International Ice Hockey Federation

Finns fly, Germans sigh

Finns fly, Germans sigh

Suomi goes to QF, Germany to play relegation

Published 31.12.2014 23:14 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Finns fly, Germans sigh
MONTREAL, CANADA - DECEMBER 31: Team Finland celebrates after scoring their first goal of the game against Team Germany during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Finland advanced to a quarter-final clash with archrival Sweden by blanking Germany 2-0 in the last game on New Year’s Eve.

That quarter-final in Toronto will be a rematch of last year’s gold medal game, in which the Finns prevailed 3-2 on Rasmus Ristolainen’s overtime marker in Malmo.

The defending champions, who came fourth in Group A, had been winless through three games under head coach Hannu Jortikka, but turned their fortunes around at the right time.

Finland would love nothing better than to top its great Nordic foe once more – especially after Sweden has had an excellent tournament again. The Juniorkronorna are unbeaten so far, just as they were heading into the 2014 final. And naturally, the Swedes will be eager to dethrone the Finns and send them home empty-handed.

"Of course this was a good win," said Finnish captain Artturi Lehkonen. "But if we want to beat Sweden in the quarter-finals, we need to play the best game that we have played in this tournament. That’s for sure. We weren’t the best that we can be in today’s game. But still, I’m very happy that we won and don’t have to go to the relegation series."

Julius Honka and Mikko Rantanen scored for the Finns, who outshot Germany 38-24. Ville Husso got the start in goal over Juuse Saros, last year’s tournament all-star goalie. Husso, whose numbers have been superior to Saros’s so far, may have the inside track heading into the elimination games.

Germany, which has been outscored 17-2 in four straight regulation defeats in Montreal, will face Switzerland in a best-of-three relegation series in Toronto starting on Friday.

The Swiss should be favoured. Since rejoining the top division in 2010, the Swiss have finished in every spot between fourth and eighth. The Germans, meanwhile, finished ninth in both 2013 and 2014.

But this is one of Europe’s oldest hockey rivalries and the desperate Germans will summon up all their motivation and famous work ethic for the battle ahead.

"They’re a very good skating team," German captain Dominik Kahun said of the Swiss. "They skate very hard and they’re fast, and they have skill, like Kevin Fiala. We just have to skate hard and make it tough for their top players. We’ll see if we can make it."

With the German defence breaking down repeatedly against Finland, netminder Kevin Reich was thrown to the wolves from the get-go. If not for his efforts, the score would have been more lopsided in Finland’s favour.

The 19-year-old Green Bay Gamblers goalie stopped Jesse Puljujarvi on a early breakaway. He stretched out his right pad to foil Julius Vahatalo on a close-in attempt.

But Reich couldn’t stop Honka’s blast from the right point with traffic in front, which opened the scoring at 2:47.

"The first goal was really important to us," said Lehkonen. "Honka shot a great shot. That relaxed us a little bit."

Outshot 17-3 in the first period, the Germans didn’t put a puck on Husso until 15:41.

In the second period, Reich came through with a big glove save on a Finnish penalty shot at 5:06, as Mikko Rantanen tried to go high backhand.

"I knew I had to save it so we could stay in the game," said Reich. "I was really focused on it and did everything I could."

Yet Rantanen got his revenge with 5:38 left in the middle frame, though, standing in front of the German net and executing a beautiful tip off Aleksi Makela’s blue line drive to make it 2-0. It was his team-leading third goal of the tournament.

The Germans managed a little push at the start of the third, but Husso was alert and equal to the challenge. Germany's inability to score on a late power play with Atte Makinen off for high-sticking was the final nail in the coffin.

Now Finland's focus shifts to William Nylander, Gustav Forsling, and the rest of the high-flying Swedish crew.

"There’s always a lot of passion against the Swedes," said Honka. "I don’t think anybody needs to get any extra passion for that game. We’ll battle hard and do our things out there."

Despite the victory, the Finns still have reason to be concerned. Their power play has failed to convert even once so far, making them the only team with that dubious distinction. And Liiga aces like Kasperi Kapanen and Aleksi Mustonen remain goalless.

At some point, the floodgates have to open, or Finland will not be celebrating a second consecutive World Junior title.


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