International Ice Hockey Federation

Suomi to the Semis

Suomi to the Semis

Five different Finns score in win over Belarus

Published 15.08.2018 10:50 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Suomi to the Semis
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 26: Finland's Leevi Aaltonen #12 celebrates after scoring a first period goal aganst Nikita Tolopilo #25 of Belarus during quarterfinal round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Finland capitalized on Belarus' penalties and handily dispatched the plucky underdogs, 5-2. The Finns continue their quest for a fourth straight U18 medal.

A workday and chilly conditions didn’t prevent Chelyabinsk hockey fans from showing up to watch the first of Thursday’s two quarterfinal matchups in great numbers. Namely, 4,879 people strong. Those included dozens of children from a local school, out on what must be described as the best field trip ever.

"We played well with the puck", said Finland's leading scorer Niklas Nordgren (7 goals, 2 assists so far in the tournament). "One thing we will need to do better against Sweden is play defense."

Finland spread its scoring around the roster, with Leevi Aaltonen, Kaapo Kakko, Jesse Moilanen, Kim Nouisiainen and Nordgren all picking up a goal. Ville Petman had two assists.

Vladimir Alistrov and Ilya Usov scored for Belarus, who were badly outshot, 39-18, in the game as Nikita Tolopilo came up with 34 saves. His counterpart Justus Annunen, though shaky at times, got his fourth win in as many starts.

Belarus was hampered by its seven minor penalties, leading to two Finnish goals. Finland was penalized only once. 

The Finns’ goal song has lyrics that are picture-perfect for the playoffs, something to the effect of “if I lose, I am out of a job, if I win, I’ll go out tonight.” This mantra was repeated enough through the Traktor Ice Arena loudspeakers Thursday afternoon to convince everyone that the Finns’ intentions for Thursday evening did not include packing their bags.

"Our most important game until now was against Russia", said Petman. "Once we won it, we knew we had earned the right to play either Switzerland or Belarus. We did what we had to win this game."

From the opening faceoff, Belarus was determined to show it was willing to do anything, anything to stop the heavily favored Finns. To that end, they took a penalty only 17 seconds in. Of course, the obvious drawback of this approach is the whole “having only four Belarusians trying to stop the heavily favored Finns” part.

Suomi wasted little time demonstrating the opponents the consequences, as Nordgren waltzed into the zone, slipping a pass to Anton Lundell who deftly put Tolopilo down but managed to find the goalpost. Kristian Tanus and Aaltonen were first to the rebound and, eventually, the latter tapped it in at 1:39.

Not to be discouraged, Belarus got another penalty just a little over a minute later, but this time Tolopilo managed to shut the door on the Finns. Still, by far the majority of the time left in the first period was spent in the Belarusian zone, as the underdogs found it much harder to skate with the likes of Rasmus Kupari than they did against Switzerland in their sensational Group A win.

Finland increased its lead at 9:33, after Tolopilo allowed a big rebound on Mikko Kokkonen’s shot. The puck flew out towards the right dot, and Kakko gathered it up and calmly put it into the gaping net. 

At 14:39, the third goal was scored after a tremendous individual effort by Ville Petman. The fourth-line center weaved his way through the Belarusian defense, only to be stopped by Tolopilo’s outstretched pad. Moilanen, though, was right there to pick up the trash in the crease.

To Belarus’ credit, they didn’t let the disastrous first period intimidate them into going gently into that cold Chelyabinsk night. The second period was, if anything, an even affair, at least for the first eight minutes or so, before the Belarusians reverted to their hook-and-trip tactics.

Belarus got on the scoreboard 1:53 into the second period, when Annunen simply whiffed on Alistrov’s medium-strength shot with his glove. This, at least, let the Traktor Ice Arena fans know what they had already suspected: that Belarus’ goal song is the iconic “Kasyl Yas’ Kanyushynu”, which loosely translates as “Johnny was mowing the grass.” Make what you will of that. 

It could’ve gotten really interesting really fast, but Annunen recovered just in time to stymie Pavel Azhgirei on the doorstep only a few seconds later.

The game did get much more balanced, however, and stayed that way until, at the 7:39 mark of the period, Finland scored one of the strangest goals of the tournament. Nuosianen was simply trying to send the puck deep from the blue line, but it hit a Belarusian player’s stick and went high into the air, where Tolopilo completely lost it in the lights. The parabola of the puck’s trajectory terminated perfectly behind the goalie’s back and right in the net.

"He is very lucky", said Nordgren of his teammate. "But I promise you that he has some skil, too."

The Belarusians reacted to the restoration of the three-goal deficit by doubling down on unlawful behavior. Nikita Pyshkailo and Kirill Levshunov teamed up to take not one, but two hooking penalties in the 15th minute, giving Suomi two full minutes of five-on-three. They didn’t need all of it. At 15:32, Nordgren sniped the puck into the upper corner over Tolopilo’s blocker to make it 5-1.

"I could see that the goalie could see nothing, so I just decided to shoot, and it's good that I was able to put the puck there", said Nordgren.

Early in the third period, Finland got a bit of a scare after their offensive star Jesperi Kotkaniemi got the worst of a collision with Alexander Shkrabov and had to be helped off the ice. Belarus, though, came out energized in the next shift and cut the Finns’ lead down to three at the 1:59 mark. Levchunov took the puck behind the net to separate from a pursuer and sent a pass across the crease to Usov, who one-timed it over Annunen’s glove.

The suspense, though, didn't materialize, as Belarus simply wasn't able to match the Finnish speed and skill. If anything, the score could have gotten much worse, but the combined forces of Tolopilo and the goalpost kept the margin at three goal.

Finland is headed to the semifinal date with arch-rival Sweden on Saturday. Belarus, on the other hand, is headed to Sweden, in 2019, for its third straight IIHF U18 World Championship appearance, the first time it has had a streak like this since 2002 to 2004.

"We are obviously doing something right with hockey in Finland to have advanced to the semifinals four years in a row", said Petman. "We want to win the world championship."

"Playing Sweden will be amazing", added Petman. "We will enjoy that!"


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