On the strength of Sakari Manninen’s first-period winner, Finland advanced to its second Olympic Gold medal game in history with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Slovakia on Friday.
“Going to the Olympic final is like a dream,” said Manninen, one of 17 KHLers on the seasoned Finnish roster.
“If you want to win these types of games, you have to defend and I think we did that extremely well,” Jalonen said. “There was not very much room for the Slovak forwards. It’s one of our strengths, but we would have liked to play a little better offensively.”
Shots favoured Slovakia 28-27 in the first semi-final. Both goalies were strong, but Slovakia’s Patrik Rybár just made one more mistake than his Finnish counterpart Harri Säteri, who got his first Olympic shutout.
Harri Pesonen sealed the deal with an empty-netter with 39 seconds remaining.
The Finns, who won the 2019 Worlds and earned Silver at the 2021 Worlds, own two Olympic Silver medals (1988, 2006) and four Bronze medals (1994, 1998, 2010, 2014). They’re aiming for a happier result on Sunday than their 3-2 final loss to Sweden in 2006 on Nicklas Lidström’s famous early third-period goal. (In 1988 in Calgary, the Olympic tournament featured a round-robin format.)
“It’s a pretty special day,” said Pesonen. “I knew coming into the Olympics that we’d have a good, solid team, a veteran team with a lot of experienced guys, but every tournament is a mystery (in terms of) how it goes and how it ends.”
Despite the loss, the underdog Slovaks can be incredibly proud. Nobody foresaw the ninth-ranked team in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking cracking the final four in 2022. And coach Craig Ramsay’s team still has a shot at Slovakia’s first Olympic medal ever on Saturday.
“I am so sad right now, but we have to forget about this because we have our next game tomorrow and we have to take the (Bronze) medal,” said Rybár.
This was a grinding, defensive duel, which suited Finland well. However, the Slovaks battled hard until the bitter end. They showed the doubters that they weren’t emotionally drained at this point in their Cinderella run. Slovakia was miles better than in its opening 6-2 loss to these same Finns.
Juraj Slafkovský, the 17-year-old Slovak phenom who plays for TPS Turku in Finland, entered this semi-final with five goals, tied for the Olympic lead with Sweden’s Lucas Wallmark. Ramsay elevated Slafkovský to the top line with captain Marek Hrivík and Peter Cehlárik, who scored the late equalizer and the shootout winner respectively in the 3-2 quarter-final win over the Americans.
“I think we had some offensive chances when we held the puck in their end,” Slafkovský said. “But you know, when luck isn’t on your side, like it was the last game, then it’s tough. Tomorrow, I hope we’ll have luck on our side.”
The only pre-2022 Olympic game between these two nations with populations of approximately 5.5 million was Finland’s 5-3 victory in the 2010 Bronze medal game. In Vancouver, Finland rallied from a 3-1 third-period deficit as Olli Jokinen scored the equalizer and the go-ahead goal and Valtteri Filppula – Finland’s Beijing captain – added an empty-netter. Slovakia’s fourth-place finish marked its Olympic peak.
Here, the gritty, veteran Finns bided their time, awaiting a Slovak error. Even though Slovakia generated some good pressure, Manninen found a chink in their armour at 15:58. With traffic in front, the diminutive, crafty centre tipped Petteri Lindbohm’s long shot and tucked the rebound underneath Rybár’s right pad for a 1-0 lead.
“We got a shot from the blueline, traffic in front of the net, a little tip and then there was a rebound, and that’s always a dangerous chance to score,” Manninen said.
It was Manninen’s fourth goal of these Games. He’s tied with linemate and Salavat Yulayev Ufa linemate Teemu Hartikainen for the team lead with seven points, and both are in contention for the tournament scoring title. Manninen also had a hat trick against Slovakia in the opener. At the 2019 Worlds, Manninen led the golden Finns in Bratislava with 11 points.
Early in the second period, Hrivík swooped in and had Säteri beaten when he went to the forehand, but put the puck off the side of the net. Slovakia fired shots at Säteri from all angles, but couldn’t faze him.
“It was a tough battle but we did a great job as a team defending in the middle,” said the Finnish goalie. “We kept them outside, so the guys helped me a lot today.”
Careless, back-to-back tripping penalties by Peter Čerešňák and Pavol Regenda gave Finland a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:13. But despite good Finnish offensive-zone possession, the Slovaks succeeded in killing it off. Rybár denied Manninen from the slot on Suomi’s best chance.
