STOCKHOLM – It’s never easy playing for bronze medal coming off a tough defeat. But moreso for the Americans who were a win away from securing their first shot at a gold medal since 1933.
And for Finland losing to its national rival after finishing first in its group in Helsinki has probably left a feeling of disappointment among the team.
Both sides have to regroup if they are to take home a medal. For the Americans it would be their first since a bronze in 2004; for the Finns their first since winning gold in 2011.
Familiarity: Team USA knows this opponent from its time in Helsinki. When they met on May 8th, Team USA defeated Finland 4-1. Craig Smith had a hat trick and John Gibson made 31 saves. All the more impressive was the win came at Hartwall Arena and Finland was the host team.
Goaltending: John Gibson has been impressive. Even in a 3-0 loss to Switzerland, Gibson was outstanding, particularly in the first period when Team USA needed him to keep the game within reach. A second-round draft pick in 2011 of the Anaheim Ducks, Gibson won a gold medal in January with Team USA at the U20 World Championship. Gibson has no doubt made Anaheim take notice as Team USA has here at this tournament.
Fatigue: After losing to Switzerland, Team USA now has to be ready to play less than 24 hours later. It takes a lot after a run like the Americans have had with the gold medal game sixty minutes away to now reconstitute themselves in time to prepare for a bronze medal game. At the same time, to play for a medal is an opportunity afforded to only four of sixteen teams in the tournament and Team USA will not want to go home empty handed.
Players to watch
John Gibson: See above. Gibson has been sublime in goal displaying a maturity well beyond his 19 years.
Craig Smith: What else can you say about Craig Smith’s performance with Team USA has been exceptional. With three goals and twelve points, Smith provided the offence needed to carry his squad. This performance could be the boost Smith needs to be an even more pivotal player both for the Predators and then the national team.
Paul Stastny: The Colorado Avalanche forward rebounded from a disappointing regular season to lead his team in scoring at the World Championship. At 27, Stastny is still a player who Team USA will consider a leader having been a three time World Championship and one time Olympic performer for his country.
Playing for a medal: Finland won the gold medal in 2011 and have not medalled since. They are more comfortable and experienced in competing for a medal than their opponents. Since 2000, Finland has won one gold, two silver and three bronze.
Offensive depth: Finland’s forwards have scored 26 goals. It’s lone goal from a defenceman came from Ossi Väänänen. That there are any number of forwards who can put the puck in the back of the net is an important consideration in the game. Scoring can come from anywhere and should give the Americans fits throughout the game.
Road games: Since last year, Finland has played 18 of 19 World Championship games at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. In its only game of the tournament at the Globe Arena in Stockholm, they have lost. Not having the home crowd to cheer them on and immediate familiarity with the arena might make this a tough game.
Players to watch
Petri Kontiola: Finland’s leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the tournament, has proven a leader. Kontiola has scored in seven of Finland’s nine games. In the two games they have not scored, Finland lost both contests. The former Chicago Blackhawks prospect has represented Finland on four occasions at the World Championships but this, by far, has been his most productive tournament.
Mikael Granlund: The 21-year-old Granlund is a player on the rise. He scored two goals in limited time in the NHL this season before coming over to represent Finland. In three games he scored a goal. Before coming to North America, Granlund starred for HIFK Helsinki.
Lauri Korpikoski: After going scoreless at the 2010 World Championship, Korpikoski registered a goal and three points this year. Korpikoski has enjoyed a productive career with the Phoenix Coyotes since 2009.