At long last, the excitement of the IIHF World Junior Championship is back. Finland kicked off the 2022 tournament in Edmonton with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Germany on Sunday.
Samuel Helenius stepped up with two goals for Finland, and Joel Määttä added a single. Brad Lambert shone with a pair of assists.
Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen praised Lambert afterwards: “He has good confidence at the moment and he is kind of fearless, especially with the puck. We all know that he is gifted and talented and today he was so good. It was nice to watch.”
The Finns, who earned the 2021 Bronze medal with a 4-1 victory over Russia, are looking to top the podium for the first time since 2019. Their other four World Junior gold medals came in 1987, 1998, 2014 and 2016.
Leevi Meriläinen, the 19-year-old starting goalie of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, made a winning IIHF debut with 23 saves. Germany’s Nikita Quapp, who plays for the DEL’s Krefeld Pinguine at age 18 and appeared in two U18 Worlds games in Texas in April, had 19 stops.
Of Meriläinen, Pennanen said: “He was pretty calm. I think he can improve his game a lot during the tournament. He was so good today and made a couple of great saves.”
Luca Münzenberger replied for Germany.
“It was a good game,” said Quapp. “We were much better than in the exhibition games, had great breakouts, and didn’t have problems getting out of the zone.”
The Germans put forth a diligent effort early on to keep it tight. However, the Finns, despite failing to capitalize with their first power play, drew first blood at 12:52. Lambert pivoted at the left point and flung a shot on goal that Helenius deflected past Quapp.
This game was a positive step forward for Lambert, who totalled one goal and three assists in his 2021 World Junior debut. The 18-year-old Lahti-born forward is pegged to go in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, even though he has struggled with two goals and four assists for JYP in 24 Liiga games this year.
“It’s my draft year, but I just try to take it day by day and get as much better as I can, improve as a player and a person,” Lambert said.
In the second period, the Germans continued to make things tough on their blue-and-white foes. Finnish defender Aleksi Heimosalmi had to rush back and cut off Danjo Leonhardt on a dangerous-looking solo break.
With Finland’s Kasper Simontaival in the penalty box for hooking, Münzenberger jumped in down the middle to beat Meriläinen with a low glove-side wrister at 3:27. The tall University of Vermont rearguard had just come out of the penalty box himself. It was Münzenberger’s first World Junior goal. He went pointless in five games last year.
“Our forward Alexander Blank had the puck and tried to skate through three guys, kind of lost the puck,” Münzenberger said. “It came back to me and I just fired the puck.”
Finland struck back at 7:38 for a 2-1 lead. Määttä, who plays with Münzenberger in Vermont, converted the rebound from Heimosalmi’s centre point blast and celebrated his first career World Junior goal.
“We know each other from Vermont and knew that we would play each other in the first game,” Münzenberger said. “So it was a big event for (the team) also in Vermont and they watched the game together. I haven’t checked my phone, but there will be messages for sure. It was nice to score the tying goal, but then he scored as well, so it didn’t help us that much!”
Late in the middle frame, Quapp battled hard to keep Germany’s hopes alive. He made a fine glove stop on Oliver Kapanen on a Finnish odd-man rush and stoned Helenius from the slot after Ville Koivunen centred the puck from behind the net.
At 7:53 of the third period, Helenius gave Finland some breathing room at 3-1, busting to the net on the rush to finish off a sweet cross-ice pass from Lambert. The Germans pulled Quapp late for the extra attacker, but couldn’t narrow the gap.
Lambert identified the strengths the Finns will need to rely on at these World Juniors: “How we stick together in the team. Obviously that can go a long way: battling as a team, playing defence as a team, and being a tight five-man unit. We also have a lot of good skaters, so our speed is good.”
Even though players are within a pandemic bubble again, like last year, fans were in the stands for this opening game at Rogers Place, subject to the province of Alberta’s 50 percent-capacity attendance. This was the first World Junior game with fans since 5 January 2020 in Ostrava, Czechia, where Canada defeated Russia 4-3 to win the gold medal with 8,963 on hand.
It was Germany’s 11th consecutive loss to Finland in IIHF World Junior Championship history. Including the West Germany era, the Germans have never beaten the Finns at this tournament, dating back to a 2-0 loss on New Year’s Day 1992 in Kaufbeuren.
Despite starting off with a defeat, Germany – like other nations – does not need to worry about being relegated at this tournament.
The IIHF Council decided earlier on Sunday that, as in 2021, the same 10 teams in the top division will return for the 2023 World Juniors in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia. It is “to safeguard the sportive integrity of the competition in the light of the extraordinary Covid-related circumstances.” Belarus, which earned promotion from Division IA earlier in December, will get to take part, bringing the total number of 2023 teams to 11.
Prior to Finland-Germany, a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Niclas Kaus. The junior player from Löwen Frankfurt passed away at the age of 18. After being hit in a DNL III game on 18 December, he collided with the boards and was taken to hospital, where he died four days later from head injuries.
04:57 – 🇩🇪 PEN – Szuber, interference
12:52 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Helenius (Lambert)
13:04 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Päivärinta, high sticking
15:37 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Ottavainen, delay of game
21:03 – 🇩🇪 PEN – Münzenberger, interference
22:03 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Simontaival, hooking
23:27 – 🇩🇪 PP GOAL – Münzenberger
27:38 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Määttä (Heimosalmi, Hirvonen)
33:42 – 🇩🇪 PEN – Schweiger, high sticking
43:57 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Määttä, tripping
47:53 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Helenius (Lambert, Koivunen)
51:23 – 🇩🇪 PEN – Glötzl, interference
W: 🇫🇮 Meriläinen (23-24)
L: 🇩🇪 Quapp (19-22)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇫🇮 9+8+5 = 22
🇩🇪 10+3+11 = 24
🇫🇮 Goaltenders: Juha Jatkola, Leevi Meriläinen. Defence: Aleksi Heimosalmi, Topi Niemelä (A), Petteri Nurmi, Ville Ottavainen, Kasper Puutio (A), Ruben Rafkin, Eemil Viro. Forwards: Samuel Helenius, Roni Hirvonen (C), Oliver Kapanen, Roni Karvinen, Joakim Kemell, Ville Koivunen, Brad Lambert, Juuso Mäenpää, Joel Määttä, Olli Nikupeteri, Sami Päivärinta, Kasper Simontaival, Kalle Väisänen.
🇩🇪 Goaltenders: Florian Bugl, Nikita Quapp. Defence: Justus Böttner, Arkadiusz Dziambor, Maximilian Glötzl (A), Adrian Klein, Luca Münzenberger, Fabrizio Pilu, Maksymilian Szuber (A). Forwards: Alexander Blank, Jakub Borzecki, Yannik Burghart, Noah Dunham, Josef Eham, Florian Elias (C), Danjo Leonhardt, Jussi Petersen, Bennet Rossmy, Maciej Rutkowski, Joshua Samanski, Markus Schweiger, Justin Volek.
|🇫🇮 FINLAND (C)||vs.||GERMANY 🇩🇪
(since 23 Dec 2021)
|First IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. GER)
🇫🇮 FIN 8-6 FRG 🇩🇪 – 28 Dec 1980 – WJC – Oberstdorf 🇩🇪
|Previous IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. GER)
🇫🇮 FIN 11-0 GER 🇩🇪 – 29 Dec 1992 – WJC – Hofors 🇸🇪
|Last IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 4-3 USA 🇺🇸 (OT) – 23 Dec 2021 – EX – Edmonton 🇨🇦
|Next IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 7-1 AUT 🇦🇹 – 27 Dec 2021 – WJC – Edmonton 🇨🇦