It’s time to make some new history. The Finns hammered Switzerland 6-1 in Friday’s second semi-final in Vancouver, setting up the first World Junior gold medal game ever between the U.S. and Finland.
The Finns scored four first-period goals to chase Swiss starter Luca Hollenstein from the net. Hollenstein was dazzling in the 2-0 quarter-final upset over Sweden with 41 saves, but he couldn’t stop Finland’s big guns, who staged their biggest offensive explosion of the 2019 World Juniors.
Finnish captain Aarne Talvitie scored twice, and Aleksi Heponiemi had a goal and three assists, while Rasmus Kupari chipped in a goal and two helpers. Jesse Ylönen and Henri Jokiharju added singles. Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had an easy night with 16 saves. It was a stellar two-way effort under coach Jussi Ahokas.
Like the U.S., Finland is seeking its fifth World Junior gold medal of all time. The Finns triumphed in 1987 and 1998, and are currently enjoying their best U20 decade ever with gold medals in 2014 and 2016. The Americans previously won gold in 2004, 2010, 2013, and 2017.
Saturday’s gold medal matchup is no surprise in terms of national talent pools. The U.S.-Finland rivalry has been building for years at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. The U.S. beat Finland for gold in the 2015 and 2017 finals, while Finland knocked off the Americans in the 2016 semi-final and 2018 gold medal game.
Losing to Finland was a tough way for Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend to celebrate his 42nd birthday, but his boys still have an historic opportunity to end a 21-year medal drought. At the 1998 World Juniors, the Swiss, coached by Bill Gilligan and backstopped by all-star goalie David Aebischer, beat the Czechs 4-3 in the bronze medal game. Sandro Rizzi got the game-deciding shootout goal. The closest the Swiss have come since then is fourth place (2002, 2010).
So there is a lot on the line in Saturday’s bronze medal game versus Russia.
The Finns attacked like a speed metal band performing a tribute to race car legend Mika Häkkinen. Santeri Virtanen circled behind the Swiss net and fed a short pass to Ylönen, who beat Hollenstein far side with a one-timer from the right faceoff dot at 0:40.
At 2:55, it was 2-0 as Talvitie, Finland’s scoring leader, stretched his point streak to six games. On the rush, he surprised the Swiss goalie with a high stick-side zinger through a crowd.
At 5:56, Hollenstein foiled Kupari cutting to the net, but Talvitie followed up on the rebound and put the puck in off the back bar. The play was video-reviewed for confirmation.
On Finland’s first power play, Jokiharju made it 4-0 at 7:43 with a screened centre point shot. Wohlwend mercifully replaced Hollenstein, whose superb statistics had taken a beating, with Akira Schmid.
The Swiss didn’t stop trying. Kurashev grabbed a loose puck in a net-front scramble and scored his tournament-leading sixth goal to spoil Luukkonen’s shutout bid at 16:40. “Let’s go, Switzerland!” resounded from the Rogers Arena stands, but while it was a nice thought, no comeback was brewing.
In the second period, Schmid stopped Eeli Tolvanen’s close-in attempt when he swooped in off right wing, but couldn’t prevent Heponiemi from converting the rebound at 7:56.
Subsequently, the Finns enjoyed an extended 5-on-3 power play. Swiss defenceman Gianluca Burger had just gotten out of the box to make it a 5-on-4 when Kaapo Kakko deftly backhanded the puck cross-crease for Kupari to round out the scoring at 6-1 at 14:57.
The third period simply delayed the inevitable Finnish victory, as the blue-and-white team focused on solid defence.
If you’re a Swiss fan who believes in omens, there are some positive signs heading into the bronze medal game. As in 1998, there’s a David Aebischer on the roster, although the defenceman is no relation to the former NHL goalie. The Swiss also defeated Sweden in the quarter-final and lost to Finland in the semi-final that year. So the Russians might want to watch out on Saturday.
Speaking of Finland’s gold-medal history again, Rasmus Ristolainen got the dramatic OT winner against host Sweden in Malmö in 2014, and Kasperi Kapanen earned immortality with his sudden-death wraparound goal versus Russia in Helsinki in 2016. Will someone new step up as Finland’s hero in the 2019 final? Stay tuned.
00:40 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Ylönen (Virtanen)
02:55 – 🇫🇮 EA GOAL – Talvitie (Kupari)
05:53 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Talvitie (Kupari)
06:25 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Verboon, cross checking
07:43 – 🇫🇮 PP GOAL – Jokiharju (Heponiemi)
16:32 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Virtanen, holding
16:40 – 🇨🇭 PP GOAL – Kurashev (Leuenberger)
27:56 – 🇫🇮 EA GOAL – Heponiemi (Tolvanen, Lundell)
29:24 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Gross, slashing
32:50 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Burger, tripping
33:06 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Gross, slashing
34:57 – 🇫🇮 PP GOAL – Kupari (Kakko, Heponiemi)
41:46 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Barandun, kneeing
41:46 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Puustinen, cross checking
43:08 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Vainionpää, tripping
50:39 – 🇨🇭 PEN – Brüschweiler, slashing
W: 🇫🇮 Luukkonen (16-17)
L: 🇨🇭 Hollenstein (4-8), Schmid (23-25)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇫🇮 16+13+4 = 33
🇨🇭 4+8+5 = 17
🇫🇮 Goaltenders: Filip Lindberg, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Defence: Anttoni Honka, Henri Jokiharju (A), Oskari Laaksonen, Otto Latvala, Toni Utunen, Urho Vaakanainen (A). Forwards: Teemu Engberg, Aleksi Heponiemi, Kaapo Kakko, Rasmus Kupari, Anton Lundell, Sami Moilanen, Linus Nyman, Valtteri Puustinen, Aarne Talvitie (C), Eeli Tolvanen, Samuli Vainionpää, Santeri Virtanen, Jesse Ylönen.
🇨🇭 Goaltenders: Luca Hollenstein, Akira Schmid. Defence: David Aebischer, Davyd Baradun, Tim Berni, Gianluca Burger, Nico Gross (A), Simon Le Coultre, Janis Moser. Forwards: Yannick Brüschweiler, Nando Eggenberger (C), Jeremi Gerber, Philipp Kurashev (A), Marco Lehmann, Sven Leuenberger, Nicolas Müller, Valentin Nussbaumer, Sandro Schmid, Justin Sigrist, Ramon Tanner, Matthew Verboon, Luca Wyss.
|🇫🇮 FINLAND||vs.||SWITZERLAND (C) 🇨🇭|
(previous 26 Dec 2018)
|Last Title||reign ends
(since 02 Jan 2019)
|First IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. SUI)
🇫🇮 FIN 7-1 SUI 🇨🇭 – 28 Dec 1990 – WJC – Moose Jaw 🇨🇦
|Previous IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. SUI)
🇨🇭 SUI 4-3 FIN 🇫🇮 – 21 Dec 2015 – EX – Hämeenlinna 🇫🇮
|Last IHLC Game
🇨🇭 SUI 2-0 SWE 🇸🇪 – 02 Jan 2019 – WJC – Victoria 🇨🇦
|Next IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 3-2 USA 🇺🇸 – 05 Jan 2019 – WJC – Vancouver 🇨🇦 🏅