International Ice Hockey Federation

Suomi stays perfect

Suomi stays perfect

Nordgren scores twice in 4-2 win over Czechs

Published 15.08.2018 10:50 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Suomi stays perfect
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 24: Finland's Niklas Nordgren #15 with a scoring chance against the Czech Republic's Daniel Dvorak #30 while Jesperi Kotkaniemi #9 looks on during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Having kept its 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship record spotless with a 4-2 defeat of Czech Republic, Finland advances to play Belarus in the quarterfinals.

Niklas Nordgren slammed in two goals for the impressive Finnish squad, while Rasmus Kupari and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored once each. Kaapo Kakko added three assists for the defending silver medalists who looked very strong in their bid to make it to the fourth straight U18 final.

Jakub Lauko and Vojtech Strondala had the Czechs’ two goals.

"It was very important for us to ge a positive result from this game", said Finalnd's head coach Tomi Niemela. "We felt that we just had to keep on going on this positive road that we have started here."

With Finland already assured first place in Group B, and Czech Republic unable to move higher or lower than fourth, neither team had, strictly speaking, a lot to play for, as far as their tournament fortunes were concerned. Still, it’s not like the scouts attend the U18 Worlds just to look at which team finishes where. There is always plenty of incentive to be found in any game of this tournament.

The Czechs certainly seemed eager to showcase themselves early on, or at least Matej Pekar was. The soon-to-be Nebraska-Omaha Maverick was a part of two fast counter-attacking odd-man rushes in the first period, one ending with a beautiful spin-o-rama/backhand pass move (his teammate shot it high), the other with his receiving a pass and wristing the puck high, but hitting Justus Annunen’s shoulder.

Yet it was the Finns’ top line of Kotkaniemi, Nordgren, and Kakko, which likely needs no introduction to the scouts, that shone the brightest.

"They are three excellent players, and they are having a really good tournament", said Niemela. "I enjoy watching them. It's the power of the youth. They like to do things that we can't do and will never be able to do. It's just a joy to see them on the ice. You can see that they love the game."

Kotkaniemi was a source of constant trouble for the Czechs on the left wing. The smooth-as-butter Finn created two scoring chances on the same first-period power-play. His gorgeous toe-drag move around the defenseman resulted in a pass across the crease, which Dvorak managed to cover. A minute later, Kotkaniemi unleashed a wicked wrister from the circle, which the goalie had no chance on, but the puck hit both the crossbar and the post before bouncing clear of the net. In the last minute of the period, Kotkaniemi worked more magic on the left side, fooled everyone he was about to shoot and slid a perfect pass to Sampo Ranta only to see the teammate miss the wide-open net.

If the highly-rated Finn stopped at that, he would’ve only strengthened his already high draft stock, but, in the third period, he also got called for a game misconduct after an ill-advised check from behind.

"It was a bit of bad luck", reasoned Niemela. "The guy turned around just before the hit, and he was in a bit of a bad position. I am glad there was no injury, and I am sure, as a young player, (Kotkaniemi) will learn from this."

The Finns took over after the first intermission, spending most of the time in the offensive zone and almost casually removing all suspense from the game in the process. It was 35 seconds into the second frame when Suomi’s other pair of golden hands, those belonging to Nordgren, finally got the job done. A centering pass from Kaapo Kakko somehow evaded two Czech defensemen, and Nordgren, parked near the crease, easily tipped it in. Only 14 seconds later, Kupari’s hard wrister through traffic beat Daniel Dvorak high on the stick side, and the Finns sizeable territorial advantage was finally being manifested on the scoreboard.

"I just hit the puck, and it was a good shot. Went right into the corner", mused Kupari. "It was good that we won. Every game is important, and we have to focus on our team game and on the next win."

Kotkaniemi made it 3-0 midway through the second as he maneuvered through the Czech zone on the right side and played a beautiful give and go with Kakko to befuddle the entire Czech five-man unit and bang the puck in from up close.

Nordgren slammed it past Dvorak on a two-man advantage at 17:03 to round up the second-period scoring.  

With the result no longer in doubt, the Finns played defensively in the last frame, allowing Czech forwards to strut their stuff in front of the scouts. Lauko did just that, on a power-play opportunity, as he unleashed a monster wrist shot that knocked a defenseman’s stick out of his hands and beat Annunen on the short side.

The Finnish defense also got to show what it can do, with an absolutely heroic penalty kill eight minutes before the siren. First, Mikko Kokkonen got on his knees and impersonated a goalie, saving a shot. A split-second later, on the second-chace shot, Annunen made the save of the tourney, diving forward to smother the puck.

With a little more than two minutes left, Czech Republic made the score even more respectable, just as another power play expired. Strondala’s shot squeezed through Annunen’s pads, and the puck slowly crawled across the line as the goalie fell backward trying to cover it.

Both teams will be playing in quarterfinals action on Thursday, with Finland facing the tournament’s biggest surprise so far, Belarus. Czech Republic’s quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of tonight’s Canada-Sweden game in Magnitogorsk.

"This will be the biggest game of the tournament for us, and we just want to keep doing the things we've been doing", said Niemela. "We want to be energetic and fresh, and the end result will come through that."


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