At one point, a scrum along the boards behind the Slovak net wore for on for more than 30 seconds. Neither team was doing this the easy way.
Ramsay gave the Finns their due: “They clogged up the neutral zone and, more important, I think, was the play in their own end. We just had real trouble with them because they were so strong and so quick.”
The third period started off with another ineffective Finnish power play, and Slafkovský and Michal Krištof generated a 2-on-1 rush just before it expired, but couldn’t cash in. Mid-period, a strong backcheck by 19-year-old Slovak defender Samuel Kňažko (the World Junior captain in 2021 and 2022) disrupted Finnish veteran Leo Komarov’s promising drive to the net.
The Finns withstood Slovakia’s late push with veteran professionalism after Rybár was pulled with 1:38 left. Pesonen took no chances on his empty-net goal, steering the puck in from point-blank range.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game today but we won it,” said Finnish assistant captain Marko Anttila, who became a folk hero with his huge playoff goals in the 2019 Gold medal run.
“It is a tough pill to swallow,” Hrivík said. “We had them under a lot of pressure but could not score.”
After masterminding two IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Gold medals (2011, 2019) and a home-ice World Junior title (2016), Jalonen’s stature as the greatest Finnish coach ever is already sealed. If his squad triumphs in Beijing, this Finnish Hockey Hall of Famer indubitably belongs in the conversation with Canada’s Mike Babcock and the Soviet Union’s Viktor Tikhonov.
“It’s huge for everybody individually, as a team, and as a hockey country,” Säteri said. “It is a big thing.”
Slovakia owns four IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medals all-time, including Gold (2002), Silver (2000, 2012) and Bronze (2003). Winning any Olympic medal would send their fans into fits of joy in Bratislava and beyond. And that should give Ramsay’s men motivation aplenty in the Bronze game.
“It is a chance to showcase how Slovak hockey has moved forward,” said Ramsay. “This is an opportunity to show the world who we are.”
15:58 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Manninen (Lindbohm, Vatanen)
28:35 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Čerešňák, tripping
29:22 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Regenda, tripping
41:21 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Pospíšil, tripping
59:21 – 🇫🇮 EN GOAL – Pesonen (Hartikainen, Pokka)
W: 🇫🇮 Säteri (28-28)
L: 🇸🇰 Rybár (25-26)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇫🇮 9+12+6 = 27
🇸🇰 8+13+7 = 28
🇫🇮 Goaltenders: Jussi Olkinuora, Harri Säteri. Defence: Niklas Friman, Juuso Hietanen, Valtteri Kemiläinen, Mikko Lehtonen, Petteri Lindbohm, Atte Ohtamaa (A), Ville Pokka, Sami Vatanen. Forwards: Miro Aaltonen, Marko Anttila (A), Hannes Björninen, Valtteri Filppula (C), Markus Granlund, Teemu Hartikainen, Leo Komarov, Sakari Manninen, Saku Mäenalanen, Joonas Nättinen, Iiro Pakarinen, Harri Pesonen.
🇸🇰 Goaltenders: Branislav Konrád, Patrik Rybár. Defence: Michal Čajkovský, Peter Čerešňák (A), Martin Gernát, Samuel Kňažko, Martin Marinčin, Šimon Nemec, Mislav Rosandić. Forwards: Peter Cehlárik (A), Marko Daňo, Marek Hrivík (C), Libor Hudáček, Tomáš Jurčo, Miloš Kelemen, Michal Krištof, Kristián Pospíšil, Pavol Regenda, Miloš Roman, Juraj Slafkovský, Samuel Takáč, Peter Zuzin.
|🇫🇮 FINLAND (C)
(since 19 Dec 2021)
|Last Title||28 Apr 2018|
(+ 1 tie)
|First IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. SVK)
🇸🇰 SVK 2-2 FIN 🇫🇮 – 04 May 2000 – WC – Saint Petersburg 🇷🇺
|Previous IHLC Meeting (FIN vs. SVK)
🇫🇮 FIN 6-2 SVK 🇸🇰 – 10 Feb 2022 – OG – Beijing 🇨🇳
|Last IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 5-1 SUI 🇨🇭 – 16 Feb 2022 – OG – Beijing 🇨🇳
|Next IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 2-1 ROC 🇷🇺 – 20 Feb 2022 – OG – Beijing 🇨🇳 🏅