Korpisalo.
“Our coach told us to keep doin what we were doing, have fun and play our game,” said Forsberg. “Even though Sweden is going back to the final, he told us that it is rare to get an opportunity to play at this stage of a tournament such as this one.”
Sweden will now have the chance to overcome two straight years of disappointment in the U18 championship game. The last two years Sweden has lost in the gold medal game, both times to the United States. It remains to be seen whether they will get a chance to take revenge on their North American U18 rivals, but one thing is sure: the Swedes are once again in the hunt for gold.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)