After the quarter final game against Canada, it looked like Finland was on such a high that they wouldn’t be stopped. Patrick Laine even went so far as to guarantee a win against Sweden in their semi-final game. However, it doesn’t look like that is a definite possibility.
In the first period, Finland started out strong, weathering an early Swedish storm. They had moments of sustained pressure low in the Swedish zone but weren’t able to make much of anything happen. Swedish goaltender, Linus Soderstrom, a New York Islanders draft pick, came up huge for his team when the Finns were able to get some chances. Around the middle of the first, Saarela got the best chance of the period for Finland off a Timashov turn over but Soderstrom was able to make the save.
Draft eligible Rasmus Asplund gave Sweden the 1-0 advantage, Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov assisting. The sweet feed from Timashov landed directly on Asplund’s stick for the tap in beating Khakonen. Timashov has had a great tournament so far, and impressing Leafs management even more. His precise shooting abilities and ability to gain the zone and create strong chances out of very little has many here raving. Not to mention he gives a great interview. Asplund, a 2016 draft eligible player, was considered to having the opportunity to be a first rounder in June, potentially dropping to second depending on the others in his draft class. After this tournament, I find it hard to believe that he will be available past the first night on Draft weekend. He has a strong hockey IQ, and sees the game well. He makes smart decisions with the puck. I think his skating needs some improvement but, that’ll come with time.
The second period was much better for the Finns. They capitalized on two very good scoring chances, giving them the advantage after 40 minutes. They forced some of the stronger Swedish players to take unnecessary penalties, which has allowed the line of Puljujarvi, Aho and Laine to get to work. Hintz and Kalapudas scored. While the top scorers for Finland have been able to capitalize on the power play just yet, they’re consistently getting stronger and stronger with every opportunity. The Finnish fans have completely bought in to the top line of younger players, as they have cardboard cutouts of their heads. At first, I thought that it was just one group of fans but they’ve been shown all over the arena.
“It felt amazing, it was a really tight game and I just… I don’t know what to say. The atmosphere was unbelievable. People were cheering and we scored one more goal than they did and it was good enough for today” – Kasperi Kapanen
One Finnish player that I’ve been disappointed in is Kasperi Kapanen. He’s been pretty much absent the entire tournament. Kapanen’s had a few strong shifts but, as a professional player in North America, you expect him to be able to adapt to different styles and paces of game but, he’s been essentially unnoticeable, in my opinion. Late in the third period, Kapanen had a great shift keeping control of the puck along the boards in the Swedish zone, which was the first time (despite his assist early in the game) that I had really noticed his presence on the ice.
I’ve noticed, however, that this year has been all about the draft eligibles. Typically, World Juniors is a tournament that’s dominated by 19 year olds. This year, not so much. I can’t remember a year where this many underage players have been so dominant, although, for the most part, having returning players on teams has helped with leading those younger players and helping through the troubling times this tournament can entail. Starting with the Finnish kid line, to Alexander Nylander and Rasmus Asplund, and Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. It’s unreal just how dominant the draft eligible players have been this tournament. Perhaps Canada should have taken notes from the other teams and not been so quick to cut Jakob Chychrun….
“[Mikko Rantenan’s leadership] is good in the locker room and on the ice and the bench, it’s awesome” – Roope Hintz
For majority of the third period, it seemed as though Finland had taken over. Sweden had trouble generating much offence when they were able to get into the Finnish zone but it was never sustained. Finland, however, never too their foot off the pedal. Probably having had learned from teams in previous tournaments.
This semi-final wasn’t nearly as high scoring as the quarter-finals both Sweden and Finland played but, it’s been one of the best they’ve played. Sweden just wasn’t able to score on the opportunities they were give, and there weren’t many. Whoever gets Finland, and their crowd, in the Gold medal game is going to have one tough night.