BRASOV, Romania – A robust team effort and inspiring goaltending prevailed over Russian skill at the final of the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival (EYOWF).
Stopping 47 of 49 shots, Finland relied on a quality performance from netminder Kaapo Kähkönen after a two-goal lead in the first period set them on the winning path against their neighbours to the east.
"It was our best game so far this season," said Rauli Urama, head coach of a Finland team born 1996 and later. "Having previously lost all our games against Russia this season, we now beat them in our fourth attempt because we played our own game and were all in this together as a team."
Thanks to double digit scorelines against hosts Romania and Czech Republic, Finland had enjoyed a relatively comfortable passage to the final of the ice hockey tournament during the eleventh European Youth Olympic Winter festival, held in Brasov at the foot of the Southern Carpathians in Romania.
Despite being outshot by Russia 20-7 in the opening period it was the Finns who twice got on the scoresheet going into the first intermission. Having been pulled down whilst through on goal, Antti Kalapudas scored Finland's first on a penalty shot 4:39 into the game before a Jere Huuhka pass from the blueline found Joona Jääskeläinen who steered the puck past Maksim Tretyak in the Russian net to double the lead at 11:11.
Russia, seeking revenge for last year's shootout defeat against the same opponents during the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, got back into the game only 20 seconds in to the middle frame when captain Ivan Nikolishin, son of former Russia left winger Andrei, found Daniil Vovchenko on the powerplay to pull withing a goal in front of a full house of 2,000 spectators inside the Patinoarul Olimpic.
But the joy was shortlived as Finland's two goal lead was soon restored with Antti Kauppinen firing home a one-timer from the slot after fine work by Ville Vainola on the power play. Soon after a determined Sebastian Aho fought for a loose puck into the Russian net after 31:52 to make it 4-1, capping off a eventful week for the 15-year old Kärpat Oulu prospect who had been called in as a quick replacement following Manu Honkanen's concussion sustained during Finland's opening game of the tournament.
"I was just about going to bed at home when the coach called me from Romania to ask if I was ready to play. I packed my bags, got some rest on the plane down and then got ready to play," said Aho who grabbed the opportunity with both hands scoring four goals against Romania only hours following his arrival to Brasov.
Trailing with four goals to one, Russia came out to the third period with an all-out attack approach, peppering the Finnish goal with shots from every angle. Käkhönen capped an excellent game with a string of magnificent saves during a final frame which also saw Nikolishin hit the crossbar and an Eduard Nasybullin shot hit the post as Russia searched desperately for goals. In the end all they could muster up was a Alexander Protapovich power-play goal with less than two minutes remaining as Finland held on to lift the EYOWF-trophy at the end of the game.
"It was the end result of us having spent three week together. We were together for two weeks in Finland ahead of coming here and as we are building up the team one game at a time, winning this tournament is a good experience for the team," said Urama.
4. Czech Republic
Best Players Selected by the Directorate
Goaltender: Attila Adorjan, Romania
Defenseman: Miro Keskitalo, Finland
Forward: Ivan Nikolishin, Russia