Sweden-Finland semi-final spells fun
by Lucas Aykroyd|19 AUG 2022
In 2021, Finland (pictured Juuso Parssinen) beat Sweden (pictured Elmer Soderblom) 3-2 in the quarter-final. This year, the Nordic hockey powers square off in a semi-final showdown. Who will get to go for gold?
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
If you’re a betting person, you might want to wager that Friday’s second semi-final (18:00 local time) between Sweden and Finland will finish 3-2.

That was, in fact, the final score in the last three World Junior games featuring these classic Nordic hockey nations. In 2020, the Swedes won in the group stage in overtime and in the bronze medal game, while in 2021 the Finns got their revenge in the quarter-final.

It’s just a recent snapshot of how tight and intense things get between the two archrivals. Overall, Sweden boasts the better head-to-head record (20 wins, two ties, 17 losses), but Finland has bigger bragging rights with five gold medals (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, 2019) to Sweden’s two (1981, 2012).

So who will prevail in the battle to take on the Canada-Czechia winner for the 2022 World Junior gold medal on Saturday?

Offensively, the Finns have certainly been superior in Edmonton. Their 27 goals are the tournament’s second-highest, while Sweden sits fourth with 17 goals.

Both nations allowed their underdog quarter-final opponents to hang around longer than expected. However, the Swedes definitely cut it a lot closer in their 2-1 win over Latvia – a small nation that showed grit and heart but was only promoted to the top division due to the disqualification of Russia and Belarus.

Coach Tomas Monten’s Juniorkronorna are fortunate to have captain Emil Andrae, who leads his team and all tournament defencemen in scoring (4+4=8). Although not as highly touted as 2021 Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Simon Edvinsson, Andrae has truly been a force at both ends. The 20-year-old from HV71 got the third-period winner versus Latvia with a long shot off an offensive-zone draw, adding to his all-star team bid.

“I'm trying to produce as much as I can and help the team as much as I can, whether it's chipping a puck out in the defensive zone or taking a shot from the blue line,” said Andrae. “My teammates are doing a good job in front of the goalie, and I just have to get those pucks through. That's what I'm all about focusing on.”
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Finnish coach Antti Pennanen, meanwhile, can ice three players currently among the top 10 D-men in World Junior scoring: Kasper Puutio (3+3=6), Aleksi Heimosalmi (0+6=6), and Topi Niemela (0+4=4).

Yet as impressive as that statistic is, the lethal efficiency of Suomi’s top two forward lines on the power play has been the difference-maker all tournament long. Those lines helped the Finns pull away in the third period to eliminate Germany 5-2. They totalled four power play goals, and Finland tops the World Juniors in that category (13-for-22, 59 percent).

"We have a huge amount of skill on the power play," forward Roby Jarventie said. "Every player is pretty special, and we stick to our plan. We take the shots when they’re available and move the puck around well."

In the quarter-final, Jarventie (4+5=9) stole the show with his four-point afternoon. Fellow one-timer expert Joakim Kemell (3+8=11) probably has a better chance than anyone of catching Canadian captain Mason McTavish (7+7=14) for the World Junior scoring crown. Kemell’s linemate Aatu Raty (3+6=9) has looked comfortable and confident, disproving his doubters. Captain Roni Hirvonen and Kasper Simontaival (both 3+4=7) have consistently gone to the dirty areas as offensive catalysts too.

Conversely, the Swedish forwards have largely looked stuck in second gear in Edmonton. In the “still got more to give” category, you’ll find Swedish goals leader Isak Rosen (3+1=4) and Fabian Lysell (1+4=5), who is tied with Oskar Olausson (1+4=5) for the team points lead. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, noted for his wicked release, remains goalless (0+3=3) and is logging less than 12 minutes per game.

Sweden’s ace in the hole may be its top-ranked goaltending.

Backup Calle Clang boasts the tournament’s snazziest stats (94.4 save percentage, 1.00 GAA) after beating Austria 6-0 and Germany 4-2 in the group stage. But it’s Jesper Wallstedt – the 2021 first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild – who is considered the cream of the crop in Edmonton and has performed admirably in his three starts (92.2 save percentage, 2.02 GAA). Even in the third period of the 2-1 win over Latvia, where the big Lulea-trained netminder faced just one shot, he made a clutch pad save to preserve Sweden’s lead.

Goaltending is a huge reason why the Swedes sport the best PK percentage (1 goal allowed on 14 disadvantages) in Edmonton. Wallstedt will likely have to rob the likes of Kemell and Jarventie more than once while shorthanded if Sweden is to advance to the gold medal game.

Meanwhile, Finnish starter Leevi Merilainen (89.3 save percentage, 2.70 GAA) has been adequate. But he has had his hiccups, like the puck that bounced off his glove in the opening minute of the second period versus Canada, enabling Ridly Greig to make it 4-1 en route to a 6-3 final score.

If Finland jumps out to a big early lead, it’ll be hard for this Swedish roster to mount a comeback. However, a patient game could pay off for Sweden offensively, and then if Wallstedt bars the door, the Finns will find themselves vying for the bronze medal for the second straight year.

So what’ll it be? 4-3? 2-1? Those scores both sound viable...but the smart money is still on 3-2. This one could truly go either way. It'll be fun.