Make it three straight for Finland
by Lucas AYKROYD|20 MAY 2023
Antti Suomela (#74) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a first-period goal in host Finland's 3-1 win over Austria at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
It wasn't perfect, but it was three points. With goals from Kasperi Kapanen, Antti Suomela, and Ahti Oksanen, host Finland claimed a 3-1 victory over underdog Austria to extend its winning streak to three games.

It’s hard to read too much into this result, along with Finland's wins of 5-3 over France and 7-1 over Hungary. The defending champs had another slow start. They haven't scored more than one goal in the first period of any game. But at least they're not squandering points in Group A as they did earlier against bona fide powers like the U.S. and Sweden.

‚Äč"Austria played well, actually," said Finland's Kaapo Kakko. "They battled hard. They played well in the D-zone. We got some chances, but their goalie played well too. So, not the easiest win for us."

As against Hungary, the hosts also led 2-1 after 40 minutes at Tampere's Nokia Arena. However, this didn't turn into a blowout.

Hannes Bjorninen, who scored last year's Olympic gold medal-winning goal, struck an optimistic note: "We’ve got some confidence now. It feels pretty good playing here in front of this amazing crowd."

Coach Jukka Jalonen's second line with Suomela centering Kapanen and Kakko was the most effective on balance. Assistant captain Olli Maatta had two assists. Skaters-wise, Finland’s only change from the Hungary game was reinserting Oksanen in lieu of Waltteri Merela.

In net, Finland’s Emil Larmi got his fourth start as his mates outshot Austria 39-18.

Austrian goalie David Madlener got just his third career World Championship start and shone in his team's best outing so far. The 31-year-old played two games in 2018 in Denmark with a 7.00 GAA and 82.3 save percentage.

The Austrian lineup saw other major changes. Captain Thomas Raffl – whose three goals lead Austria – and defenceman Philipp Wimmer were rested, with Manuel Ganahl sporting the “C” in Raffl’s place. Defenceman David Reinbacher, a top NHL draft prospect at age 18, returned after missing the last three games due to injury.

Just 1:19 in, Kapanen got the Finnish party started, taking Kakko’s sweet backhanded feed at the blue line and busting in to beat Madlener over the glove.

"I got the puck on the wall," Kakko said. "He was flying in the middle and I just tried to throw it over there. Nice goal!"

Austria replied moments after Madlener stoned Antti Suomela on the doorstep. After a Finnish neutral zone turnover, Dominic Zwerger surprised Larmi with a high snipe on the rush at 4:55.

Less than three minutes later, Suomela wasn’t to be denied, tipping Maatta’s pass through Madlener’s legs to restore Finland’s lead. The Austrian netminder foiled Mikko Lehtonen with under two minutes left in the opening stanza to keep it close.

Jalonen got cheers after an announcement that he’d just received an honorary doctorate from the University of Jyvaskyla. But his players didn't exactly school Austria in the scoreless second period. In fact, they got outshot 7-6 despite the crowd's "Suomi!" chants.

"They defended well," said Maatta. "You can see they played together during the season too. They're packed pretty tight. So it's tough to score. I think we've got to shoot the puck more and play a little more straightforward rather than trying to make the cutest play."

In the third period, the Finns increased their intensity, but couldn't solve Madlener until Oksanen zapped a short-side wrister over his shoulder with 1:52 left. Austrian coach Roger Bader challenged the play, but video review confirmed it was not offside.

Out of quarter-finals contention with just one point, the Austrians have their sights set on their last game with Hungary, which has two points. It could be an intense battle for survival if the Hungarians lose to Germany on Sunday.

Of keeping it tight against Finland, Austria's Marco Rossi said: "We didn’t expect it to be that close, to be honest, but I think it was really important for us to have a game like that before the huge game against Hungary. It wasn’t a win, so it hurts, but now we have to be ready for Hungary on Monday."

Austria has never beaten Finland at either the World Championships or Olympics. The first meeting was a 9-2 Finnish win at the 1957 Worlds in Moscow. The best Austria has done was a 3-3 tie at the 2000 Worlds in St. Petersburg.