BRATISLAVA – When one team has both a better scoring efficiency and a better goaltending save percentage, they might be considered a favorite. Especially when the leading scorer of the team with worse goaltending wouldn’t rank higher than tied for third on the other team.
That is the case of Finland and Norway today. The Norwegians have Mathis Olimb with nine points in the tournament, the same as tournament-leading John Tavares. In all, Norway has four players in the top ten in tournament scoring. Behind Olimb, Marius Holtet has eight points in six games, and Anders Bastiansen and Per-Åke Skrøder seven points each. Holtet is tied for lead in tournament goal scoring, with six in six games.
Norway’s goaltender Lars Haugen has played every single minute of the tournament, with the fourth best save percentage of the tournament, 93.27.
Both Finland’s goalies have been pulled from their nets during the tournament. Teemu Lassila started the game against Germany, but when the Germans scored their fourth goal with 57 seconds remaining in the second period, Petri Vehanen finished the game. In the game against Russia, Lassila came in at 4:37 when Russia had a 2-0 lead. According to head coach Jukka Jalonen, Vehanen is the designated starter, and the goalie change in the game against Russia was made to help Vehanen focus on the quarter-finals.
Vehanen’s save percentage is 91.89, eighth-best in the tournament, Lassila is ninth with 91.30.
Then again, the teams are Finland and Norway. Finland has five World Championship medals since 2000. Norway’s best finish in the same time period is eighth – since they got promoted from Division I in 2005. Finland has five NHL players on its roster, Norway 1. Finland has eight KHL players, Norway zero.
"We find Norway just as exciting an opponent as Canada, Russia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Kenya, or anybody else,” Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen told Finnish YLE.
"We’ll give it our 100 percent, we definitely won’t think it’ll be easy,” he added.
Of the 19 World Championship and Olympic games between Finland and Norway, Finland has won 17, two have ended in a tie.
"I’m not a history buff, and I don’t think that history will help us one bit,” Team Finland captain Mikko Koivu told Finnish media.
"They have a new team, and these are new games here,” he said.
But even for every Koivu that Finland has, Norway has one, too. Eerikki Koivu, 31, born and raised in Finland, moved to Norway in 2007, and was cleared to play for his new country this year. He scored the game-winner in Norway’s game against Austria.
"Even if our official goal is to make sure we won’t get relegated, we’re still hungry. We achieved our goal early in the tournament, but we’ve played good hockey even after that,” he told YLE.
"That said, we need to play a perfect game to beat Finland, and we’re not the favorite. Everything is possible in sports, and that’s why hockey is so much fun. We’ll do our best, and then we’ll see where we’re at after 60 minutes,” he added.
The winner of the Finland-Norway game will meet the winner of the Canada - Russia in the semi-finals.