CIVIC CENTRE - Finland’s 15-year World Junior unbeaten streak against archrival Sweden is history. But the Swedes’ 3-1 win wasn’t pretty. At the end, goaltender Jacob Markström saved his team.
Finland – Sweden 1 – 3 (0-2, 1-0, 0-1)
There is no question that Sweden has a more talented team than Finland, but the Swedes felt a huge sense of relief after the win Friday night, where the clinching 3-1 goal was scored into an empty net by Mikael Backlund after Finland pulled their excellent goaltender Harri Säteri for a sixth attacker.
The Swedes, looking for their first World Junior title in 28 years and the first win against Finland since 1994, did not resemble a contender. They had a decent first 10 minutes, but the rest of the game was forgettable, as far as Team Sweden was concerned.
"We played well in the first period," said Swedish forward Joakim Andersson, who set a new record for Swedish hockey with his 71st national junior team game for his country. "After that we got a little cocky and we lost the energy we initially had. But you gotta be happy, a win is a win. Especially against Finland."
"If you count up the scoring chances, it was a very tight game," said Finnish coach Jukka Rautakorpi.
Both first-period goals were results of Sweden’s relentless forechecking, which consistently created Finnish turnovers. Marcus Johansson’s 1-0 goal at 9:15 came after a serious cough-up behind Finland’s net, and defenseman David Rundblad pinched in deep to receive David Ullström’s feed to make it 2-0 at the 13-minute mark.
"We lost the game in the first period," said Säteri. "We made some stupid mistakes in our own zone. As of the second period, we played better hockey, but not yet our best hockey."
Finland’s goal after only 72 seconds of the second period swung the momentum in the game. Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, predicted by many to be the number one overall pick in the next NHL Entry Draft, didn’t look sharp when Toni Rajala sneaked by him and scored on a breakaway.
The Swedes couldn’t regain any rhythm for the rest of the period. They looked hesitant and nervous, and it was particularly evident on the three power play opportunities they got in the middle stanza. Basically, nothing happened, and when they occasionally got a good shooting opportunity, Säteri came up big.
Not even when the “Junior Crowns” enjoyed a two-man advantage for 1:36 did they manage to execute properly. Things started to look really bleak for the favourites when Los Angeles King Oscar Möller missed a penalty shot early in the third. Once again Säteri stood tall when the game’s only NHL player tried a fancy move.
Finland would probably have won the game had Sweden had a lesser goalie than Jacob Markström. The highly touted prospect made some acrobatic saves during three Finnish power plays midway through and at the end of the last period. At that point, Sweden had basically lost its game plan and composure. Nestori Lahde had a great chance for an equalizer with two minutes left when he cut in from the left side, but he couldn’t beat Markström, who remained square to the shooter.
Definitely, a humbling experience for the Swedish team, who will nonetheless take the two points and move on.
Latvia vs. Russia 1-4 (0-1, 0-1, 1-2)
CIVIC CENTRE - Russia kicked off the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 4-1 win over Latvia on Friday. Pavel Chernov paced the Russian attack with a goal and an assist.
From the outset, Russia dominated with its size, speed, and skill, which the Latvians tried to neutralize at times by getting more physical. But realistically, the score could have been even higher. The top Russian trio of Nikita Filatov, Evgeni Grachev, and Dmitri Kugryshev looked dangerous despite being held pointless.
"It wasn’t a great game on our part, but it was a solid win in the first game," said Filatov. "So this was okay. Latvia in an opening game is not easy."
Latvian goalie Nauris Enkuzens was put to the test, as Russia outshot Latvia 21-8 in the opening 20 minutes, and 44-18 overall.
Russia drew first blood on the power play at 16:56 when Vyacheslav Voinov’s shot from the right faceoff circle eluded Enkuzens.
The Russians went up 2-0 midway through the second, as Pavel Chernov gobbled up a loose puck in front of Enkuzens’ crease and whacked it home.
Maxim Goncharov made it 3-0 at 7:01 of the third with the man advantage when his center point one-timer whizzed past the Latvian goalie’s right skate. The Latvians continued to work hard until the final buzzer but couldn’t generate much.
Still, the crowd erupted when Janis Ozolins spoiled Danila Alistratov’s shutout bid with just under two minutes left. Dmitri Klopov added Russia’s final goal on a broken play deep in the Latvian end seconds before the final buzzer.
"It was an acceptable loss--it was expected," said Latvian coach Andrejs Maticins. "Russia is technically so much better than us. We have to win other games. Avoiding relegation is our goal."
It was Latvia’s first appearance at the IIHF World Junior Championship since the tiny Baltic nation debuted at this level in 2006. Enthusiastic Latvian supporters pounded drums and chanted, both in the stands and on the concourse during intermissions.
Attendance was 9,441. Enkuzens was Latvia’s Player of the Game, and Sergei Andronov was honoured for Russia.
The only previous Russia-Latvia meeting at the World Juniors was a 3-1 Russian victory in Kamloops, British Columbia on December 29, 2006.
The Ottawa Civic Centre is the home of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, and two Russian players were familiar to fans of that major junior circuit: Evgeni Grachev of the Brampton Battalion and Sergei Korostin of the Peterborough Petes.
"This wasn't our best game, but I'm sure we will get better in each of the next games," said Korostin. "Latvia is a good team. They played hard, had great goaltending, and played a solid tight defence."