Memorable quarter-finals on Finnish ice
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 MAY 2022
In the 2012 quarter-finals in Helsinki, Slovakia shocked Canada 4-3 on a late power play goal by Michal Handzus. Pictured is Milan Bartovic celebrating his game-tying goal.
photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images
You might think it’d be easy to pick the top five IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship quarter-finals ever played in Finland. However, you’d be wrong.

And it’s surprising. After all, the selection of games is limited.

In 1997, there were no quarter-finals played in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. The unusual, one-off 12-team format that year included a round-robin medal round, followed by a bronze medal game (the Czechs beat Russia 4-3) and a three-game final series (Canada won Game Three against Sweden 2-1).

In the three tournaments Finland has hosted since then, only once have four quarter-finals taken place in this Nordic nation. That was in 2003. It’s because Helsinki and Stockholm co-hosted in both 2012 and 2013, splitting the quarters.

However, with all that said, there’s been a disproportionate number of “Whoa! What just happened there?” quarter-finals on Finnish ice. We had to make some difficult decisions when picking the top five.

For instance, if you’re a Czech fan who reveres the 2003 3-0 shutout versus Russia, featuring primetime superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, we apologize in advance.

If you’re a Finnish fan who will always remember watching your team squander a three-goal lead on Slovakia in 2013 before prevailing 4-3 on Juhamatti Aaltonen’s third-period goal, hey, it was an exciting quarter-final. But it’s not top-5 material in this competitive field.

Here’s our countdown of the top five memorable quarter-finals on Finnish ice.

5) 2012: Finland 3, U.S. 2 (Helsinki)

Do you want to talk about making effective use of limited time? Then you’ve got to talk about Jesse Joensuu.

The big former second-round pick of the New York Islanders (2006) scored twice in Finland’s quarter-final victory over the Americans.. It marked his first two goals ever with the senior national team. Yet what really sent the hyped-up crowd of 12,426 into a frenzy was the fact that Joensuu’s winner on goalie Jimmy Howard – courtesy of a slick Petri Kontiola set-up from behind the net – came with just 8.8 seconds left in regulation time.

“I've watched the World Championships on TV for 18 years, and to be here now is fantastic, but I try to not think about it too much, and just focus on my work here,” said the modest Joensuu. Remarkably, he would never return to IIHF competition after 2012, although he remains active in Liiga at age 34 and will move from Jokerit to his original club team of Assat Pori next season.

4) 2012: Slovakia 4, Canada 3 (Helsinki)

Suffice it to say that few foresaw Slovakia making a medal run in 2012. The Central European nation had finished 13h in 2008, 10th in 2009, 12th in 2010, and 10th in 2011 on home ice in Bratislava.

Sure, it was big to have captain Zdeno Chara on board, a year removed from leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup. But legendary scorer Miroslav Satan was a little long in the tooth at 37. And even with the likes of Andrej Sekera, Branko Radivojevic, and Michal Handzus playing well, the Slovaks looked like quarter-final underdogs versus Canada. Their opponents boasted an all-star roster that included John Tavares, Duncan Keith, Corey Perry, and Jamie Benn.

However, a bad decision by Canadian captain Ryan Getzlaf would prove fatal. With the teams tied 3-3 late in the third period, the Anaheim Ducks superstar and Olympic gold medalist took out Juraj Mikus in mid-ice and was slapped with a five-minute kneeing major. On the ensuing faceoff in the Canadian end, Handzus drew the puck back to Sekera, went to the net, and tipped in the winner at 17:32 – just four seconds into the man advantage.

Since then, Canada has beaten Slovakia three straight times at the Worlds (2014, 2016, 2019) by a combined total of 15-6. But Slovak fans will always cherish the memory of this victory, which set them on course to earn a silver medal, their last hardware in senior IIHF play until the 2022 Olympic bronze medal in Beijing.

