Finnish cult hero Marko Anttila produced another big display in World Championship knock-out play, leading the host nation’s fightback to beat Slovakia 4-2.
Anttila earned legendary status in 2019 when his scoring explosion in the knock-out stages led Finland to Gold in Bratislava. Since then, he’s added Olympic Gold in Beijing and World Championship Silver in Rīga.
Now the right winger is on the medal trail once more, producing the goals that got the Finns out of a deep hole against the new kids on Slovakia’s block.
Niklas Friman, whose assist set up Anttila’s first of the game, paid tribute to his team-mate. “Marko’s a great player and a great person in the locker room,” he said. “Somehow he is very good in these important games. The amount of energy he gives the defence is great and we’re all very proud of him.”
And forward Mikael Granlund added: “It’s unbelievable how he shows up in these big games. It’s great to see and you can obviously see how the crowd loves him. He was such a big part of getting the game tied.”
First-period goals from Adam Sýkora and Pavol Regenda gave the Slovaks a 2-0 advantage before Anttila tied it up with markers either side of the first intermission. Slovakia faced ever more intense Finnish pressure before Sakari Manninen put the host nation ahead for the first time on 44:01. Saku Mäenalanen wrapped up it with an empty net effort in the final second.
That was enough to keep the dream of a Golden Olympic and World Championship double alive in Tampere.
For Slovakia’s Michal Krištof it was a case of what might have been. “The first period today we were much better than them but they showed their quality and experience and they won the game,” he said. “They showed their experience in the third period and we got maybe two or three shots. We couldn’t even get the position at the end.”
Slovakia had seen how Finland could stifle opposing offences – in its last three group games, the Leijonat allowed not a single goal – and Craig Ramsay’s fresh-faced roster went out to force the pace from the opening face-off. The tactic worked: by the first power break on 7:29, the Finns had yet to register a shot on target while Slovakia had already tested Jussi Olkinuora more than once.
The opening goal soon followed. A break down the right-hand channel saw Mário Lunter fire in a shot. It took a deflection off Mikael Granlund and flew to Sýkora, who redirected the puck in mid-air to steer it past Olkinuora. That was the second goal of the tournament for Slovakia’s youngest player, who does not celebrate his 18th birthday until September.
“I scored in a quarter-final against Finland and that’s big for me,” the teenager said. “But I feel bad because we could have won the game and we didn’t.”
And there was more to come. A Finnish turnover in centre ice was punished when Regenda squeezed home the rebound from a Samuel Takáč shot to double the Slovak lead.
Suddenly, there was an awkward hush in an arena that was bursting with confidence ahead of this game. In eight previous tournaments as host nation, Finland has yet to win a medal. Many were starting to fear that the home ice curse was resurfacing.
Then came Anttila. We’ve all seen the Ilves Tampere forward come to life at this stage of a World Championship, and he could hardly have picked a better time to grab his first goal of this year’s competition. Niklas Friman fired in the shot and Anttila’s redirect took the puck away from Adam Húska. Reducing the deficit before the first intermission transformed the atmosphere in the building. In an instant, Finnish faith was restored – even if Slovakia still had the lead.
“Of course that was a big goal for us,” said forward Hannes Björninen. “I think we just got better and better all the time. We trusted each other and played with each other.”
Early in the second period, belief began to harden into certainty. A misplaced attempted clearance went straight to Anttila, who needed no second invitation to gather the puck and fire past Húska. It was a big blow for young defender Šimon Nemec, so impressive for Slovakia up to now in this tournament; his error received the maximum punishment.
Now the home crowd was right behind its heroes and Slovakia had to absorb some pressure. Teemu Hartikainen twice went close, steering a Mikael Granlund feed narrowly wide on the power play before firing a shot that Húska held.
Even when short-handed, Finland posed a threat. Hannes Björninen chased Martin Fehérváry behind the net, hassling the defenceman into a loose clearance that Anttila – who else? – almost poked into the net.
“Everybody knew after that first period we could still play a little bit better,” said captain Valtteri Filppula. “I think in the second we showed up, we played a lot better and tied the game.
“Then, as of late, we’ve had a lot of good third periods so we knew that we just have to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing so far and it will work out. Today everything did, so we have to be happy with that.”
Early in another good third period, the Finns grabbed the lead. Mikko Lehtonen, so effective on the blue line in this tournament, went on one of his probing surges with the puck, picking out Jere Sallinen on the slot. Sallinen’s back hand effort was saved, but Manninen roofed the rebound to send the bulk of the 11,341 crowd into raptures.
Manninen was pretty excited about it, too, while still finding time to pay tribute to Anttila and his line-mates. “It was amazing,” he said. “It was a good feeling to score a goal and I appreciate our fourth line. It’s unbelievable, the big two goals they made and the fourth one into the empty net.”
For a time, Slovakia seemed spent. However, the closing stages saw the Olympic Bronze medallist rediscover some of the play with which it started this game. Suddenly, Olkinuora was the busier of the two goalies, yet the strength of the Finnish D limited the number of dangerous shots he had to face. With every wave of Slovak offence that was repelled, the crowd grew louder, and Olkinuora’s stop to deny a marauding move from Juraj Slafkovský, Slovakia’s man of the moment, was a highlight as Finland closed the door to protect its lead and advance to the semi-finals.
There was still time for one last word. In the final seconds the Finns seized possession and bore down on the empty net. Anttila had a chance for a hat-trick but unselfishly opted to pass for Mäenalanen to wrap up a 4-2 verdict and set up a semi-final clash with Team USA.
Defeated but not downhearted, Slovakia spoke of pride after the game. “This was an incredible tournament,” said Sýkora. “It was the biggest moment of my career so far, so I tried to enjoy every shift. And I’m proud of my teammates. We played well this tournament.”
Finland, meanwhile, is out to bury that home-ice jinx – and Friman is relishing the challenge. “The crowd here has been amazing through the whole tournament,” he said. “It’s so nice to see the joy in people’s faces. Of course it’s pressure, but this is top-level sport.”
05:27 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Granlund, boarding
08:17 – 🇸🇰 GOAL – Sýkora (Lunter)
15:16 – 🇸🇰 GOAL – Regenda (Takáč, Ivan)
18:27 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Anttila (Friman, Pokka)
23:44 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Anttila
33:08 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Fehérváry, holding
35:41 – 🇫🇮 PEN – Heiskanen, tripping
44:01 – 🇫🇮 GOAL – Manninen (Sallinen, Lehtonen)
59:59 – 🇫🇮 EN GOAL – Mäenalanen (Anttila, Björninen)
W: 🇫🇮 Olkinuora (19-21)
L: 🇸🇰 Húska (21-24)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇫🇮 7+12+6 = 25
🇸🇰 12+7+2 = 21
🇫🇮 Goaltenders: Jussi Olkinuora, Harri Säteri. Defence: Niklas Friman, Miro Heiskanen, Juuso Hietanen, Mikko Lehtonen, Esa Lindell, Atte Ohtamaa, Ville Pokka, Mikael Seppälä. Forwards: Marko Anttila (A), Joel Armia, Hannes Björninen, Valtteri Filppula (C), Mikael Granlund (A), Teemu Hartikainen, Juho Lammikko, Sakari Manninen, Saku Mäenalanen, Harri Pesonen, Toni Rajala, Jere Sallinen.
🇸🇰 Goaltenders: Adam Húska, Matej Tomek. Defence: Peter Čerešňák (A), Martin Fehérváry, Daniel Gachulinec, Mário Grman, Michal Ivan, Adam Jánošík, Šimon Nemec, Mislav Rosandić. Forwards: Andrej Kollár, Michal Krištof (A), Róbert Lantoši, Adam Liška, Mário Lunter, Pavol Regenda, Miloš Roman, Juraj Slafkovský, Adam Sýkora, Samuel Takáč, Alex Tamáši, Tomáš Tatar (C).
|🇫🇮 FINLAND (C)||vs.||SLOVAKIA 🇸🇰
(since 24 May 2022)
|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 2-0 SVK 🇸🇰 – 18 Feb 2022 – OG – Beijing 🇨🇳
|Last IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 3-0 CZE 🇨🇿 – 24 May 2022 – WC – Tampere 🇫🇮
|Next IHLC Game
🇫🇮 FIN 4-3 USA 🇺🇸 – 28 May 2022 – WC – Tampere 🇫🇮