Finns overcome gritty France
by Lucas AYKROYD|17 MAY 2023
Harri Pesonen (#82) whoops it up after scoring Finland's first goal in a 5-3 win over France at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Tampere.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Captain Marko Anttila showed why he's Finland's leader. The towering Olympic and World Championship hero delivered an important goal and an assist as the Finns beat a never-say-die French team 5-3 on Wednesday and was named Player of the Game.

"It’s a big win," said Anttila. "It always is when we win here. France was very active, they were skating hard. It wasn’t the easiest night for us, but I think we were patient enough and we scored enough goals. I think we deserved to win tonight."

It wasn't a perfect night. The defending champion Finns craved a three-point win after losing their opener 4-1 to the U.S. and their third game 2-1 to Sweden in a shootout. They got it, but their inability to put together a complete 60 minutes against either fellow medal contenders or lower-echelon nations is raising some concerns.

Top-liners Sakari Manninen and Mikko Rantanen both had two-point games.

"We've scored a few goals, although one was in the empty net tonight," said Manninen. "We're getting chances and that's a good thing. We just keep working and eventually it's gonna go in. We just have to believe and not get frustrated."

In the Group A quarter-finals race, Finland now sits fourth with seven points, while France is fifth with four points. For the first time at these Worlds, Les Bleus didn’t go to overtime.

"We had a bad result yesterday so we wanted to show that we could play with a big team," said France's Hugo Gallet, alluding to the 3-2 overtime loss to Hungary. "We’re playing the world champions. It’s in their building. That’s a lot of fun and we wanted to show that we were ready. We wanted to keep the scoreline tight."

Final shots favoured Finland 32-22

It was a high-intensity affair with the underdogs giving no quarter – even without Sacha Treille. The French captain sat out for some maintenance and Valentin Claireaux wore the “C” in his place.

In net, France's Julian Junca, 25, made his IIHF World Championship debut as starter Sebastian Ylonen got the night off. Goalie Emil Larmi returned between the Finnish pipes for his third start and got in trouble early.

Just 1:04 in, defenceman Florian Chakiachvili surprised Larmi with France’s first shot, scoring on a bad angle from the left side. It proved the old adage: “Good things happen when you put the puck on net.”

The French kept coming. A fired-up Alexandre Texier got multiple chances and nearly stuffed another goal in. But Harri Pesonen got Finland’s mojo working with the equalizer at 4:37, converting a rebound from Ville Pokka’s shot into a gaping cage.

Each team dug hard to generate chances, and pucks rattled off posts. Around the 12-minute mark, Manninen nearly batted in a Rantanen feed on the rush, but Junca got his glove on it.

In the second period, Finland went up 2-1 at 3:35. Anttila found Ahti Oksanen at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and the 30-year-old Worlds rookie beat Junca with a short-side snap shot for his first goal.

"It feels great," said Oksanen. "It's such a cliche to say 'late bloomer,' but it feels like in the past couple years, I've figured out how to how to play the game. And year by year, everything's getting easier. So it feels really good to get rewarded and get called to the national team."

The crowd of 11,638 erupted when Pesonen put the puck in the net off an offensive-zone faceoff, but it was waved off since the puck wasn't dropped properly.

France's Justin Addamo tied it up at 8:31 on a beautiful play. Guillaume LeClerc circled the Finnish zone, cut to the middle, and found Hugo Gallet in the left faceoff circle. He fed the puck in front to Addamo, who put it through Larmi's legs. For the partisan Nokia Arena crowd, the stony stare of a Finnish fan on the big video cube said it all.

Antilla restored Finland's lead on the rush at 11:36. Like an enraged bull, he charged toward the French defence, moved to the slot, and flung a heavy wrister past Junca's stick arm before flinging himself exultantly into the end glass.

"Nice move on the blue line and quick shot on the blocker side!" said Manninen. "He's a great, great guy and great captain. He's actually my roommate. I am so happy for him that he got that goal. Marko was one of the best players on the ice tonight."

Early in the third period, the fans roared with disapproval when LeClerc rammed Hannes Bjorninen from behind into the boards. On the ensuing power play, Teemu Hartikainen capitalized at 5:22 with a wicked one-timer from the left faceoff circle, as Manninen and Rantanen drew the assists.

The resilient French cut the deficit to 4-3 at 9:03. Charles Bertrand tipped in a Chakiachvili shot that hit a Finnish stick first, confusing Larmi. But that was as close as coach Philippe Bozon's men would get. Bozon pulled his goalie for the extra skater, but Manninen added the empty-netter at 18:58.

"It wasn’t the prettiest game for sure," Larmi said. "But at this point it doesn’t matter. We just needed to get the win, get that experience of winning."

It was the tenth Suomi win over France in 11 World Championship meetings. The only French victory was 5-1 on 7 May 2017. In front of an ecstatic Paris crowd of 11,433, Antoine Roussel sparked the upset with two goals, while Anthony Rech had three assists.
Finland vs France - 2023 IIHF WM