Finns dethrone U.S.
Finns dethrone U.S.
Rasanen scores twice to upset defending champs
Aiming to pursue its third consecutive IIHF U18 World Championship title and seventh in the last eight years, the U.S. fell short in its stiffest test. The Finns dictated the style of the game.
Finland will play the winner of the Canada-Sweden semi-final for gold on Sunday. The dethroned Americans will take on the loser for bronze in the early game.
Asked how confident the Finns would be in the final, Rasanen said: "One sentence: we’re going to win the gold."
In a good goaltending duel, Ukko-Pekka Luukonen outdid Joseph Woll as the Americans outshot Finland 28-26.
"I’m proud of how hard our guys worked tonight," said U.S. head coach Danton Cole. "We still have a chance to finish with a win to earn a medal and we’ll be ready to play tomorrow."
With the teams tied 1-1 late in the third period, there was a lot of drama after Finland's Joona Koppanen was sent off for slashing.
"It was crazy, crazy," said Luukkonen. "I can say no more."
Finland's 2-1 shorthanded goal came on a broken play with 4:49 left. Rasanen came down and fired a shot, with the rebound caught up in the skates of U.S. defenceman Chad Krys. Rasanen grabbed the puck and fired it over the prone Woll.
But the U.S. didn't surrender. Just 1:22 later, Luke Martin wristed one from the center point through traffic that Kailer Yamamoto tipped in to tie it up, as the Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd erupted.
Finland got the chance it needed when American star Clayton Keller tripped up top Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi in the U.S. zone with 1:02 left.
On the winning power play goal at 19:23, Kristian Vesalainen took the shot and Rasanen banged it into the gaping net. Puljujarvi, who finished with two points, added an empty-netter just before the final buzzer.
"We have a wide variety of talent in our age group," said Rasanen. "There are many players who can stand up in the tough games. That’s our special weapon."
"I think in the end we outchanced them but we didn’t get the bounces," said Krys. "It’s tough to see, but I’m proud of the effort. It just didn't go our way."
Although it's a surprise, this victory was reflective of Finland’s increasing confidence at all levels of international hockey. The kids on this team have seen Finland win the 2011 Worlds and 2014 and 2016 World Juniors, in addition to other Olympic and World Championship medals.
The Americans came in as the tournament’s biggest offensive powerhouse, outscoring their opponents 38-4. Yet this semi-final was totally different from the blowouts this roster powered by the USA Hockey National Team Development Program had been accustomed to. The "worst" the U.S. had previously done was a 4-0 win over Switzerland.
Revenge was in the air. Finland settled for the silver medal last year, falling 2-1 in overtime to the Americans in Zug, Switzerland. The Finns won gold in the first two years of this tournament, 1999 and 2000, but haven't taken top spot since then.
Luukkonen said coach Jussi Ahokas had a simple message for the team before the semi-final: "It’s a big game, but you don’t have to be nervous about it."
The Finns came in with an undermanned squad, using 18 skaters to the U.S.'s 20. Top goalie Leevi Laakso was sick and unavailable for the second straight game, and captain Juuso Valimaki also sat out with illness. Accentuating their underdog status, however, traditionally benefits the Finns.
"I think this is a team game," said Luukkonen. "It’s not about one or two players. We are a good team. It doesn’t matter if one or two players are out."
Urho Vaakanainen also scored for the Finns, while Kieffer Bellows had the other goal for the Americans.
The Finns played smart, tight defence to limit the U.S. scoring chances in the early going. When the U.S. generated more pressure on their opening power play midway through the first period, Luukkonen was equal to the task.
The U.S. made it 1-0 at 11:42 on a brilliant passing play. Inside the Finnish blue line, Keller fed it cross-ice to an oncoming Adam Fox, who skimmed the puck to the goal-crease for Bellows to tip in.
The Finns fought back for the equalizer with 4:10 left in the first period and the teams playing 4-on-4. Vaakanainen stepped in off the centre point and hammered one past the U.S. defenders and over Woll’s glove.
Finland’s strong positional play at both ends continued to frustrate the Americans throughout the game. Ultimately, it decided who would go for gold and who would be looking for the consolation prize.
"You still want to go home with hardware," said Krys. "You have to come back tomorrow with a positive attitude and want to win the game."
Of overcoming the favored host team, Rasanen said: "We knew that we had to win only once, and now we did it."
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