Finns lose to U.S. in OT, face Swiss in QF
by Lucas Aykroyd|02 MAY 2021
The Finns lost 5-4 in overtime to the host Americans but earned a point to come out on top of Group B on Saturday at the 2021 U18 Worlds.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images

Finland fell 5-4 to the U.S. on Sasha Pastujov's overtime goal but still earned a point to finish first in Group B on Saturday. In Monday's quarter-finals, the Finns will face Switzerland, while the third-place Americans take on Sweden.

Of facing the Swedes, Pastujov said: "I expect it to be a battle for sure. They're the reigning champs. So it'll be a good game, but I think it's about us. We're going to focus on our process and take it one period at a time, one game at a time, and play the right way. I like our odds."

The group finale was exciting for the host nation's fans. After Ty Gallagher knotted the score with just two seconds left in regulation, Pastujov scored at 0:57 of overtime, cutting in front of Finnish goalie Aku Koskenvuo to put it through his pads.

"It was a wild one," said Finnish coach Petri Karjalainen. "Basically, everything happened that can happen in a junior hockey game. It's a tough one to swallow in terms of the result, of course. We were hanging on to take the win, but we couldn't take it. The upside of that is that it leaves the hunger for the rest [of the tournament]."

In the other quarter-finals, the Russians will battle Belarus, while Canada confronts the Czechs.

The U.S. is looking for its 11th gold medal of all time and first since 2017. Meanwhile, the Finns are going for their fifth gold medal, having last won in 2018.

 In this sharply contested game with multiple lead changes, final shots favoured the U.S. 43-32.

Koskenvuo returned to the ice, along with forward Verner Miettinen, after resting during the 10-0 win over Germany. Brad Lambert missed his second straight game, while fellow forward Oliver Kapanen hasn’t played since getting hurt against Russia. Karjalainen said afterwards that he hoped to have both Lambert and Kapanen back in the lineup against Switzerland, although he could not confirm it yet.

For U.S. coach Dan Muse, netminder Kaidan Mbereko got his second straight start after shining in the 2-1 shootout win over the Czech Republic.

"We have three guys who I think are world-class goaltenders," said Muse. "Kaidan had a great game last game, though, and that's why we came back with him."

Both teams came out hard, but the U.S. got the opening goal at 8:13. Koskenvuo stopped Pastujov’s long drive, but Jack Hughes grabbed the rebound and fed it across to Dylan Duke, who banged it into the gaping cage. Pastujov, who leads the U.S. with seven points, kept his four-game point streak alive.

"He's been doing it all year," said Duke. "It's honestly no surprise to me. He's a great player and great teammate. So he's doing a great job. He's buzzing all around the ice and I'm really proud of him and happy for him."

The Finns struck back just 30 seconds later. Tuomaala circled the American zone and sent the puck to the left point, where Topias Vilen fired it on goal. Koivunen picked up the puck and deked to the backhand to beat Mbereko.

"It's a pretty big thing," Finnish assistant captain Rasmus Ruusunen said about Koivunen and Tuomaala's production. "They are making goals and it's very good for our team."

Finland kept coming. Juho Jarvela made it 2-1 at 16:05, working a 2-on-1 give-and-go play with Niko Huuhtanen to perfection. A minute later, Mbereko robbed Koivunen with a Roberto Luongo-style glove save off a faceoff.

The Americans got a late-period man advantage when defenceman Tomi Leppanen was sent off for a reckless hit from behind on Hughes in the Finnish zone, but that was promptly squandered when Duke was dinged for holding. With the teams at 4-on-4, Koskenvuo came across to rob Logan Cooley on a sweet Lane Hutson set-up just before the siren.

Just 1:18 into the second period, towering U.S. forward Charlie Stramel capitalized on a broken play in front of the Finnish goal to whip the 2-2 equalizer home.

About five minutes later, tempers flared as Niko Huuhtanen and Rutger McGroarty got into a wrestling match in front of the benches.

The U.S. boys ramped up their pressure, and after Koskenvuo made a great stop on Isaac Howard in the high slot, the puck came back to the 17-year-old forward and he ripped it home for a 3-2 lead at 13:46. The Comerica Center fans exploded with "USA! USA!" chants.

"There was definitely a lot of buzz in the building," said Duke. "It was an electric atmosphere."

Showing resilience, the Finns tied it up again just 29 seconds into the third period. Tuomaala, predictably, got it with a drive from the left side for his team-leading fifth goal.

Nearing the midway mark of the third, Mbereko had to be sharp as Finland got a couple of good chances for the go-ahead goal. At the other end, Koskenvuo was alert to pick off a Sean Behrens shot from the left side, and shortly afterwards stoned Liam Gilmartin with a skate save.

The Finns went up 4-3 at 13:26. Off a draw in the U.S. end, Sisu Yliniemi went to the net and deflected Viljami Juusola's centre point shot through Mbereko.

The U.S. got a golden opportunity with a penalty shot with under five minutes to play after a Finnish defender gloved the puck in the goal crease during a scrum. Hutson was chosen to take the shot. He raced in stickhandling, but couldn't slide the disc past Koskenvuo.

Muse pulled his goalie for the extra attacker with under two minutes to play, and it paid dividends. Gallagher jumped in from the blue line, put the puck on net, and converted his rebound with two seconds left. Video review confirmed it counted. That set the stage for Pastujov's overtime heroics.

"The only thing I cared about tonight was the way we played the game," said Muse. "And I was very happy with the way this group played the game."

Looking ahead to the quarter-final versus Switzerland, Karjalainen said: "Basically, it's about staying true to our system to play to our strengths, believing in our system and executing. We will have those good individual efforts, but we need to maintain our fundamental execution."

Finland and the U.S. have developed an intense rivalry in IIHF U18 competition recently.

The Americans beat the Finns 2-1 in the 2015 final in Switzerland. Finland took revenge with a 4-2 semi-final win en route to the gold medal in North Dakota in 2016. The U.S. defeated Finland 4-2 in the 2017 gold medal in Slovakia, and then Finland triumphed 3-2 in the 2018 final in Russia. The 2019 quarter-final was unexpectedly lopsided, as the Stars and Stripes smashed Suomi 6-0.

If there is a playoff rematch between these two nations, expect it to be a doozy.

United States vs Finland - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship