Finns outlast Germans for first win
by Lucas AYKROYD|13 MAY 2023
Finland's Joel Armia (#10) got the first goal in a 4-3 victory over Germany at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Tampere.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Mikko Lehtonen scored to break a third-period tie as Finland beat Germany 4-3 in a back-and-forth battle at Nokia Arena on Saturday. The home fans can breath a sigh of relief, at least for now, with Finland's first win.

After Mikko Rantanen stickhandled into the slot and zapped a shot on goal, Lehtonen was well-positioned to roof the rebound with 7:15 left. The moment matched the ZSC Lions' defenceman's reputation as an all-star at both the 2022 Olympics and Worlds.

"It's always nice to score in national team games," Lehtonen told "Obviously a big goal for us. And hopefully it relieves a little bit of stress for our game."

Sakari Manninen, who got the golden goal against Canada last year in this same building, scored twice for the host team, which outshot Germany 25-13. Manninen's linemates, Rantanen and Teemu Hartikainen, both had two-point nights as well.

Preparing to face archrival Sweden next on Monday, Rantanen said: "I think obviously they're a better team than Germany. As a five-on-five team, we're really good, as we showed today. We've just gotta stay out of the box and clean up a couple of mistakes."

The Finns grabbed a much-needed three points after falling 4-1 to the U.S. in their opener. The Germans, coming off a 1-0 loss to Sweden, generated some offence but remain pointless through two Group A games.

"It’s unfortunate," said Germany's Frederik Tiffels. "We played a good game again but just couldn’t come away with a point or even a win."

Germany-Finland games are usually tight. Although Finland won seven of the nine preceding World Championship matchups, five of those victories were by just one goal and two were decided in extra time.

Unsurprisingly, Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen made lineup changes for Game Two. With Antti Suomela sitting out as a precautionary measure, Jere Sallinen took his spot with Joel Armia and Kaapo Kakko. Forward Harri Pesonen was also registered to make his debut.

"We got a lot of support from the crowd and sometimes that can be a big factor in how the game ends," Pesonen said. "It was fun to play. A lot of things happened. We were leading, they were leading. It was an exciting game."

In net, two-time world champion and 2022 Olympic gold medalist Jussi Olkinuora made his tournament debut for Finland. German coach Harald Kreiss used Grizzlys Wolfsburg veteran Dustin Strahlmeier, who played one game at last year’s Worlds.

Deutschland doesn't make life easy on anyone, as evidenced by its 2018 Olympic silver medal and top-eight finishes at five of the last six Worlds. This game was no exception.

Armia opened the scoring at 9:30. Kakko fed him the puck from the corner for a one-timer that squeezed past Strahlmeier’s glove.

"I think our line played a good game tonight," Armia said. "We were heavy down low and kept the puck and made some plays down there. It was a great pass from Kaapo. It feels good just playing with those guys."

Still, Germany’s resilience yielded the equalizer – with a little luck. At 17:45, Marcel Noebels took a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that bounced past a surprised Olkinuora.

Consecutive second-period minors to Juho Lammikko and Teemu Hartikainen gave the Germans momentum as they controlled the puck in the Finnish end. Kai Wissman, just after Hartikainen's penalty expired, gave Germany a 2-1 lead with a centre point blast at 12:26. The partisan crowd of 11,712 got nervous.

Just 1:43 later, Manninen tied it up with a glove-side blast off the rush that Kasperi Kapanen teed up.  When German captain Moritz Muller went off for holding, Manninen struck again. Strahlmeier stopped Mikko Rantanen's initial one-timer, but Manninen backhanded home the rebound to make it 3-2.

The Germans didn't just roll over. With a John Peterka power play goal, they headed to the dressing room with a 3-3 tie. The Buffalo Sabres forward zapped a shot high over Olkinuora's glove with 19 seconds left in the middle frame.

"That’s what makes us strong as Team Germany," Wissman said. "We always fight for each other. We leave it all out there."

The tension mounted. Kakko couldn't convert on a breakaway a minute into the third period. The Germans came up empty when Sallinen was sent off for holding Muller.

After Lehtonen's go-ahead goal, Kreis pulled Strahlmeier for the extra skater with under two minutes remaining, but Germany couldn't find the range.

Looking forward to Germany's next game, Wissman said: "I think in the first two games we deserved more than zero points. We want to go into the game [against USA] and battle and hopefully get some points."

The Finns and Germans last met at the 2021 Worlds in Latvia. Finland won both games 2-1, including the semi-final, versus the eventual fourth-place squad coached by a Finn, Toni Soderholm. The rivalry between these two nations just keeps growing.
Germany vs Finland - 2023 IIHF WM