Two teams got through the first three games of the group stage of the World Junior Championship without a loss, and they met on New Year’s Eve to decide which country would finish in the top spot in Group A.
Both Canada and Finland had been impressive throughout the tournament, with decent defensive efforts versus weaker clubs, and more than enough offence to get them wins. Thursday’s game was expected to be a close affair between teams that would check each other tightly, with some skilled play sprinkled throughout.
A typical fast start for Canada put the Finns on their heels early, with the host team piling up shots in the early minutes. For the fourth time in four games, Canada had a goal before the first commercial timeout.
It started with the great defence everyone expected, as Dylan Cozens followed closely behind the puck-carrier as Finland attempted a rare zone entry, and was in the right place when a defenceman poked the puck away. Cozens used great agility to corral the puck while skating backward, accelerating while spinning onto a path to the offensive zone. Since he’d done so much of the work already, he decided to look off his pass target and fire the puck himself to open the scoring less than four minutes in.
If the Finns were hoping that early offence would settle Canada down, they were sorely disappointed when the energy level didn’t abate. Finland could barely get a stick on the puck in their own end, let alone gain the possession needed to mount an attack. On defence, they were often in strong position to defend, but the combination of size, speed, and skill allowed the Canadian players — forwards and defencemen — to simply skate right through them.
Despite the constant pressure and a 17-1 edge in shots, Canada only had a one-goal lead after 20 minutes, leaving Finland the chance to regroup in the intermission, rethink their game plan, and take a breath for the first time since the drop of the puck.
Early in the second period, Canada was dealt some bad news when Alex Newhook attempted to play a shift but had to leave with what appears to be a shoulder injury. The loss of a forward forced Andre Tourigny to change the lineup he’d left intact after the previous game.
His decision was a good one, placing Cozens on a line between Jakob Pelletier and Dylan Holloway. Seven minutes into the second that line doubled the lead, with Pelletier’s shot going off Holloway’s leg and past goatender Kari Piiroinen.
Six minutes of relentless pressure later, the Canadians were up by three after another screen play, this time with Peyton Krebs using a bit more skill to scoop a backhand shot between his legs and into the net.
Peyton Krebs goes between his own legs for the goal! pic.twitter.com/ID2UpBq4pW— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 1, 2021
After two periods Canada had five times the shots of Finland, 35-7, and Finland needed to find some way to gain a foothold in the game.
That impact came five minutes into the third with Cozens in the box for an offensive-zone penalty. Brad Lambert accepted a pass at the left circle and got a lot of power on a wrist shot, and a helpful deflection from the stick of Braden Schneider to beat Devon Levi and get him team on the board.
Brad Lambert gets Finland on the board with a power-play goal! pic.twitter.com/gKWkADWAw2— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 1, 2021
It certainly boosted the confidence the Finns, as they began to get some decent possessions for the first time all game. Levi was called upon much more often as Finland sought a second goal, but Canada survived the wave as things settled down late in the period.
Finland pulled its goaltender with just over two minutes remaining in an attempt to make the game closer, but Cozens’s hard work earned him the puck, and he bookended the night’s effort with his second goal.
Canada claims the top seed in Group A with the win, going a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary round. They will take on the Czech Republic in Quarter-final #3 on Saturday. Finland will wait for the result of tonight’s game between Sweden and Russia to see who their opponent will be.