Day: May 26, 2019

Finns repeat in Slovakia

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

If you didn’t know the players on an inexperienced Finnish national team before this World Championship, you most certainly do now. This collection of apparent unknowns and never-played-befores defeated Canada 3-1 to win their second gold in as many hostings by Slovakia, the previous win coming in 2011.

Captain Marko Anttila scored the first two goals and Harri Pesonen added a late insurance marker. Goalie Kevin Lankinen, meanwhile, was one shot short of perfect. Although Canada outshot the Finns by double, 44-22, Lankinen was steady and played his position expertly.

But perhaps the greatest credit should go to coach Jukka Jalonen, who selected this group of players, many of whom had no international or World Championship experience, and got them to play as a team, play a combination of stifling defence and timely offence. To him go the highest kudos.

The first period was a rough-and-tumble affair as the Finns, in particular, wanted to introduce a physical element to the game. Pushing and shoving was all too common after whistles, and it was Canada that got the first power play as the result of an over-aggressive check in the offensive end by Anttila.

Yet on the ensuing power play, Canada surrendered a penalty shot after Troy Stecher gave up the puck at the Finland blue line. Jere Sallinen broke up ice on a clear break, but he was hauled down. Oliwer Kaski took the shot, but it went off Murray’s left pad and hit the end boards harmlessly.

Soon after, Juho Lammikko almost created another breakaway with his speed, thus giving Canada a sense of what Finland is capable of on the counter attack. Nevertheless, the only goal of the opening 20 minutes came from Canada.

Anthony Mantha made a great play just inside the Finland line, stick checking Toni Rajala and allowing defenceman Shea Theodore to claim the loose puck. Theodore curled in on goal and drilled a shot over Lankinen’s glove at 10:02.

Near the end of the period, Philippe Myers wired a long shot off the crossbar behind Lankinen, but the puck stayed out. Finland didn’t have much in the way of clear chances besides the penalty shot.

The second period could be neatly divided into two not quite equal parts, the first dominated by Finland and the second by Canada. In Finland’s half, Suomi managed to tie the score, thanks to an early power play. Anttila’s quick shot from the right faceoff dot snuck between Murray’s pads at 3:35, sending the pro-Finland crowd into a frenzy.

The goal refreshed the Finns, who did away with the heavy hitting and started using their legs to create several more great chances. Anttila hit the post soon after; Niko Ojamaki had a great chance that Murray stopped; Kaapo Kakko used his speed to generate a great chance that Murray denied with his left pad; Harri Pesnoen also had a clear shot.

Canada weathered the storm, and was lucky to be in a tie game, but slowly and surely the Canadians started to get the puck into the Finland end and maintain possession for periods of time. Kyle Turris hit the post, but the period ended in a fair, 1-1 game.

Crazily enough, Anttila got the go-ahead goal in the third at the exact same time as his goal in the second–3:35. It came off a bit of good fortune as Canadian defender Damon Severson lost his stick behind the goal. Veli-Matti Savinainen was right there and got the puck out front to Anttila, who lifted a shot over Murray’s shoulder.

With that goal Finland played a dangerous game of sitting on the lead. Canada was relentless on the offence, and Mark Stone, the tournament’s leading goalscorer, had a great chance from the slot but snapped a shot right into Lankinen’s chest. Most of the rest of the game was played in the Finnish end, but the entire team blocked more shots than Lankinen perhaps.

And then, on a harmless-looking play, Pesonen flicked a shot on goal that Murray didn’t see. It beat him on the short side, and that 3-1 lead was all Finland needed.