3) 2003: Canada 3, Germany 2 (Turku)

Twenty years ago, Germany wasn’t known for producing high-octane offensive talents like Leon Draisaitl, Tim Stutzle, or Moritz Seider. However, the Germans still frequently managed to give Canada a rough time in international competition.

Ryan Smyth and Eric Brewer, who helped Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years in 2002, were also members of the 2003 World Championship squad. They had fresh memories of the difficult 3-2 win over Germany in Salt Lake City. Canada only managed to get its second and third goals from Paul Kariya and Adam Foote respectively after German defenceman Daniel Kunce took a major for hitting Smyth into the boards from behind. The Germans rallied with two third-period goals by Andreas Loth and Jochen Hecht to make it close.

It was similar in the 2003 quarter-final. Smyth and Daniel Briere staked the Canadians to a 2-0 lead through two periods, but Germany peppered goalie Sean Burke with 16 third-period shots and tied it up on goals by Lasse Kopitz and Daniel Kreutzer. However, Kunce took a late penalty that carried over to the 4-on-4 overtime, enabling Brewer to save Canada’s bacon with the power-play winner 37 seconds in.

"We didn’t play as well as we needed to in the third period," said head coach Andy Murray. "But the important thing is that the Canadian will came through and we found a way to win."

The Canadians proceeded to win gold in Helsinki for the first time since their 1997 world title.

2) 2013: U.S. 8, Russia 3 (Helsinki)

In 2013, Alexander Ovechkin flew in to join the Russians for the quarter-final after his Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in a seven-game first-round series. And if you’d guessed that someone would set the record for most assists in one quarter-final, you might well have picked Ovechkin or another member of the stacked Russian squad.

Also taking part for the reigning World Champions were Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov, and Yevgeni Kuznetsov – not to mention KHL scoring champ and MVP Sergei Mozyakin.

Yet instead, it was the unheralded Craig Smith of Team USA who ran wild with a record-setting five helpers. The Americans never trailed, and when Alex Galchenyuk made it 4-1 late in the second period, Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov yanked starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in favour of Semyon Varlamov.

It made no difference in Russia’s most lopsided playoff loss ever. U.S. captain Paul Stastny was also a leader on the scoreboard, potting two goals and two assists, and a pre-NHL John Gibson dazzled in net with 31 saves. The result propelled the Americans to their first bronze medal since 2004, with Galchenyuk scoring twice in the 3-2 shootout win over Finland.

1) 2003: Sweden 6, Finland 5 (Helsinki)

This was as shocking as international hockey games get.

Of course, when Sweden rallied from a 5-1 deficit to oust Finland with a 6-5 quarterfinal win, it certainly wasn’t the first time a team had pulled off that kind of comeback on a big stage.

For instance, NHL fans might harken back to the 1971 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, who bounced back from 5-1 down to the Boston Bruins to win 7-5 in Game Two of their first-round series. In Game Three of the first round in 1982, the Los Angeles Kings shocked the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers by coming back from a 5-1 third-period deficit to win 6-5 in the “Miracle on Manchester.”

But 2003 was next-level, coming as it did between the classic Nordic archrivals. Teemu Selanne’s hat trick helped Finland build its four-goal lead, and Swedish coach Hardy Nilsson yanked starter Tommy Salo in favour of Mikael Tellqvist. The partisan Helsinki crowd of 13,414 was roaring with glee.

“When we were down 5-1, I think everybody was ready to bring out the golf clubs,” Tellqvist said.

Yet the tide would turn completely. Finland replaced starter Jani Hurme with Pasi Nurminen to start the third period as the Swedes kept scoring and the Finns looked increasingly unnerved. Tre Kronor highlights included a pair of Peter Forsberg goals, including a classic wraparound off the rush, and P-J Axelsson’s go-ahead 6-5 goal on the power play late in the third period.

“This is a nightmare finish to the tournament for us,” Finnish coach Hannu Aravirta said.

It’s a nightmare that Finnish fans will never forget, even though their national team has soared to dreamlike heights in recent years, including gold medals at the 2019 Worlds and 2022 Olympics.