Ada Eronen scored the winner for Finland late in the second period and Oona Havana doubled the lead with a two-player advantage in the third period.
"It feels awesome because we didn't have a win against Canada," said Havana. "Everybody worked hard and then we got a few goals. It helped us and we concentrated on every moment."
Finnish goalie Emilia Kyrkko dazzled with 40 saves for the shutout.
The result ended Canada’s perfect streak against Finland in U18 Women’s Worlds play. Canada had outscored Finland 61-3 in the previous nine games. But even before this upset, the gap had gotten smaller. The last two meetings in 2019 and 2020 were 4-1 for Canada.
Canada outshot Finland 40-17. The Canadians know they have more to give, whereas the Finns can take victorious pride in the best game their country has ever played Canada at the U18 level.
"We need a better start," said Canada's Sarah MacEachern. "I think we came out a little flat and we picked it up once they scored a goal. But we know that we need to start from the beginning next time [against Sweden] and just keep the energy going throughout the whole game."
It was also important simply to get this tournament underway. Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, (pop. 260,000) is co-hosting the U18 Women's Worlds – the 14th in history – for the first time ever, along with nearby Middleton. Running 6 to 13 June, these U18 Women’s Worlds are also taking place later in the year than any of their predecessors.
Originally slated for Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden in January, the tournament was relocated and rescheduled due to the global pandemic. The 2021 tournament – also slated for those Swedish cities – was cancelled altogether due to Covid-19 concerns. Now the competition including the lower divisions is back after missing one year.
Finland is aiming to get back on the podium for just the third time in history. The Finns have two bronze medals at this tournament, from 2011 with Isa Rahunen as captain and from 2019 with Nelli Laitinen wearing the “C.” The Finns lost the 2020 bronze medal game 5-1 to Russia. This win is a huge psychological step forward.
Finnish coach Mira Kuisma won't accept complacency with a big test coming up against the U.S. on Tuesday: "I think the U.S. will be coming harder tomorrow than this Canada game. I think it's tougher playing tomorrow. We have to prepare for that."
Canada hopes to improve on its silver-medal finish from 2020. The Canadians have five gold medals all-time (2010, 2012-14, 2019) in this event, second only to the host U.S.’s eight gold medals. They know they've still got more work to do.
"I thought they outplayed us in the first part of that game," Canadian coach Howie Draper said of Finland. "I felt like they were more prepared to win the battles that we need to win. They moved the puck better than us. We started off a little bit hesitant and more anxious and maybe worried about about not finishing the way we want to finish in the end. And that took us away from our game."
Canada’s Jade Iginla was unable to make her IIHF debut. The daughter of Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla was ruled out of the tournament shortly before the opener due to an upper-body injury from Canada’s 3-1 exhibition loss to the Americans. Iginla, 17, had 18 goals and 10 assists in 22 games for RHA Kelowna this season.
“We are all extremely disappointed for Jade,” said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s in a statement. “She is a hard-working, fierce competitor and leader among our group. We are hopeful she makes a quick recovery and look forward to her having the chance to represent Canada again in the future.”
Canadian goalie Hailey MacLeod was sharp to cover up the puck near the end of Finland's second power play, with 2022 Olympian Sanni Vanhanen looking for a rebound on the doorstep. The Vancouver-raised netminder also stoned Finnish captain Anna-Raisa Antti-Roiko on a breakaway in the last minute in the opening stanza.
In the second period, MacLeod made a fantastic save in tight on Schalin during Finland's third power play mid-game. The Finns continued to gain hope as the opener remained scoreless. Kyrkko was stellar as second-period shots favoured Canada 14-3.
Canadian defender Tova Henderson praised MacLeod: "She held us in there for sure. We would have been down by quite a bit earlier on, but she made those insane saves."
Eronen's go-ahead goal at 17:49 came off a faceoff in the Canadian zone. Jenniina Kuoppala got the puck to the left point and the Kiekko Espoo blueliner's shot through traffic clanged in off MacLeod's left post. Eronen, 18, had one goal and eight assists in Finland's Naisten Liiga this season.
Starting the third period, the Canadian fans chanted "Go Canada Go!" with urgency. But the Finns kept coming. Canada flirted with danger, giving the Finns an extended 5-on-3 power play, and Havana cashed in at 5:52 with a glove-side wrister from the high slot. The upset felt a whole lot more real now.
As the Canadians pressed to get on the board, the Finns flung their bodies and sticks around and blocked shots with abandon. Canada's comeback hopes took another blow when Alexia Aubin was sent off for an illegal hit on Heidi Kokora at the Finnish bench with under six minutes to play. During the PK, Canada's Karel Prefontaine had to literally crawl to the bench after being hurt on a shot-block.
With MacLeod pulled for the extra skater, Baxter nearly broke Kyrkko's shutout with a shot off the cross bar. That was as close as Canada would get, despite buzzing all around Kyrkko's crease. The Finns celebrated with screams of joy in a tight-knit circle after the final buzzer.
"We are Finnish people," said Havana. "So of course, we celebrate in the locker room, and we sing and dance."
Henderson took a philosophical view: "Our coach came in at the start of the game and told us this game was all about learning. So I think it was a really big learning experience for us all. He came in after the game and wrote on the board everything we need to do better and everything we did well."
"At times, we showed what we're capable of doing," Draper added. "Now it's just making sure that tomorrow, we bring the urgency in the battle and let everything kind of happen the way it's going to happen, rather than worrying about the possibility of losing."
Perhaps Canada can find some inspiration from its setting. LaBahn Arena, on the University of Wisconsin campus, holds a special resonance for Canadian women’s hockey. The 2012-built arena features a wall of photos with the 19 Badgers who became Olympic women’s hockey stars, including seven Canadians: Kristen Campbell, Emily Clark, Carla MacLeod, Ann-Renee Desbiens, Meaghan Mikkelson, Sarah Nurse, and Blayre Turnbull.
Finland and Canada have an increasingly fierce rivalry in both women’s and men’s hockey. Although the senior Finnish women lost 11-1 to Canada at February’s Olympics, they beat Canada 4-3 in the group stage en route to bronze at the 2017 Women’s Worlds in Plymouth and 4-2 in the semi-finals in their history-making silver medal run at the 2019 Women’s Worlds in Espoo.
On the men’s side, the Finns – the reigning Olympic and world champions – have met Canada three straight time in the Worlds finals, winning 3-1 in 2019 in Bratislava and 4-3 in overtime in May in Tampere. The Finns settled for silver with a 3-2 overtime loss in 2021 in Riga.
With all that said, Canada’s much greater depth in an age-restricted tournament makes it tough to overcome in a still-developing sport like women’s hockey. And that's why this Finnish upset is so monumental.