Jonathan Lekkerimaki’s power-play goal with 32 seconds left was the difference as Sweden edged Finland 2-1 in a nail-biting semi-final at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. As a result, Sweden will play in the final against the USA, while Finland will face Czechia for third place.
The shot was a one-timer that hit a stick and dribbled through the goalie's legs.
“I got a good pass and I shot it. It’s an amazing feeling,” Lekkerimaki said quietly with a smile after the game.
“It’s very difficult to analyze a game like that at this moment,” said an equally quiet Topias Leinonen, the Finnish goalie, fighting back tears.
Even when nothing is on the line, a Sweden-Finland game is always emotional. With a spot in the final on the line, these two rivals pull out all the stops, and this game went right down to the end.
These two teams met on the last day of the group stage with first place in Group B on the line and, needing a regulation win, Sweden won 4-3. Both teams then won their quarter-final games on Thursday – Finland came from behind to beat Canada 6-5 in overtime and Sweden won somewhat less dramatically, 7-1 over host Germany.
“They know us and we know them, but it’s a semi-final, so we expected it was going to be a step up in everything and it was,” said Swedish head coach Magnus Havelid. “It was more physical than the last game but we handled it well.”
“We saw two very good teams on the ice today,” said Finnish head coach Mika Marttila. “Both teams knew each other quite well and were respecting each other. It was a one-goal game.”
Finland outshot Sweden 42-23, including 20-6 in the third period.
“We just tried to play our own game and it worked quite well but we weren’t able to score when we needed to,” said Finnish forward Topi Ronni “I don’t think the better team won today.”
After a scoreless first period, the Swedes struck first early in the second.
Oskar Pettersson sent a backhand shot along the ice that Leinonen tried to poke-check away before Ostlund got to it. However, the stick got knocked out of Leinonen’s hand in the process and the puck slid under him. It was lying loose right beside the goaltender, but before he could find it, Otto Stenberg reached in and swept the puck into the net.
The Swedes missed a chance to extend their lead on a power play early in the third. At the end of it, Tuomas Uronen stepped out of the penalty box and received a breakaway pass. Skating in alone, he tried to beat Hugo Havelid five-hole but the Swedish goalie made a stick-save.
“I think it’s always fun for the goalie when it’s busy,” said Havelid, the coach’s nephew, who stopped 41 of 42 Finnish shots. “We handled it well. We had good connection with the defence and forwards all on the same page. We knew we had to play well defensively as a team and I think we did that today.”
Then it was the Finns’ turn on the power play when Dennis Good Bogg went off for cross-checking with 11:09 to play and they pressed hard. Coming off a hat trick performance against Canada, Joakim Kemell was the trigger man and unloaded a few times, the most dangerous being a missile just over the crossbar that loudly hit the end glass, as the sniper looked skyward.
The Finns kept the pressure up back at 5-on-5 and they finally tied it with 4:26 to play. Havelid stopped Elmiri Laakso’s shot from the point, but Jani Nyman got the rebound, attempted a backhander that was blocked, but got it back, spun around to his forehand, and fired a shot that went in and out of the net quickly off the back crossbar.
“I have to see the replay, but maybe I went a little bit too far to the right because normally I feel pretty safe when they shoot from the side,” the Swedish netminder said.
“Third periods have been very good for us in this tournament,” said Marttila, referring to his team’s late comeback to tie Canada in the quarter-finals and one that fell just short against Sweden in the group stage.
It looked like overtime might be needed to settle it, but with 1:23 to play, Kemell was called for hooking.
“It’s very difficult to think about that afterwards,” said Marttila. “One of our goals for this game was that we would not take penalties and we knew about Sweden’s power play, but it happened, so there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
“During the game, we had a couple of power plays but we didn’t have the edge, I think,” said coach Havelid. “The last one, I called a timeout just to bring the guys together and get them to feel comfortable, trust each other, and not just force a shot or pass. When you have guys like Lekkerimaki and Liam Ohgren and Matthias Havelid (another nephew), you know you can score goals. When you believe in it, you know you can do it.”
Lekkerimaki has seven assists so far in this tournament, but his fourth goal is what everybody is going to remember from this game. Ostlund feathered a cross-ice pass that he was able to one-time. Leinonen might have had a chance, but it hit the stick of defenceman Kasper Kulonummi and dribbled through his legs.
A despondent Kemell looked on helplessly from the penalty box. The Finns tried for a late push with six attackers on the ice, but an offside call with two seconds left finished them.
“Motivation for tomorrow won’t be a problem,” said Marttila. “Today we’re still going to have a meeting and try to put the bad feeling from this game behind us and tomorrow we’ll be ready for a new game. It’s a rare opportunity to try to win a medal from a World Championship.”
As for Sweden, Havelid the goalie said: “I think we’re playing better every game, so we’re just going to keep trying to do that and have our best game tomorrow.”