International Ice Hockey Federation

Suomi power through Slovaks

Suomi power through Slovaks

Lundell's monster debut ensures Finns' win

Published 19.04.2018 18:44 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Suomi power through Slovaks
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 19: Finland's Anton Lundell #22 celebrates with Leevi Aaltonen #12 and Niklas Nordgren #15 after scoring a second period goal against Slovakia during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Last year’s silver-medalists overcame opening-game jitters and a determined effort by Slovakia, 5-2, thanks to three goals with a man advantage.

Four points by the 17-year-old Anton Lundell in his first-ever U18 game and a stellar power play ensured Finland's victory, though the unherladed Slovakia surely didn't make it easy on the Suomi.

Considering the afternoon start on a workday in a notoriously hard-working city, and the fact that there was no Russian team in action yet, the turnout for the opening game of the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship was quite decent. Youth in particular was well represented, quite appropriately for this particular tournament.

Finland, the finalist of the last three U18 Words, has skated into Chelyabinsk in a vaunted status of a favorite, whether they wanted this or not, what with all the added pressure and responsibility this position demands. Slovakia, on the other hand, having not advanced past the quarterfinals since 2003, when team GM Miroslav Satan was still a relatively fresh-faced Buffalo Sabres star, was free to labor under no such notions of grandeur. Which, in and of itself, can serve a team very well if its game plan is to play solid defense, look for opportunities to counterattack and try to capitalize on the opponents’ error.

Still, it was Finland, which took control early, spending the entirety of the first two shifts in the offensive zone, which quickly paid off for them as Arttu Nevasaari sent the puck down low, and Leevi Aaltonen was the most assertive man in the crease, beating Samuel Hlavaj on the second try.

The goal did seem to calm the Slovaks’ nerves a bit, and the game proceeded according to the logical scenario: the Suomi boys had the lion’s share of possession and huge advantage in shots, while the Slovaks played smart positional defense, jealously guarding the low slot and letting Hlavaj competently handle middle- and long-distance shots. This effectively allowed Slovakia to keep the game close, Finnish positional advantage, vaunted status and all.

Under such circumstances, it fell onto special teams to provide the decisive margin, which is exactly what happened in the second period, when Finns used the man advantage to cancel out a couple of their defensive errors. Another second-chance effort in the crease, as Niklas Nordgren calmly flipped the puck under the crossbar, made it 2-0, and towards the end of the period, Lundell, who helped to set up the first two goals, gave Suomi a 3-2 lead, also from down low. The fourth goal, which effectively decided the game, a slap shot from left circle by captain Toni Utunen, also came with a man up. Once again, Lundell was there for the assist, his third of the game.

There were plenty of flashes from Slovakia as well, especially from the dynamic forward Oliver Okuliar and a top-rated prospect Maxim Cajkovic, in addition to Hlavaj who ended up with 32 saves. Okuliar, who missed a couple of huge chances in the first, capitalized on a long pass from Cajkovic in the second, and Cajkovic himself gave Solvakia their own power-play goal in a goal-mouth scramble.

"It wasn't really unexpected", said Lundell of his amazing debut. "I didn't expect anyting, I just wanted to see how it goes. Our power play was really good today. I hope, it will be good tomorrow, too."

 

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