HELSINKI – Thanks to Veli-Matti Savinainen’s overtime winner, host Finland sent its fans home happy with a 4-3 tournament-opening victory over Germany at Hartwall Arena on Friday.
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After Sakari Salminen stickhandled deftly in the left faceoff circle and lifted a shot on goal, Savinainen deflected it home at 1:58 and the crowd of 12,115 exploded.
Petri Kontiola shone with two goals and an assist, and Janne Pesonen added a goal and a helper for Finland. Felix Schütz, Christian Ehrhoff, and Torsten Ankert scored for Germany.
"Losing the three points late like that is tough, but hopefully we'll feel a little better about the one point tomorrow," said Ehrhoff.
Kontiola’s offensive prowess is no surprise: the Traktor Chelyabinsk forward led this year’s KHL playoffs in scoring with 19 points in 25 games.
"He's always had moves like that, but it was great to see him play that well," said Finland's Tuukka Mäntylä of Kontiola. "He made some great plays tonight."
Finnish goalie Joni Ortio emerged victorious in his World Championship debut. Robb Zepp got the start for Germany, which was outshot 38-18. The Finns went 2-for-9 on the power play.
"It wasn't an easy game but that's what I expected, too," said Ortio. "But we got two points, and we rallied back from a deficit, which was great."
Unsurprisingly for these two sides, it was a physical clash, with lots of spade work and heavy going along the boards.
The Finns opened the scoring on their second power play at 10:22. Juhamatti Aaltonen sent a lovely cross-crease feed to Kontiola, who deposited the puck into the wide-open side.
With just over six minutes left in the first, Savinainen thought he’d given the Finns a two-goal lead, as he stickhandled to the top of the left faceoff circle and sent a backhander off the inside of the crossbar. But upon review, it was ruled the puck hadn’t crossed the line.
Germany tied it up just past the midway mark of the second period when Marcel Goc sent a deft pass in front to Schütz, who stickhandled to his forehand and put it high over Ortio’s outstretched right leg.
The Finns kept getting power plays, but couldn’t extend their lead. Patrick Hager had a nice shorthanded chance with Yannic Seidenberg in the box, blocking a shot and racing down the ice to test Ortio with a drive.
Zepp stood his ground when Antti Pihlström broke into the clear, deking and attempting to put it through the goalie’s pads. Pihlström forced Ehrhoff into taking a hooking penalty – the German captain’s second minor of the evening – but the Finns still couldn’t cash in.
With 33 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Germany’s inability to stay out of the box hurt it again. On the power play, Pesonen tipped home Juuso Hietanen’s shot.
"We need to adjust our play, and stay out of the box," said Ehrhoff. "We killed almost ten penalties today."
Ehrhoff got the 2-2 equalizer on the man advantage just 2:34 into the third, hammering a high drive past Ortio after Goc’s faceoff win in the Finnish end.
Torsten Ankert scored with 3:05 remaining on a low slapper from the right point through traffic to give the Germans a brief 3-2 lead. Hartwall Arena was stunned.
But Kontiola got blue-and-white flags waving with joy when he notched the tying goal with 1:29 left. He rushed the puck into the German end and went to the net. There, he batted the puck out of mid-air on his backhand – a gift from Pesonen – and then tapped a forehand past the helpless Zepp.
Next up for Finland is Slovakia on Saturday. The Germans take on defending champion Russia on Sunday.
The last time Finland lost to Germany at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship was a 3-1 decision in 1993.
The game was preceded by a colourful opening ceremony including a large children’s choir, aerial acrobatics, an appearance by tournament mascot Icy, and welcoming speeches from dignitaries including former IIHF Vice President Shoichi Tomita, who chairs the tournament directorate for the Helsinki group.