EDMONTON – Finland defeated the United States for the first time in six years in IIHF U20 play. After a mediocre start the Finns ran away with three goals in the last period for a 4-1 score.
Joel Armia was the man of the match with two goals and an assist while goalkeeper Sami Aittokallio saved 38 shots for a 97.44 save percentage. The goalkeeper was back after a slight injury from the last game’s warm-up when he got hit in the neck by a puck.
“I'm pretty happy with my performance,” the Tampere native said. “We had to forget our first game and bounce back, and that's what we did. There wasn't such a big difference between Canada and the U.S., but we played so different. It was a big win today.”
Previously, Finland had lost to the U.S. in four straight games. Their last win before today’s game in Edmonton happened at the 2006 edition in Vancouver, when Finland defeated the U.S. 4-2 to take home bronze – the last time Finland medalled in the U20 category.
“I think both teams played well and it was a good battle. Their goalie played well and they got some extra bounces. We didn't want that outcome, but they’re a good team,” the United States’ only goal scorer Brandon Saad said after the game. “We just have to bounce back. Every loss is tough, but it’s not over.”
For a long time it didn’t look like Suomi would be able to win, same as two days ago in a 8-1 defeat against Canada. The Americans outshot the Finns 39-27, but the Finns made up for a slow 40 minutes with a strong performance in the last 20 minutes of play.
The Finnish team started off with a pesky performance against the United States. With lot of puck possession, the Finns were able to keep the disc in the American zone for long periods, however, the American defencemen did a good job during two periods in keeping the Finns away from goaltender John Gibson. They allowed the Finns only four shots in the first period while having eight on Aittokallio’s net.
The Americans had the faster and more straightforward attacks and were not far from creating some decent scoring chances, but the first period ended scoreless.
It was the Finns who surprised the Americans with a goal only 81 seconds after the middle stanza had begun. Again, the Americans tried to keep their opponents along the boards, but Armia fought hard against two U.S. players at the end boards and after getting the puck, Miikka Salomäki beat Gibson with a wrist shot that went in just below the crossbar.
The Finnish goal made the Americans even more determined. Sitting on their lead, the Finns were busy defending their net as the Americans outshot them 16-5 in the second period. However, the Americans didn’t find the recipe to overcome Aittokallio while the Finns rarely finished an attack with a scoring chance.
Same as the second period, the third started with a bang – this time on the other side. Charlie Coyle won a faceoff in the offensive zone and the puck went to the left boards to Emerson Etem, who sent a centering pass towards the Finnish net, where Saad tipped the puck in for the 1-1 tie.
The stage was set for a dramatic finish, and both teams created much offensive action. Midway through the third period the Americans had a good opportunity when a Finnish player was sent to the penalty box, but U.S. goalie Gibson neutralized the penalty with an unnecessary interference penalty.
It was an unpardonable mistake that ended up with hanging heads on the American side.
Finland did well during the 4-on-4 situation and Armia managed to escape with 9:07 left in regulation time. Falling down, Jacob Trouba tried to stop him, but with to avail. Armia defeated Gibson with a low shot for what would become the game-winning goal.
“I lost the puck on a breakaway, but I tried to get a shot off and it went in between the goalie’s legs,” Armia said.
Just 29 seconds later the atmosphere among the 14,000 spectators at Rexall Place exploded in disbelief after Finland scored again. Captain Mikael Granlund attempted a side pass to Teemu Pulkkinen, but instead he hit the skate of U.S. defenceman Jon Merrill, from where the puck went in to make it 3-1 Finland.
“We skated hard right from the start,” Armia said. “It was good to hear the crowd cheering for us. We didn’t have that in the first game. That was a good thing for us today.”
Team USA coach Dean Blais called a time-out, but the Finns continued to be on a high and showed little willingness to get themselves burnt.
With 3:33 left, American defenceman Derek Forbort lost the puck to Armia in his own zone. Armia double-passed it with Joonas Donskoi before scoring his second goal of the day for the final score of 4-1.
Both teams will now have a day off. The Americans play the Czech Republic on Friday afternoon before Finland will take on Denmark in the evening game on the same day.