Denmark scored twice on three first-period shots and went on to edge defending champion Finland 3-2 in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
Tuesday’s result marks an historic moment for the Danish program. It is the first time they have beaten anyone at the World Juniors aside from two wins over Switzerland (4-3 in a shootout on 30 December 2014; 2-1 on 27 December 2015).
“It’s always a special feeling when you get a win against another country you’ve never had a win against,” said Danish assistant captain Christan Mieritz. “It’s a special team, the 1997-age. We have really good chemistry on the team. I guess that’s why we won today.”
Goalie Kasper Krog made 34 stops for the shocking victory. He might be Denmark’s shortest player at 175 cm, but the blue-masked 18-year-old from SonderjyskE Vojens stood tall in his World Junior debut, boosting his team’s hopes of making the quarter-finals for the third straight year.
“It’s incredible to get a win in my first World Junior game, but the most important thing is that we get the three points,” said Krog. “That’s what counts.”
William Boysen, David Madsen and Joachim Blichfeld scored for the opportunistic Danes, who took just 10 shots. Urho Vaakanainen and Kasper Bjorkqvist replied for Finland.
“We always should beat Denmark, or at least score more goals than two goals with those shots,” said Finnish captain Olli Juolevi. “I don’t know. There are no excuses.”
Finland, the defending champions, could be in trouble here after falling 2-1 to the Czechs on Michael Spacek’s late winner on Day One. Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen was yanked in favour of backup Karolus Kaarlehto after a shaky first period. Last year, the JYP Jyvaskyla product was also the starter, but was replaced by Kaapo Kahkonen during the playoff games en route to home-ice gold.
Still, it’s hard to blame your goaltending when your team produces just three goals in two games.
So far, the Finns look as snake-bitten offensively as they were in 2015, the last time Montreal hosted the World Juniors. Like this year, they came to the Bell Centre as the reigning World Junior gold medalists, but the Artturi Lehkonen-captained squad scored just five goals in four group games, and finished seventh.
“We don’t feel good, but the most important thing is for us just to believe in ourselves and keep going,” said Kaarlehto. “It’s just hockey.”
Only a handful of upsets compare to this one.
In 1998, newly promoted Kazakhstan beat Canada 6-3, but that was in the seventh-place game, when Canada, the ‘97 champion, had little to play for. That same year, Switzerland beat the Swedes 2-1 in the quarter-final and the Czechs 4-3 in the bronze medal game. Belarus beat the host U.S. 5-3 at the 2005 tournament and edged Finland 4-3 at the 2007 tournament. 2009 saw Slovakia trump the U.S. 5-3 in the quarter-final, and 2010 witnessed another quarter-final upset with Switzerland shocking Russia 4-3 in overtime.
The Danes were looking to bounce back after falling 6-1 to Sweden in their opener. And boy, did they ever. Special teams were key, as they killed off all six minors they took.
They also capitalized with their first man advantage. Nicolai Weichel’s centre point shot was bobbled by Vehvilainen, and Boysen backhanded in the loose puck at 5:20.
Subsequently, the Danes were almost completely hemmed in their own zone. But they were alert when the Finns turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Madsen took a pass from Morten Jensen and zapped one past Vehvilainen’s glove from the top of the left faceoff circle at 17:40.
In the last minute of the first period, Otto Koivula split the Danish defence on a breakaway, but Krog foiled his five-hole attempt. Denmark was up 2-0 after 20 minutes despite being outshot 14-3.
In the second period, the Finns kept firing away from every angle. Three minutes in, Krog stymied Julius Nattinen while sitting down in his crease under siege.
“Krog did an amazing job out there,” said Mieritz. “Incredible job. He kept us in the game. I take my hat off to him today.”
Denmark jumped into a 3-0 lead with 4:07 left in the middle frame. Jonas Rondbjerg centered the puck from the corner to Blichfeld, who was unchecked on the doorstep and knocked it in. It was Denmark’s second shot of the period.
“It’s unbelievably tough,” said Juolevi. “It’s not easy, especially when the other team is just putting the puck into the neutral zone and you have to try to run their wall. But we should have done that.
Finland struck back to make it 3-1 at 4:17 of the third. Vaakanainen’s high shot sailed through traffic and spoiled Krog’s shutout bid.
Guts and willpower kept the Danes going as the clock ticked down. Christian Mathiasen-Weisje blocked two shots during a Finnish man advantage with 10 minutes to go.
“For sure there were a lot of ice packs in the room,” said Danish captain Alexander True. “I think we need to bring some more shotblockers for the skates for the next game! But that’s what it takes to win games sometimes.”
The Finns made it exciting when Bjorkqvist scored on the rush at 15:30 to cut Denmark’s lead to 3-2. But the comeback attempt was destined to fail. The Danes mobbed Krog at the final buzzer.
One thing is for sure: without Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine, the Finns are nowhere near last year’s offensive juggernaut. They don’t even have the one-two punch of Teuvo Teravainen and Saku Maenalanen from the 2014 gold-medal team.
Denmark’s only previous World Junior meeting with Finland was a 10-1 loss on December 20, 2011 in Edmonton. The lopsided defeat came with five players suspended by then-head coach Todd Bjorkstrand for staging a mock press conference after a 10-2 loss to host Canada. Danish hockey has certainly come a long way since then.