CIVIC CENTRE - In one of the tightest battles yet at the 2008 World Juniors, Slovakia defeated Finland 3-2 in a shootout on Wednesday to secure third place in Group B. Adam Bezak and Tomas Tatar scored in the shootout.
Slovakia – Finland 3-2 (0-0, 1-2, 1-0, 0-0, 1-0)
Slovakia will face the United States in Quarterfinal #2 at Scotiabank Place on January 2. Finland finishes fourth in the group and will go to relegation for the first time in its World Junior history.
The Slovak locker room looked like a New Year's Eve party after the game. The overjoyed players were singing and dancing as if they had won the gold medal. A playoff spot was very far from their thoughts when the event started, as the Slovaks have been perennial relegation players for the last four years.
Also, they trailed 1-0 and 2-1 in this game where they outshot the Finns 33-12.
Slovakian netminder Jaroslav Janus came up big in the shootout, surrendering just one goal on three Finnish attempts.
After a scoreless first period, Finland’s Niclas Lucenius broke the deadlock on a two-man advantage, four minutes into the second. He was parked at the doorstep and made no mistake on Toni Rajala’s pass, scoring his first goal of the championship.
This goal did not, however, provide the Finns with a much-needed boost, as their opponents came on strong. Six minutes later Slovakia tied it up. Richard Panik, the highly touted 17-year-old who has had a very inconspicuous tournament so far, unleashed a low shot to the far corner to make it 1-1 on the power play.
Nestori Lahde restored the Finnish one-goal lead with an excellent shot from the top of the right circle, even though Finland was being outshot 19-5 at that point. The Slovaks had to feel robbed when they went to the second intermission outshooting their opponents 22-7, but trailing by one.
They were finally rewarded at 8:32 of the third period when Adam Bezak scored on a rebound following a flagrant turnover by Finnish defenseman Jyri Niemi, who couldn’t control the puck behind his own net.
Since regulation time settled nothing, the teams were off to a five-minute overtime.
Teemu Hartikainen came close to ending it early when he whirled out from behind the net, swiveled and put a shot into the pads of Janus. The Finns carried the play in the extra frame but couldn’t find the back of the net.
With overtime having settled nothing, it was thus time for the first shootout at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Finland won the right to shoot first, and it unfolded as follows (according to the IIHF game-winning shots procedure, in which three different shooters from each team take alternate shots until a decisive goal is scored--and if the game is still tied after three shots by each team, the GWS continues with a tie-break shootout by one player of each team, with the shooting order reversed):
Round 1: FIN, Rajala - scores, on backhand. SVK, Bezak - scores, stick side.
Round 2: FIN, Lucenius - dekes, loses control. SVK, Tatar - scores, deke and high forehand.
Round 3: FIN, Hartikainen - Janus pad save.
The victory provides more hope for the Slovakian youth program, which has been in steadily in decline since the bronze medal in Winnipeg in 1999. As late as two years ago, Slovakia miraculously avoided a dip down to Division I despite only winning one game in the tournament. Now, they can rest easy, knowing that the only way is up.