The final game on opening night of this year’s World Juniors tournament was between the neighboring countries of Sweden and Finland. Every showdown between the two countries is loaded with emotion, and regardless of the status of either national program, they always bring their “A” game.
Finland was bolstered by the addition of Eeli Tolvanen, Urho Vaakanainen, and Henri Jokiharju. Sweden’s big add before the tournament was that of Isac Lundestrom, who would solidify the forward core. In net Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen took his starting spot for the Finns,and opposing him for Sweden was Samuel Ersson.
From the outset the pace to the contest was high, and the physicality extremely prevalent, neither team was giving an inch of space to their opponents along the boards, and every check was finished with authority. Otto Latvala would nearly end up on an early highlight reel as Fabian Zetterlund collected a stretch pass, and fended off the Finnish defender while cutting to the net. Luukkonen parried the puck away, and the Latvala lost his man again, and Jacob Olofsson threaded a perfect pass that Luukkonen had to fight off once again.
The Swedish domination of the Finnish offensive zone would not relent, and just over the halfway point Luukkonen would make a pair of highlight reel saves, first on an Adam Boqvist wrap around chance, and then right after on a wide open Swede in the slot to keep the game scoreless.
Ukko-Pekka Luukonen with the incredible save on the wrap around pic.twitter.com/S0YksHpkSr— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 27, 2018
A Jokiharju penalty gave Sweden a golden chance to open the scoring, and they took full advantage of it. A quick cycle off a poor clearing attempt allowed Erik Brannstrom to corral the puck and walk along the blue line. He let a wrist shot fly and it found it’s way past Luukkonen to open the scoring on the power play.
Finland wouldn’t have much time to try and regroup as an elbowing penalty by Santeri Virtanen sent them back to the penalty kill. While Sweden looked dangerous again, a timely pad save and clear by Luukkonen kept the deficit at one as Finland killed off the minor penalty. That is how the teams headed into the first intermission, with Sweden holding a one goal lead after a dominating 20 minutes.
Things didn’t get much better as Sami Moilanen and Samuli Vainionpaa took penalties on the same play giving Sweden a five on three man advantage. Again it didn’t take Erik Brannstrom long to strike, he played catch with Emil Bemstrom and then rocketed a shot right through Luukkonen to double the Swedish lead.
Brannstrom on the power play again, Sweden up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/eHGnRvuXwj— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 27, 2018
The Finns would kill off the second minor without surrendering a shot on goal, but still had a major hole to dig themselves out of. Rasmus Sandin gave them the chance, taking a penalty of Kaapo Kakko in the net front area, and sending Finland to the power play.
The Finns wouldn’t convert on their own power play, despite a few good looks from Rasmus Kupari, and then shortly after would head back to the penalty kill after Teemu Enberg charged Lucas Elvenes. Finland continued to tighten up on their penalty kill, keeping dangerous chances off their goalie and once again would draw a penalty of their own just after Sweden’s man advantage expired.
Offensive woes continued as Sweden smothered the Finnish power play, with one of the only shots on net coming from Jesse Ylonen, which was easily pushed away by Ersson. A sloppy passing play in the neutral zone then reignited the Swedish attack and forced Luukkonen into freezing the puck once more.
Finland finally began to show signs of life in the final minute the period, with their top line of Tolvanen, Kupari and Aleksi Heponiemi creating a handful of chances inside the slot, but Ersson was up to the task and kept his shutout intact.
Sixteen seconds into the final period, and once again Finland found themselves on the penalty, with Rasmus Kupari sitting this time. Their penalty kill came up big once more, giving Sweden zero shots on net, and keeping it a two goal game early in the third period.
Sami Moilanen had the best chance in the early going for Finland, as he was falling to the ice he flicked a backhand shot on net, but due to him slipping to the ice he wasn’t able to generate any real power on the shot.
The penalty parade would continue for Finland as they were forced to play on their heels, with Ville Heinola taking the skate of shame to the penalty box this time. Great chances came to the stick of Emil Bemstrom which was stoned by Luukkonen, while Samuel Fagemo rang a shot off the iron.
With just over five minutes left on the clock Finland had another shot on the power play with Johan Sodergran being whistled for tripping. The Finnish power play wasted no time putting the pressure on Sweden, forcing Ersson into a number of quick saves. Finland would collect a cleared puck in their own end, they pushed the puck up, and Canadiens prospect Jesse Ylonen carried the puck in, weaving around the Swedish defenders. He dished off to Kaapo Kakko who fed a perfect pass to captain Aarne Talvitie who squeaked a shot by Ersson.
Jesse Ylonen gets a secondary assist after a great zone entry, and pass off to Kaapo Kakko, Aarne Talvitie gets the goal. pic.twitter.com/RPQlmQ7hP9— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 27, 2018
On the next shift the Finns nearly tied it as Ersson was swimming in net, trying to get back to his feet as Finland swarmed the zone. Finland did all they could with their net empty, but they could not end Sweden’s opening round winning streak, which was pushed to 45 games with a 2-1 win.
Sweden will now face off against Slovakia tomorrow night, while Finland greets the newcomers is Kazakhstan in group play as well.