A Finnish flourish
by Andy Potts|23 MAY 2023
Finland's Sakari Manninen celebrates after his team scores on Denmark at the 2023 World Championship.
Finland saved the best until last in the preliminary round. An emphatic 7-1 demolition of Denmark represented some of the most attractive hockey we’ve seen from the defending champion at the 2023 World Championship . A repeat of the Leijonat's biggest winning margin got the Tampere crowd dreaming of back-to-back titles on home ice.

That’s still some way off, of course. After finishing third in the group, Finland faces a testing quarter-final test on Thursday when Canada jets into Tampere for a repeat of the last three gold medal games. 

"It’s going be a different kind of beast with the Canadians coming in," said Olli Maatta. "It’s going to be a great match up and everybody’s going to be excited for it.

"Canada's a big physical team and they can score. I think they’ve been really good defensively too. We have to match that, but it’s all about us. We’ve shown that when we play our best game we can beat anyone."

For Denmark, Tuesday’s game marked the last time Heinz Ehlers would coach the national team. His contract expires after this tournament, and Germany’s win over France this morning meant the Danes had no chance of going beyond this year’s group stage.

However, Finland did not let the opposition head coach leave with a memorable victory. The home team, which could do no better than a third-place finish in the group stage, took control of this one in the opening stages and cruised to victory.

It took less than three minutes to find a way through the Danish defence. Hannes Bjorninen took the puck out of the corner and sent to Nikolas Matinpalo at the point. Marko Anttila batted down his shot to send it past goaltender George Sorensen. The goalie was beaten again within a minute when Atte Ohtamaa got on the end of a rush involving Sakari Manninen and Mikko Rantanen. 

"The start that we had today just wasn't good enough," said Nikolaj Ehlers. "We should have all been excited to play in front of a crowd like this in Finland. That should give us an energy boost. I think at times we played okay, but we made too many mistakes today and this Finnish team is too good to not capitalize on that."

For Finland, Joel Armia felt that the team achieved its objectives from the game. "Our goal was to finish on a good note and get some positive things going on," he said. "I think guys who scored tonight or played well, I'm sure they have a lot of confidence going into this next game."

The home crowd quickly jumped into party mood, and a third goal late in the opening frame kept the noise levels up in the Nokia Arena. Ville Pokka got his first of the competition as he held off Patrick Russell on the slot to redirect Mikael Seppala’s point shot.

Denmark offered little on offence, and fell further behind at the start of the middle frame when Harri Pesonen got behind the net before setting up Hannes Bjorninen while Joel Armia screened the incoming shot.

With the pressure off, Finland’s forwards took the chance to indulge in a few fancy plays. Antti Suomela earned the appreciation of the home crowd with a nifty little dangle and behind-the-back feed towards Kasperi Kapanen, only for Mikkel Aagaard’s stick to slide the puck to safety while the net gaped invitingly.

Too often, though, the Danish D was exposed by the pace of Finland’s counterattacks. There were certainly worrying gaps when Juho Lammikko raced away for a short-handed goal to make it 5-0. And when Kapanen engaged the turbo boosts late in the second period to burn past the defence and outwit the hopelessly exposed Sorensen. The goalie complained that he was impeded, but the officials saw nothing wrong with the play.

The teams traded goals early in the third. Matinpalo’s point shot fizzed through traffic to make it seven for Finland. Almost immediately, Denmark managed a consolation goal in reply through Nikolaj Ehlers. It was perhaps fitting that the Danes’ last goal with Heinz behind the bench was scored by his son.

Nikolaj reflected on the end of an era, but admitted that in the short term nothing much will change as he heads home to spend the summer with his family in Denmark.

"It's been very fun to have my dad as a coach," he added. "We've had some pretty proud moments together, me playing and him coaching and getting some pretty great results as a team.

"I think in a couple of years, when we  look back, that's when it's going to hit us that those moments are something that we want to cherish."