International Ice Hockey Federation

Finns finish off Sweden

Finns finish off Sweden

Annunen's shutout lifts Finland into final

Published 28.04.2018 19:19 GMT+5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Finns finish off Sweden
MAGNITOGORSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Finland's Konsta Hirvonen #13 celebrates with his teammates Jesse Moilanen #21 and Ville Petman #23 after scoring on team Sweden during semifinal round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Finland is bound for its fourth straight U18 World Championship gold medal game after beating archrival Sweden 2-0 in Saturday’s first semi-final.

The Finns remain the only team to win all their games in regulation so far. On Sunday, they will face the winner of the U.S.-Czech Republic semi-final.

"We have a great chance of winning the gold medal because the tournament is going so great for us," said Finnish goalie Justus Annunen. "We are playing together and, most importantly, we are enjoying to be together."

Konsta Hirvonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored for Finland, which entered this game tied with the U.S. for the most goals (26).

Powered by the brilliance of late addition Jesse Puljujarvi, the Finns pounded Sweden 6-1 for gold at the 2016 U18 Worlds in North Dakota. They lost to the Americans in the 2015 and 2017 finals. Now they've guaranteed themselves another medal.

This was arguably Finland's most complete game of these U18 Worlds. They outskated and outhustled the Swedes from start to finish.

"The change in our mentality is that these guys haven't seen Finland lose to Sweden as much as my generation did," said Finnish coach Tommi Niemela. "We saw Mats Sundin score twice in 1991. We always tended to lose to them in the last minute, but these guys, they have only seen Finland win. So, why not win again? No reason why not!"

Swedish starting goalie Olof Lindbom, who came into this match with the tournament's top save percentage (95.2), couldn't be blamed for the defeat. Annunen got his first shutout as his team outshot Sweden 31-29.

Sweden’s U18 gold medal drought continues. The Smakronorna have never won this tournament. It’s similar to the situation at the World Juniors, which Sweden has only won twice (1981, 2013) despite its great talent. Their last medal was silver (2016) under coach Torgny Bendelin. All they can hope for now is bronze.

"I think the first period killed us a little bit," said Bendelin. We tried to do everything to be ready, but when I look how the Finns came out in the first period...we had a five-hour bus ride yesterday. I don’t know if that killed us. We weren’t really there the way the way we should." 

Looking aggressive and hungry, the Finns dominated possession in the first period and outshot Sweden 13-4. Lindbom looked sharp in the early going, flashing the glove to deny Niklas Nordgren, Finland’s leading scorer, on the rush. But the Swedish goalie couldn’t foil Hirvonen when he rushed into the slot and squeezed his shot through at 7:46.

"They came on a 3-on-2 and got a puck in the middle," said Lindbom. "He shot through a screen and it beat me low to the glove."

Top-scoring Swedish blueliner Adam Boqvist took the game’s first penalty for tripping just two minutes later. The Finns couldn’t convert. But on their second man advantage, they went up 2-0 with an absolute howitzer of a one-timer by Kotkaniemi at 17:19, right under the crossbar from the right faceoff circle for his third goal of the tournament.

"This was a lifetime shot," said Kotkaniemi. "I think, it was the most powerful goal I've ever scored."

"We were unlucky in that Boqvist had to leave the game with about five minutes left in the first period," added Bendelin. "Of course we missed him too on the power play. He is a key player for us."

Sweden’s tempo improved in the second period, but they still couldn’t find the range. With under seven minutes Annunen came up huge on a Swedish odd-man rush. Jonatan Berggren fed it over to Nikola Pasic, and Annunen made the blocker arm save.

"I had a good feeling from the start, and I felt good making that save," said Annunen. "The team gets a lot of energy from those saves."

The third period saw Finland settling down into a defensive groove, taking away the neutral zone and running down the clock, as their big brothers on the senior national team are wont to do."

"In the third, the coach told us to be more careful in our zone," said Kotkaniemi.

"Why should we be afraid of protecting a two-goal lead?" said Niemela. "When you are just focusing on being energetic on the ice, on staying fresh, you don't need to be afraid."

Top Finnish prospect Rasmus Kupari missed on a breakaway with under five minutes left, but drew a slashing penalty, with Nils Lundkvist going to the box. Annunen foiled Jacob Olofsson on a great chance with just over a minute left.

The Swedes pulled Lindbom for the extra attacker, but never came close to breaking Annunen's goose egg. At the final horn, the Finnish goalie skated out of his net, slapping his stick on the ice in exultation.

"Obviously we came for the gold, but we’ve got to regroup," said Sweden's Lindbom. "It’s a medal on the line tomorrow, and it’s really important for us. We will give it our best."

The Finns also won U18 gold in the first two years of this tournament (1999, 2000).

 

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