MALMÖ – Finland eliminated the Czech Republic with a 5-3 quarter-final victory. The Finns advance to the semi-finals, chasing their first medal since 2006’s bronze.
Finland will face the winner of Canada-Switzerland on Saturday.
Saku Kinnunen got the 4-3 go-ahead goal with 8:21 left in the third period. Juuso Ikonen raced down right wing, looped around the net, and passed the puck across the crease. It tipped off Rasmus Kulmala's stick to Kinnunen, who scored into the open side from a bad angle.
Describing his set-up, Juuso Ikonen said: "I tried first to go to the net, but I saw a couple of defencemen were on me, so I just went around and I thought that one of our guys would be there back door. Luckily it worked."
Juuso Ikonen finished with a goal and an assist and Kulmala had two assists, while Saku Mäenalanen potted two goals, and Henri Ikonen also scored for Finland.
The Finns rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit to claim the victory.
Finnish goalie Juuse Saros outdueled his Czech counterpart Marek Langhamer as Finland outshot its opponent 34-23.
"You have to play for 60 minutes, not 40," said Langhamer. "It’s a tough loss but it’s just the way it is."
Dominik Simon and Martin Prochazka tallied a goal and an assist apiece for the Czech Republic, and Radek Faksa added a single.
"We’re very sad because we were very close to getting to the semi-finals," said Faksa.
The result means Finland will play for a medal for just the second time in the last eight years.
"That’s something we talked about before the tournament, that Finland hasn’t won in a while," said Juuso Ikonen. "That’s something we’re trying to change with our own game. We’re going toward it one game at a time."
The drought continues for the Czechs, who haven’t played for a medal since winning bronze in 2005. There is still a long road back to contender status for their junior development program.
Finland got some welcome reinforcements with the return of defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen and forward Artturi Lehkonen. Both had missed the last two games, Ristolainen nursing a fever and Lehkonen with a leg injury.
"Ristolainen, I think, can still play better, but it’s hard to get back when you’re sick," said captain Teuvo Teräväinen. "Artturi is a warrior. He wants to play in these games. He doesn’t want to be watching outside. It’s huge to get him back."
Finland exploited a good bounce to open the scoring at 4:54. Defenceman Esa Lindell put the puck off the end boards and Mäenalanen opportunistically squeezed the puck past Langhammer’s right leg. Teräväinen picked up his eighth assist.
The Czechs had a reply just 45 seconds later. Martin Prochazka threw a long shot on net and David Pastrnak couldn’t put in the rebound, but Simon did, squaring the affair at 1-1.
Coach Karri Kivi’s crew had some dangerous pressure during the game’s first power play, but Dominik Volek nearly scored for the Czechs on a partial shorthanded breakaway.
It was 2-1 for the Czechs at 11:07 of the second period thanks to a beautiful play on the rush, as Jakub Vrana fed it in the middle to Simon, and he found Prochazka ready to backhand it in at Saros’s right post.
The Czechs took a 3-1 lead at 14:24 when Vojtech Tomecek grabbed the puck behind the net and smartly found Faksa in the slot. He lifted it past Saros for his first goal of the tournament. The Finns promptly called a timeout to regroup.
"[Kivi] said, 'Be calm. We’re going to come back here. It’s only halfway through the game,'" explained Teräväinen. "We just trusted ourselves, and it worked. He knows us, and he knows what to do every time."
Finland made it 3-2 with 1:55 left in the middle frame. In the neutral zone, Czech blueliner Libor Sulak turned the puck over to Kulmala and he sped away on a partial breakaway, firing a low shot that Langhamer stopped but couldn’t control, enabling Juuso Ikonen to backhand it home.
At 5:56 of the third, the Finns tied it up when Mikko Lehtonen’s point shot was tipped in by Henri Ikonen. The goal was video-reviewed to see if it was a high stick, and it was deemed legal.
"It shows lots of strength from our team to come back like that in the third period," said Saros.
Pressing for the equalizer, the Czechs called their timeout with 2:18 left. But there would be no last-minute heroics today. Mäenalanen added an empty-netter in the dying seconds. It was his team-leading sixth goal.
"It’s been a while, but we’re getting better every year," said Langhamer. "As you can see, we’re not a bad team or a good team. We have a great group of guys. I’m feeling pretty good about our program."
The Czechs played without defenceman Patrik Marcel, who received a one-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit against Slovakia’s David Minarik in their round-robin finale on New Year’s Eve.
The three best players of the tournament for the Czechs were named post-game: Marek Langhamer, Petr Sidlik, and Dominik Simon.
Dating back to the inaugural 1976 IIHF World Junior Championship, it’s literally been a coin flip in head-to-head meetings between these two foes. During the era of Czechoslovakia, both sides won seven games, tied two, and lost seven. Since 1993, the start of the Czech Republic era, each had racked up eight wins, two ties, and eight losses prior to this game.