Finns march on to semi-final
by Andy Potts|16 FEB 2022
Finland's Miro Aaltonen (#15) celebrates after opening the scoring in the quarter-final game against Switzerland.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Clinical finishing and familiar resilience saw Finland advance to the semi-finals with a 5-1 victory over Switzerland. Three goals from 12 shots saw Jukka Jalonen’s men into a 3-0 lead early in the second period and that proved sufficient to sink Switzerland and set up a meeting with Slovakia in the final four.

Head coach Jalonen felt that the fast start made all the difference in this quarter-final clash. "We had a great start to the game with two pretty quick goals, and it’s a lot easier to play when you’re leading," he said. "You never know what kind of game it will be but you have to find ways to win, and that’s what we’re doing."

"I think they were smarter than us," admitted Swiss head coach Patrick Fischer. "We lost the puck too much and gave them easy goals. You can’t give that to a team like Finland and that was the difference."

Finland went with the same skaters that defeated Sweden in an overtime thriller in the final game in Group C, with Jalonen bringing back goaltender Harri Sateri in place of Jussi Olkinuora. Switzerland, who played yesterday in the qualification round against Czechia, started with Reto Berra in goal today and returned forward Dario Simion to the team in place of Joel Vermin. 

After an even opening, the Finns assumed control with a pair of quick goals midway through the first period. Miro Aaltonen, one of many KHL-based players on this team, got the first when he gobbled up the rebound after Berra padded away Niklas Friman’s shot. Two minutes later, blue liner Mikko Lehtonen's point shot bounced off a Swiss D-man and looped over Berra's head. That doubled the lead and gave Switzerland a big headache.

"We got off to a way better start (than against Sweden)," said Finnish captain Valtteri Filppula. "After our last game, we had a day off, then a good practice day. They played yesterday, so we knew to come out strong. Luckily, we were able to do that and get a couple goals, then we defended well after."

Down 0-2 to a Finnish team renowned for its defensive discipline is always a tough place to be. And Switzerland’s problems were exacerbated by a misfiring offence. Throughout the tournament, goals have been a problem for the Swiss, who managed just three markers in three group stage games. Today, despite 34 shots at Sateri, there was only one more goal to celebrate.

Things didn’t get any better for Fischer’s team at the start of the second period, when Hannes Bjorninen’s interception in centre ice left Michael Fora trying to defend a two-on-one break. Bjorninen had the perfect feed for Marko Anttila to shoot home number three.

Anttila found himself in isolation before the start of the tournament and missed Finland's opening game. Now he has two goals in three appearances. "It wasn’t easy to be [in isolation]," he said. "There were a lot of thoughts in my head, like ‘Will I be able to play here or not?’ but now it’s time to play and I’m trying to enjoy it. It was motivation for me to do some workouts in the room.

"Now, it’s a good feeling. We had a good team against us. In the first 30 minutes, we were pretty good and got some goals. After that, they were a little bit better, I think. They were skating and working hard, so we were in a bit of trouble, but we’ve got a good goalie and good defence, so that was the key."

Anttila's goal spelled the end of Berra’s involvement, with the Swiss bench eager to shake up a game that was rapidly getting out of reach. Leonardo Genoni took over, and immediately found himself busy. Finland generated a flurry of chances with Leo Komarov causing trouble on the doorstep and Aaltonen flashing in a dangerous shot in the second phase of play.

Once in front, the Finns tend to cling, limpet-like, to their advantage and the second period of this game was no different. As always, Jalonen’s team was drilled and disciplined, squeezing the life out of Switzerland’s offence and offering few clear scoring opportunities. Those that did come were dealt with by Sateri.

"When your goalie plays like that, it’s gonna give you a chance to win every night," Filppula added. "They have a lot of skill, a lot of offence, great skaters and we had to spend some time in our own zone, but for the most part we did a pretty good job. From our defence, we were able to create enough offence to score goals."

The Swiss, meanwhile, felt they should have done more on offence. "We didn't play simple enough," said Fabrice Herzog. "We didn't bring too many pucks to the net and try to create some chaos, and put some rebounds in.

"We just didn't score enough in the whole tournament."

However, when Lehtonen shot the puck over the plexi for a cheap delaying the game penalty late in the middle frame, he offered the Swiss a chance. It was a lifeline eagerly grasped, with veteran Andres Ambuhl pulling a goal back off Enzo Corvi’s feed to give his country hope going into the third period.

Ambuhl’s second goal in two days gave Switzerland hope and Fischer’s team made a fast start in the third period. In the opening minute of play, Gregory Hofmann was buzzing around in front of Sateri’s net, asking a couple of questions of the Finnish goalie. And the Sibir Novosibirsk netminder was beaten soon afterwards, but Denis Malgin’s shot dinged off the piping and bounced safely back into play.

The momentum was building in Switzerland’s favour, but 49th-minute tripping call on Denis Hollenstein allowed Finland to regroup and take some of the sting out of the game.

"I think we came out good for the third period," said goalscorer Ambuhl. "We tried to bring pucks to the net and tried to score that second goal but it didn’t go in. Then they got two empty-netters and it was over."

As the action entered its closing stages, Switzerland then had a power play chance of its own. That proved decisive – but not in the manner Fischer & Co had hoped. Genoni went to the bench to produce a 6-on-4 advantage, but the two extra men could not fashion a good opening and when Harri Pesonen returned to the ice, he helped to set up Iiro Pakarinen for an empty net goal that killed Switzerland’s chances.

Adding insult to injury, Teemu Hartikainen added a second empty-netter on 56:47 to put an emphatic  gloss on the final scoreline.

"We had four losses and one win overall, so we're not happy at all," concluded Ambuhl.

Anttila, by contrast, is looking forward to the next stage. "Of course we are confident," he said. "We try to improve all the time and if you want to win something in this type of tournament, you need good defence. They’re always tight games and it’s hard to score goals, so you have to be good in your own zone." 
Finland vs Switzerland (QF) - 2022 Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament