Canada ends Finland's reign
by Andy Potts|25 MAY 2023
Canada's Jack Quinn (#22) accepts the congratulations of his team-mates after opening the scoring against Finland in a quarter-final game at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Finland - Latvia.
Canada battled to a 4-1 victory over Finland, bringing the host nation's title defence to an early end in the quarter-finals of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. The Canadians advance to the final four once again.

For Tyler Toffoli, Canada's captain here, this is familiar territory but in rather different circumstances. In 2015 he was part of a stellar Canadian gold-medal roster in Prague. Now he's leading a less heralded crew towards a possible repeat.

"I guess this year we took on an underdog kind of role," he said of his country's progress. "Everyone here’s excited, everyone’s playing. We’re rolling four lines and everybody’s getting a chance and bringing a lot of energy.

"It's a different experience from last time. That team we had in Prague was pretty incredible but this is a much younger team so it's been a lot of fun and we're getting better every day."

Backed by a vocal home crowd in Tampere, the Finns dominated substantial spells of the game. However, the Canadians were swift and devastating on the counter attack and defended in depth when necessary. Montreal’s Samuel Montembeault had a big game between the pipes to frustrate the Leijonat, while goals from Jack Quinn, Samuel Blais and Michael Carcone set Canada on the road to victory.

"It's tough to lose in the quarter-final," said Finnish goalscorer Teemu Hartikainen. "Their goalie was standing on his head. We had some good chances but he made some really big saves. 

"If we could get one or two goals in that second period, we would be much more confident that we could take over the game. But down 0-2 going into the third, then they score early and it's a long way back."

In the first period, Finland enjoyed far greater possession and had plenty of time in the Canadian zone. However, a combination of rigorous defence and opportunist counterattacking ensured that Canada took a lead into the first intermission.

The passage of play leading to the opening goal was a summary of that opening session. Finland created a great chance for Teemu Hartikainen on the doorstep, but he was enable to stuff it in. Lawson Crouse brought play away from goal and released Quinn down the right-hand channel. The forward caught a break when Atte Ohtamaa stook on the puck, but astutely used the off-balance Finnish defender to screen a shot that flashed through Emil Larmi’s fivehole into the far corner of the net on 7:12.

That briefly silenced a fervent home crowd in Tampere. However, the Finns gave their public reason to believe with plenty of activity around Montembeault’s net. That activity did not always translate into clear-cut chances, though, with rebounds rarely going to a Finnish stick and Canada working hard to block shooting and passing lanes.

Early in the second period, the phrase ‘padded away by Montembeault’ started to fill up reporters’ notebooks. The Canadian goalie made big saves to stop a blast from Niklas Friman, then get behind Hartikainen’s redirect of Miiko Koivisto’s feed.

"He's been a rock for us the whole tournament," said Marcone of his netminder. "We're thankful to have him back there, and he's been great. Hopefully we can keep going."

However, Canada continued to threaten with quick transitions from defence to offence. Larmi closed the door on a big chance for Adam Fantilli, but could do little when Ville Pokka failed to cut out a pass in centre ice and allowed the Canadians a three-on-one rush. Blais took a pass from Jake Neighbours and roofed the puck to make it 2-0 midway through the session.

"We capitalized on the turnovers, we’ve got a lot of skilled players," said MacKenzie Weegar. "Kudos to them, they did a great job getting it past that goalie. But I think for us it was just about defending hard and capitalizing on those turnovers."

After the second goal, Canada started to see more possession. Paradoxically, that helped Finland revert to its familiar counterattacking game. Kaapo Kakko got clear of the defence, but he ran out of road as he attempted to stickhandle around Montembeault. Moments later, Rantanen clipped the outside of the post, again from a tight angle. Then Kakko produced a deftly-concealed pass for Kasperi Kapanen, taking Canada’s Jacob Middleton out of the game only for the Habs’ netminder to make yet another big save.

The Finns needed a fast start to the third if they were going to save the game. Instead, they were caught cold. With less than three minutes played, Carcone converted a cross-ice feed from MacKenzie Weegar to give Canada a 3-0 lead. It felt unassailable, and so it proved.

"I just got in hard on the forecheck, turned the puck over and then tried to make a play," Carcone said of his goal. "It came back to me. [MacKenzie Weegar] made a really good seam pass and I just tried to put it on net and it went in."

For Finland's Ohtamaa, that was the moment that the dream of a repeat gold began to fade. "I think in the first two periods we were playing pretty well," he said. "We created a lot of scoring chances, but they were better in those situations and they used their chances better than us. In the third, I think they were defending well and we didn't get so many chances.

"We had a good spirit all the time. Even today, when it was 2-0 for them, I felt pretty strong and I had a lot of belief that we were coming back in this game. But it didn't go our way tonight."

There was an increasingly shrill edge of desperation to the noise in the arena as Finland tried to push forward in search of a lifeline. When Hartikainen pulled a goal back three minutes from the end, home hope briefly flickered back into life. However, Canada remained unruffled. Toffoli's empty-net goal closed out the win and advance to the final four for the eighth successive tournament.