Offensive flair against defensive rigour
It’s a game that promises to be a clash of styles. Canada has relied heavily on scoring from its top line. Between them, Adam Henrique, Connor Brown and Andrew Mangiapane have combined for 14 goals and 34 points. Considering Canada has scored just 25 goals in total, it’s fair to say those three have dominated here.
However, in the group stage, Finland managed to largely silence that devastating trio. Mangiapane and Brown combined for a power play to give Canada its second goal of that game, but there was nothing more for them in a 2-3 shoot-out loss. And that’s a far more relevant psychological boost than the gold medal in Bratislava 24 months ago.
“We haven’t thought about ,” said Finnish head coach Jukka Jalonen. “We go one year at a time and of course it’s great that we’re in the final for the second time in a row but that was two years ago and it’s a whole different team.
“We have 14 newbies on our team and this is the first medal for them, but for Finnish hockey it’s great because we’re in the top two again so it shows we have lots of great players in our country.”
New players, but a familiar style of play. Finland remains parsimonious with its scoring and positively Scrooge-like on defence. Anton Lundell’s 7 (4+3) points in nine games leads the team in scoring, but the success starts at the other end of the ice with just 10 goals allowed and both active goalies stopping over 95% of the pucks they’ve faced. Atte Ohtamaa and Ville Pokka, two of a sizeable KHL contingent on the team, are both running at +6 for the tournament, suggesting where the barrier is dropping in front of opposing forwards.
The road to gold
Finland closely resembles the 2019 champions. With the same head coach and seven returning players, that maybe isn’t a huge surprise. But it’s striking that, once again, the Finns are masters of the one-goal game. It’s not a roster studded with star names and, at times, the play favours substance over style, but there’s little argument with the results.
In a group phase that saw highly-ranked nations get into all sorts of trouble, Finland barely stumbled. OK, a shootout loss to Kazakhstan was unprecedented, but it was an isolated lapse and the Leijonat’s progress was never in doubt. Then, in knock-out play, a 1-0 victory over the Czechs was followed by a 2-1 verdict against a battling German team. Jussi Olkinuora, who spent last season in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, is putting in a good audition for the Kevin Lankaren role on this team – not quite a World Championship rookie after a solitary game in Slovakia, but an unheralded figure making the most of his moment in the spotlight with five wins from six games and a 95.27% save percentage.
For Canada, looking to claim a 27th World Championship, reaching the final represents a huge turnaround from the start of the tournament. Three defeats from three games, with just two goals scored, represented the country’s worst ever start to an IIHF tournament. And there was every danger that the Canadians would not even make the knock-out rounds after a shoot-out loss to Finland in their final group game. That result opened the door for both Germany and Latvia to progress at Canada’s expense if they tied in regulation. A 2-1 win for the Germans kept Canada alive.
Not that it got any easier. A quarter-final against a free-scoring ROC roster went to overtime before Troy Stecher scythed through the defence to set up Andrew Mangiapane’s winner. Then came another classic hockey rivalry with a meeting against the USA. In Group B action, the Americans powered to a 5-1 win; in the semi-final Mangiapane inspired a 4-2 revenge victory.
Mangiapane’s arrival three games in was the catalyst, but head coach Gerard Gallant reckons the turnaround reflects the speed with which his team has got to grips with the task in Riga.
“We only had two or three practices at the start, but the team really started to come together and got to know each other quickly,” Gallant said. “After our third game we started to play some good hockey, and we are a better team now than we were at the start of the tournament. We are playing our best games at the right time, and we are really proud to be playing for a gold medal.”
It’s not the first time two nations have met in back-to-back finals. It’s happened twice before since the IIHF introduced the medal games in 1992, and Canada was involved both times. First, back in 2003 and 2004, Canada twice defeated Sweden for gold. In 2003 it was an Anson Carter overtime goal in Helsinki that clinched a 3-2 verdict; one year later Sweden led 3-1 in Prague, but fell 5-3 after Jay Bouwmeester potted the game-winner early in the third.
However, after double delight there it was double despair for Canada in 2008 and 2009. An Ilya Kovalchuk-inspired Russia produced a huge fightback to win the 2008 final in overtime in Quebec City, then one year on Alexander Radulov got the winner in Bern.
Can Finland keep up the trend of back-to-back winners, or will Canada become the first nation to get instant revenge over the team that denied it gold in the previous tournament?