Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fantastic Finns strike gold

Press Release

 Rasmus Ristolainen scored at 9:42 of overtime to lift Finland to an unforgettable 3-2 win over host Sweden in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship on Sunday.

Captain Teuvo Teräväinen put the puck around the boards to Ristolainen, who powered down the right side, beating Swedish defenceman Robert Hägg as he cut to the net and put a backhand deke underneath sprawling netminder Oscar Dansk.

In regulation time, Saku Mäenalanen had a goal and an assist for Finland and Esa Lindell had a single. Teräväinen, who won the scoring title with 15 points, totalled three assists.

Lucas Wallmark and Christian Djoos tallied a goal and an assist apiece for Sweden.

The Cinderella Finns were hoping for a storybook ending, and they got it in spades. It is Finland’s third World Junior gold medal of all time. The previous ones came in 1987 and 1998.

The gold is Finland’s first medal since 2006’s bronze in Vancouver. That was also the last year a team other than Canada, Russia, Sweden, or the United States medaled.

The powerhouse Swedes had won six straight games prior to the final, but didn’t get the dream ending they craved. It is Sweden’s ninth silver medal of all time. The Swedes have now medaled in three straight years and six out of the last seven years.

Much like Finland's 4-1 triumph over host Sweden at the 1995 IIHF World Championship, this will go down as one of the great moments in Finnish hockey history. The future looks bright for Finland's young stars.

It was a great conclusion to a beautifully organized World Juniors in Sweden’s third-largest city – even if it didn’t come with the desired ending for the hosts.

With lightning reflexes, excellent positioning, and total focus, Juuse Saros showed why he could become the latest star in the constellation of world-class Finnish goalies. The 18-year-old Hameenlinna native made 35 saves, outdueling Sweden’s Dansk, who had 28 stops.

The Swedes entered the gold medal game with a whopping 30-8 goal differential. But coach Rikard Grönborg’s high-powered offense unfortunately fell short in front of a record-setting crowd of 12,023 at Malmö Arena when it counted most.

Coach Karri Kivi’s squad got off to a dream start just 28 seconds in when Lindell took a short pass from Mäenalanen at the top of the left faceoff circle and put it top corner past Dansk’s glove through a screen. Teräväinen drew the second assist.

The chants of “Let’s go, Sweden!” persisted, but the Finns had the confidence-builder they wanted. (Interestingly, Lindell also scored in the opening minute of the Sweden-Finland round-robin game, although the Swedes won that one 4-2.)

The slightly larger Swedes tried throwing their weight around, with Hägg hammering Joni Nikko in the Swedish end. The Finns, however, were giving no quarter, playing with tons of “sisu,” the intangible Finnish quality that roughly translates as “guts.”

Saros was there whenever the Swedes tested him, foiling Jacob de la Rose on a 3-on-2 rush at the nine-minute mark and gobbling up a Lukas Bengtsson howitzer from the center point.

In the second period, the Swedes carried the play early on, forcing the Finns into a defensive posture. Sticks and bodies constantly clogged Tre Kronor's lanes.

Just after the six-minute mark, the Swedes were incensed when Sebastian Collberg went down in a heap at the side of the Finnish net after a collision with Mikko Vainonen. He was helped off by the trainers with a towel on his face. There was no call on the play.

Sweden tied it up at 7:53 of the middle frame on the power play when Wallmark hammered a slap shot inside Saros’s right post. It was just the second goal Finland’s penalty kill had surrendered in these World Juniors. The crowd was right back in it.

Finland had an immediate response: more magic from the Teräväinen-Mäenalanen combo. Forty-five seconds later, the Finnish captain sent a nifty backhand feed across the Swedish goal crease and his winger put in his tournament-leading seventh goal to make it 2-1.

Sweden got one more chance to equalize in the second period when Finland’s Rasmus Ristolainen was penalized for tripping Andre Burakowsky in front of the benches. But the dogged Finns kept their foes at bay despite some close calls. Shots on goal in the second favoured Sweden 14-7.

In the third period, after Finland killed off two more minors to Saku Kinnunen and Aleksi Mustonen, Ristolainen wound up with another penalty for hauling down Alexander Wennberg. The Swedes called their timeout before going to the man advantage.

It paid off. With heavy traffic in front, Djoos powered a center point slapper high over Saros's glove to make it 2-2 with 9:07 remaining. The building erupted again.

Dansk took a pratfall behind his net, giving the crowd a scare, but he would make a great save on Henri Ikonen's gallant dash down the left side with about four minutes left.

And so it was off to overtime.

The Swedes failed in their bid to win the World Juniors on home ice for the first time ever. They previously hosted the tournament in 1979, 1984, 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Sweden played without defenceman Jesper Pettersson. He was serving a one-game suspension for his role in a post-game altercation with Russia’s Andrei Mironov in the semi-finals.

The Finns will aim to defend their title when the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, co-hosted by the Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal, kicks off on December 26, 2014.

(Nathan can be reached at

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