International Ice Hockey Federation

Thriller in Tractor City

Thriller in Tractor City

Finland stages gritty comeback against Russia

Published 22.04.2018 19:38 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Thriller in Tractor City
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 22: Finland's Niklas Nordgren #15 scores a first period goal against Russia's Amir Miftakhov #1 while Maxim Sorkin #27, Bogdan Zhilyakov #2 and Ville Petman #23 look on during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
With two third-period goals, Finland duplicated its last-year success against Russia, scoring an exhilarating 5-4 victory on hostile ice in Chelyabinsk.

Niklas Nordgren scored two goals for Finland, including the third-period game winner, while Kristian Tanus skated away with a goal and an assist. Sampo Ranta and Peetro Seppala added a goal apiece, and top prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi collected three assists.

Over on the Russian side, Kirill Marchenko had a goal and two assists, while Alexander Zhabreyev and Pavel Dorofeyev would up with a tally and a helper each. Ivan Morozov added a goal and defeseman Danil Zhuravlyov was the architect of much of Russia’s scoring, with three assists.

It was the Finns' apparent advanatge in speed and stamina, combined with the Russians' less than solid play down low, as all five of Finland's goals came in and around the crease.

"It was a normal Sunday", said Kotkanieni, unable to contain a huge grin after being asked whether the Suomi team felt any added pressure. "It's a great feeling. We skated well. They are a great skating team and we... we are, maybe, the second best", he added, laughing.

The Russian captain Anton Malyshev, speaking to the media after Saturday afternoon’s win over Czech Republic, didn’t just confirm the well-known fact that Finland would supply the hosts with their toughest test yet, he also identified the exact reason why. Finland, of course, possesses much more team speed than either of Russia’s previous opponents, and would surely make the defense work harder than it ever had.

True enough, Finland’s penchant for circling the offensive zone with lightning quickness and making the opposition chase the puck wouldn’t be amiss in any Russian coach’s game plan. In a word, the tilt between two Group B favorites promised to be fast. In two words, it also promised to be even. Which is exactly the way it played out.

The Finns drew first blood at 4:52, after their top prospect Kotkaniemi, while on his knees behind the Russian net, threaded the needle with a pass to the los slot, where Nordgren pounced on the puck and blasted a one-timer past Amir Miftakhov.

There was little chance that Russia, with the full strength of the sold-out Traktor Ice Arena behind it, would be discouraged in any way by the early setback. Indeed, they charged right ahead and, mere 77 seconds later, created the kind of goal that even the late, great Anatoli Tarasov would have had very little reason to grumble about. Pavel Dorofeyev beautifully dangled into the offensive zone and sent a nifty pass to the left circle to Zhuravlyov, whose quick shot was saved by Annunen – right onto the stick of the onrushing Zhabreyev.

It took the Russians barely more than two minutes to get out in front. Operating with a man advantage, Marchenko received a pass from Zhuravlyov at the red line and turned on the jets, leaving two Finns in his dust before wristing it over Annunen’s shoulder. The goal sent the home crowd, which included a nonagenarian World War II hero, introduced to a thundering standing ovation, into a frenzy.

"We got great energy from the noise", said Nordgren. "We really wanted to quiet the place down and we succeeded in that mission."

The Finns, who consistently outshot Russians five-on-five throughout the contest, didn’t deviate from their attacking posture, and soon enough, their offensive zone possession game yielded more results. At 11:29, Anttoni Honka’s shot from the point was deflected in front and forced Miftakhov into an awkward kick save. There weren’t any Russians around the crease to prevent Tanus from calmly collecting the puck and stuffing it backhanded past the goalie.

The game became a bit less hectic in the second period, after both coaches had a chance to settle the lads down. The Russians appeared to track the Finnish forwards a little better and showcased a much tighter penalty kill, which didn’t allow the opposition much of anything in the way of shots from the slot.

About midway through the period, Vasili Podkolzin had a clear breakaway but couldn’t beat the sprawled Annunen, who got down on the splits to shut down the lower part of the net.

Russia finally broke through on a power play, when Annunen, screened by three players, missed the moment when Zhuravlyov sent the puck from the point to Morozov, wide open in the left circle. Doing his best Alexander Ovechkin impersonation, Morozov blasted it home from the dot to give Russia another lead at 15:44.

On the very next shift, the Finns, still reeling, coughed up the puck deep in their zone, and Dorofeyev showcased his mitts as he glided to the crease and deked Annunen to make it 4-2.

Suomi, though, made sure the Russians wouldn’t go into the dressing room bristling with confidence. Working on a power play late in the period, Ranta snuck out from behind the net to ram the puck through Miftakhov’s pads.

"They were resting yesterday", said Zhuravlyov. "They had more strength left, because we played a tough game against the Czechs yesterday. But it's OK, we'll get some rest now."

Indeed, it was the Finns who came charging out of the gate in the third, putting Russia on their heels and making them chase the puck in a way that few teams outside of Canada ever could. With the fans switching from the “RAAA-SEE-YAAA” mode into the “sweating bullets” mode, Suomi deked and weaved around the Russian defense, peppering Miftakhov with shots. At 7:20, one of them got through, a ridiculous backhand from a tough angle by Seppala. And, at 12:52, Finland finally got back out in front, after Nordgren’s shifty high deflection of a Mikko Kokkonen slap shot from the blue line.

"That was all just skill", said Nordgren after the game. "And it wasn't a high stick."

The game caromed to its conclusion at a frantic pace, with both teams not letting up for a second, yet the score wouldn't change until the final siren.

"They were faster and moved better", said Russia's head coach Alexander Zybin. "We got reckless and had unnecessary penalties. Maybe, it's something in the subconscious. We try to tell them to keep attacking in the third period, but they backtrack to their own net. The opponents see it and things get hotter in our zone."

Both teams will get a day of well-deserved rest, before returning to action on Tuesday in the last day of preliminary play. Russia will face off against Slovakia, and Finalnd will take on Czech Republic.

 

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