Team Canada finshed as the top seed in Group B, while Finland dropped to third place in Group A when they lost to the Swiss in the round robin’s final game. None of that mattered as the countries clashed in the semifinal, both with the same task set before them: win their way to an appearance in the Gold Medal Game.
With reminders of a quarter-final loss to the Finns a year earlier probably fresh in their minds, the Canadians were fully engaged from the drop of the puck. That pressure paid off immediately as Connor McMichael corralled a rolling puck and fired a hard shot to the opposite top corner, over the glove of Justus Annunen.
gets on the board first! Connor McMichael finds mesh and Canada takes an early 1-0 lead over Finland. pic.twitter.com/0xdf01dITz— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 4, 2020
Just over a minute later, Alexis Lafrenière found the same spot, from a much tighter angle on his backhand, extending the lead to two and forcing Finnish coach Raimo Helminen to use his timeout.
The speech wasn’t enough to stem the Canadian tide. Before the game reached its four-minute mark, the score was 3-0. Jamie Drysdale, who was getting a rare shift in the tournament with Bowen Byram a late scratch with the flu, had plenty of space to walk the puck into the slot from his blue-line position, and this time he chose blocker side on Annunen, finding mesh once more.
In a strange moment, and a real debacle for the on-ice officials, Sampo Ranta fired a puck on goal seconds after a whistle for offside, then was caught with a high stick from a Canadian defender at the same time. Clearly bleeding from the contact, none of the four officials seemed to have seen the stick connect. Ranta was given not a warning or even a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty, but a 10-minute misconduct. Since he needed to be stitched up from the high stick, Ranta wasn’t able to serve his misconduct in the penalty box, so another player had to serve the sentence, putting the Finns down two men when they probably shouldn’t have been down even one.
Regardless of the situation that could have seen Finland give up entirely, they responded with a good bit of pressure in the second half of the period, getting the shots close to even by the end of the period. Joel Hofer was called upon to make some key saves over the final 10 minutes, and turned aside every Finland shot he faced.
Annunen’s struggles continued at the opposite end. With five minutes left to play, the puck dribbled in to him, but he was slow to pounce on it, and Aidan Dudas got his stick on the puck before the netminder could freeze it. The puck was poked free, and Ty Dellandrea was waiting right there to pot Canada’s fourth goal.
Canada was content to slow the pace in the second and try to keep the Finns to the outside. Finland wasn’t exactly flying out of the gate working to reduce the lead, even with a power play coming out of the intermission, as it was a mostly sleepy period overall. Hofer continued to make the saves he needed to, and Annunen seemed to have settled in the Finnish net, but there was very little for the fans of either country to get excited about through much of the frame.
The first real chance went to Canada on a power play as Anttoni Honka got a bit frustrated and threw down his man, heading to the box for holding at 16:49. Lafrenière took the opportunity to add his second goal of the game, showing he was going to wire a shot far-side, then opening up the blade at the last second to go short-side instead.
Canada carried its 5-0 advantage in the second break, with a date in the Gold Medal Game all but set.
The third period didn’t go as smoothly as the team would have hoped. In the early minutes, a puck battle between Hayton and defenceman Lassi Thomson saw Canada’s captain fall into the boards, but he got his hand caught on the dasher board as he tried to break the fall, and clutched his wrist the whole way to the bench, and then to the locker room.
Finland came as close to scoring as they had all game with play resumed. The puck slowly slid behind Hofer in the crease, but Kevin Bahl was on the scene to sweep the puck out of danger before an opponent could find it.
There was nothing Finland could do in the dying minutes to get themselves back in, and the clock wound down without much threat to Canada’s sizable advantage.
A late Finnish penalty gave Canada one more chance on the man advantage, and an opportunity for Lafrenière to complete the hat trick. He had one look right at the side of the crease, and then set up Joe Veleno for a point-blank chance, but neither went for the player who will have his name called first at June’s NHL Draft. The score remained 5-0 for Canada as they claimed the second semifinal with a shutout performance.
With the win, Canada moves on to the Gold Medal Game, where they will get a rematch with Russia, looking for retribution for the worst lost they’ve ever experienced at the World Juniors when the two countries met on December 28. Finland will play for bronze against rival Sweden in the first game on Sunday.