Individual Awards selected by the Tournament Directorate:

Best Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevski (RUS)
Best Defenceman: Filip Hronek (CZE)
Best Forward: Nikita Kucherov (RUS)

Most Valuable Player selected by the media:

Mark Stone (CAN)

All-Star Team selected by the media:

GK: Andrei Vasilevski (RUS)
DE: Filip Hronek (CZE)
DE: Mikko Lehtonen (FIN)
FW: Mark Stone (CAN)
FW: William Nylander (SWE)
FW: Jakub Voracek (CZE)

Russia shoots down Czechs for bronze

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev scored in the shootout to give Russia the bronze medal in a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Kovalchuk roofed a short-side backhander past Czech goalie Simon Hrubec and the elusive Gusev scored five-hole. Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevski was perfect in the shootout, denying Czech defenceman Filip Hronek on the final attempt. The Vezina Trophy nominee from the Tampa Bay Lightning shone as shots favoured the Czechs 50-36, including an 18-6 gap in the third period.

Russia’s last medal was also bronze, from Cologne in 2017. It’s their first medal under second-year head coach Ilya Vorobyov. The Russians are still looking for their first gold medal since Minsk 2014.

The long Czech drought at this tournament continues. The Czechs haven’t won the gold medal since shocking Russia 2-1 in the 2010 final in Cologne, and their last medal of any shade was 2012’s bronze.

In front of 9,085 spectators at Ondrej Nepela Arena, Mikhail Grigorenko and Artyom Animisov scored for Russia in regulation time. Michal Repik and Dominik Kubalik replied for the Czech Republic.

Czech coach Milos Riha observed the time-honoured tradition of playing his back-up goalie in the bronze medal game. Hrubec’s only previous 2019 game was the 7-2 win over Norway. Russian coach Ilya Vorobyov had other ideas, as Vasilevski appeared for the eighth time in 10 opportunities.

The result offered some consolation for Russia which won eight straight games before suffering a 1-0 semi-final loss to underdog Finland.

The Russians got off to a good start. At 13:00, Grigorenko tipped Sergachyov’s left point shot through Hrubec’s pads to make it 1-0 with his fourth goal of these Worlds.

Just 41 seconds later, the Czechs struck back. David Sklenicka’s stretch pass found Repik at the Russian blue line for a breakaway and he fired it through Vasilevski’s five-hole.

Now the tide turned in favour of the Czechs, who had been outshot to this point. Kubalik made it 2-1 for the Czechs. Jan Kovar set him up in the left faceoff circle up from behind the net, and the 2019 Swiss NLA scoring leader snapped it home, high to the glove side, for his sixth of the tournament at 18:34.

It took just 37 seconds for Russia to make it 2-2 in the second period. Gusev picked off Jan Kovar’s failed clearing attempt and got the puck to Artem Anisimov, who fired a shot that tipped off the stick of defenceman Radko Gudas and past a surprised Hrubec.

Still, the undaunted Czechs looked more inspired for much of the middle frame, although Gusev came close, ringing one off the iron. The Russians mounted a late charge, but even when Ovechkin nicely set up his Washington teammate Yevgeni Kuznetsov, the 2018 Stanley Cup playoff scoring leader, on the rush, there was no go-ahead goal.

Early in the scoreless third period, Vasilevski slid over to rob Radek Faksa, set up on an odd-man break by Michal Repik. With under three minutes left in regulation, Gusev hustled past multiple Czech defenders before feeding his partner in crime Nikita Kucherov by Hrubec’s right post, but the 2019 Art Ross Trophy winner put the puck off the side of the net. Vasilevski also stoned Faksa with his glove before the buzzer sounded.

Gusev missed the best chance of overtime with under two minutes left when Kucherov found him all alone by the side of the net. The SKA St. Petersburg forward who had four points in last year’s 5-4 Olympic gold medal win over Germany couldn’t convert.

The Czechs have historically had good fortune against the Russians in bronze medal games. They won at both the 1997 Worlds and 2011 Worlds. They also beat Russia in the 2006 Olympic bronze medal game in Turin. But history didn’t count for much here. In the preliminary round this year, Russia beat the Czechs 3-0, thanks to Vasilevski’s 23-save shutout.

Surprisingly, the Russians have yet to win gold when Kovalchuk serves as captain. The 36-year-old sniper, who was named MVP at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, also wore the “C” with the silver-medal teams of 2010 and 2015.