Hirvonen the hero as Finns advance
by Lucas Aykroyd|02 JAN 2021
Finland's Roni Hirvonen (#22) celebrates after scoring the 3-2 winner in a comeback quarter-final victory over Sweden at the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton. 
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Roni Hirvonen scored the third-period winner with 25 seconds left as Finland advanced to the 2021 World Junior semi-finals with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over archrival Sweden on Saturday.

Hirvonen jammed in a wraparound for his second goal of the tournament, and the Finns, who trailed 2-0 after the first period, celebrated their quarter-final victory wildly.

Finland vs Sweden (QF) - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship
FIN SWE 03 JAN 2021

It was a genuine heartbreaker for the Juniorkronorna, who lost their last three games at Edmonton's Rogers Place.

"I think we had good pressure in the last minute," said Hirvonen. "We had a chance right before. I just continued that pressure with a good scramble, and it went in. So it was just great."

Henri Nikkanen and Anton Lundell also scored for Finland.

Lucas Raymond had a goal and an assist for Sweden, and Elmer Soderblom added a single.

Goalie-wise, Swedish coach Joel Ronnmark went with starter Hugo Alnefelt and Finnish coach Antti Pennanen stuck with Kari Piiroinen. Finland outshot Sweden 31-24.

"We started really well in the first," said Sweden's Arvid Costmar. "The Finns came out very hard in the second. We started to do some soft plays and couldn't pick up the play we had in the first period. It cost us the tournament."

Finland, which has five gold medals (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, 2019), interestingly hasn't won a medal of another shade since 2006's bronze. The disappointed Swedes, who beat Finland 3-2 in last year’s bronze medal game, remain stuck at two golds all-time (1981, 2012).

Finland entered this classic Nordic clash with the tournament’s second-best power play (34.6 percent), while Sweden had the second-worst penalty kill (60 percent). Noel Gunler, Sweden’s leading goal-scorer (4), took a penalty at 1:26 when he batted a puck over the glass in his own end, but Finland couldn’t generate anything.

Early on, the Finns looked dialed in, compared to their 4-1 loss to defending champion Canada to close out Group A. They denied Sweden a shot on goal for more than eight minutes. But then the Swedes picked it up.

Raymond, the 2020 #4 overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings, opened the scoring at 14:28 with a great shot from the left faceoff circle. He glanced right toward Albert Johansson as if he was going to pass and then pulled the trigger, surprising Piiroinen with a high short-side wrister.

Just 1:37 later, Raymond set up a snazzy power-play goal by Soderblom for a 2-0 lead. He stepped off the half-wall and fed the 202-cm winger – a fellow Frolunda product and Detroit pick – down low. Soderblom pulled the puck between his legs and fooled the Finnish goalie on the stick side.

"During the first break, the players and I were really angry," said Pennanen. "But after that we got more effort in our game."

In the second period, the Finns began their push. They outshot Sweden 12-6 and played more aggressively. At 2:26, a forechecking Samuel Helenius got a minor and a 10-minute misconduct for a hit to the head of Swedish defenceman Ludvig Hedstrom.

At 5:28, Nikkanen cut the deficit to 2-1 on a brilliant rush, converting Eemil Viro’s backhanded pass.

"When we got that first goal there, that was huge," said Finland's Brad Lambert. "We got some excitement on the bench."

Less than a minute later, the Finns thought they had the tying goal after Ville Heinola, who led all skaters with 27:58 in ice time, spectacularly danced in over the blue line and Aku Raty put the puck in the net. But the Swedes challenged the play and it was ruled offside.

Showing their trademark "sisu" ("guts"), the Finns kept coming in the third period, and Lundell finally notched the power-play equalizer at 11:05. Heinola pivoted at the blue line to send a backhanded pass to the Finnish captain, who sniped a high one from the right faceoff circle for his team-leading fourth goal in Edmonton.

"He's unbelievable on the ice and also off the ice as a person and a leader," said Lambert of Lundell. "He plays a two-way game. He plays hard offensively and can score some points, but it's also just how good he plays defensively."

The heart-stopping nature of Finland's win had echoes of their 2-1 quarter-final ouster of host Canada at the 2019 World Juniors in Vancouver. There, Aleksi Heponiemi tied the game with just 47 seconds left before Toni Utunen won it in overtime. But the 2021 Finns are forging their own path.

"We just kept going and stuck together," said Lambert. "It was an unbelievable feeling to win that one."

Ronnmark acknowledged after the loss that Swedish captain Philip Broberg, Edmonton's eighth overall pick in 2019, had played hurt: "He played through some pain, and obviously, he really wanted to play every game. He battled hard."

The Swedes dealt with adversity throughout this tournament, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Russia that snapped their record 54-game preliminary-round winning streak.

A spate of positive COVID-19 tests hit the team in Sweden. That obliged head coach Tomas Monten and three members of his staff, plus players including William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder and Albin Grewe, to miss the World Juniors.

"We've been focused on the guys who are here, and that's things that we have nothing to do with," said Costmar. "We are a team here and we have not talked about that at all."

Finland last lost a quarter-final in 2018 (4-3 to the Czech Republic in a shootout). Sweden last lost a quarter-final in 2019 (2-0 to Switzerland). 

Sweden had won its previous four World Junior games against Finland. Finland last defeated Sweden on 4 January 2016, prevailing 2-1 in the semi-finals in Helsinki.

The result leaves Sweden with an all-time record versus Finland of 20 wins, two ties, and 17 losses.

Finland vs Sweden (QF) - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship