Canada Finnishes off strong
Canada Finnishes off strong
Fitzpatrick excels as Canadians top Group B
Pascal Laberge, David Quenneville, and Tyson Jost scored for Canada.
Of Fitzpatrick's play, Jost said: "Unbelievable. So many huge saves for us. He kept us in that game a few times. He’s played outstanding for us throughout the tournament and I’m sure he’ll keep it rolling."
Eetu Tuulola scored for Finland, which outshot Canada 27-24.
Unless Switzerland pulls a huge upset by defeating the defending champion U.S. in its last round-robin game, the Canadians will face the Swiss in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Likewise, assuming Switzerland loses to the U.S., the Finns will take on Russia in the quarter-finals.
"Right now, we’re just focused on recovering from this game and getting ready for the quarters," said Fitzpatrick. "We don’t really care who it’s against. We’re just going to go out there and play our game."
This defensive duel was a showdown between the 2015 silver medalists in Finland and bronze medalists in Canada. However, so far this year, the Canadians look like the better team.
"Canada came pretty hard in the first 10 minutes and they scored two goals in the first period," said Finland's Eeli Tolvanen. "That was hard. But we played the last two periods pretty well. It was almost our game. We just didn’t capitalize on all those scoring chances."
Fitzpatrick was full value for the victory, even though he didn't have as much work as in his 38-save performance in the 3-1 win over the Czechs.
"To be honest, at the beginning of the game, I wasn’t feeling 100 percent," said Fitzpatrick, who plays for the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix. But I tried to battle through it. After that first glove save there, I really started feeling comfortable. Throughout the game, the puck just kept getting bigger and bigger, and it was easier to track."
It was the fourth straight Finnish loss to Canada at the IIHF World U18 Championship. The last Finnish win was 4-2 on April 14, 2012.
Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas juggled his lines to add Jesse Puljujarvi, the MVP of Finland’s 2016 World Junior gold medal run. Puljujarvi made his tournament debut on a new trio with Janne Kuokkanen and Otto Somppi.
Canada countered by trying to get its top defensive pairing of Dante Fabbro and Jakob Chychrun out against the Karpat Oulu star whenever possible.
"Obviously he’s such a skilled and elite player," said Jost of Puljujarvi. "We were keying on him a little bit and I thought we did a really good job of shutting him down. We kept him off the scoresheet, so that’s nice to see."
The Canadians dominated with early pressure, and got on the board first on the power play at 7:16. Laberge skated in unobstructed and whizzed one past Finnish starter Leevi Laakso on the glove side.
After a solid penalty kill that saw Finland pressing, the Canadians kept coming. At 12:30, Quenneville’s drive from the right point went five-hole with heavy traffic in front to make it 2-0.
In the final minute of the first, Tolvanen came within a hair’s-breadth of getting Finland on the board when he took a drop pass on the rush and zipped one off the inside of Fitzpatrick’s left post.
The Finns had the upper hand in the second period. But they had nothing to show for it, even with two power plays, thanks mostly to Fitzpatrick's heroics.
"Our team’s playing real well," said Fitzpatrick. "We keep getting better every day. Playing behind them, it makes my job a little bit easier, for sure."
Near the seven-minute mark, Markus Nurmi hit the left post again with a loud clang. Just seconds later, Fitzpatrick made a stellar glove save on Somppi’s one-timer from the right faceoff circle.
Then, off a faceoff in the Canadian zone, Tolvanen took it to the net and again Fitzpatrick came through with his mitt. The Canadian goalie also foiled Tuulola on a clear-cut breakaway with three minutes remaining in the frame.
"We had chances to score goals but we just missed them," said Puljujarvi.
Early in the third period, Laakso gave his team a chance to stay alive by staring down Boris Katchuok on his point-blake deke.
Fitzpatrick shone again during Finland's last power play of the game, coming across to foil Tolvanen again on Puljujarvi's sweet cross-ice set-up. But the blue-and-white team kept coming after the man advantage.
Tuulola provided the screen in front and tipped defenceman Robin Salo's slapper over the goalie's left shoulder to make it 2-1 with 5:16 left.
Finland called its time out with 54 seconds remaining and pulled Laakso for the extra attacker. Jost added an empty-netter after outhustling Finland's Miro Heiskanen to a loose puck.
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