After falling 3-2 in overtime to Switzerland to open the tournament on Boxing Day, head coach Tomi Lamsa’s Finns were eager to redeem themselves. They hope this Group B victory will blot out the disappointing effort versus the Swiss like the snow currently falling on Moncton.
Returning players are always key, and captain Oliver Kapanen and Joakim Kemell stepped up with a goal and an assist apiece. Sami Paivarinta, Jani Nyman, and Brad Lambert also scored for Finland, while Kalle Ervasti added a pair of helpers.
"Today we had a fresh start," said Lamsa. "And I'm satisfied with how we played, the kind of energy we had. Tactically, I think we did good decisions. And of course, in the second period we had three goals. That was a big, big 20 minutes for us."
Kemell, who unexpectedly served as Finland's 13th forward in the opener, looked much more effective on the top line with Oliver Kapanen and Ville Koivunen. The 18-year-old sniper, drafted 17th overall by Nashville this year, finished second in 2022 World Junior scoring behind Canada's Mason McTavish with 16 points.
"Our first line, they played a really strong game today and Kemell was really strong too," Lamsa said of his line juggling. "So I think that was that was a really good move."
In Slovakia's tournament opener, Peter Repcik replied with a pair of power play goals, while Maxim Strbak had two assists.
Of his performance, Repcik said: "I'm trying to build my confidence every single day, and this was a good thing, but we lost 5-2 too, so it's mixed feelings."
Slovakia’s aim is to return to the podium for just the third time in World Junior history after earning bronze medals in 1999 and 2015. But based on this outing, they'll need to pull up their socks significantly.
Both starting goalies made their World Junior debuts. Finland’s Jani Lampinen got the better of Slovakia’s Patrik Andrisik, who was replaced by Matej Marinov halfway through. Shots favoured Slovakia 24-23.
The Finns have totalled just 39 shots through two games, a statistic that will need some improvement as the medal round approaches.
On balance, Finland, the 2022 silver medalists, came out looking much more determined. Defenceman Aleksi Malinen laid a hit on Slovakia’s Alex Ciernik at the Finnish blue line that crumpled the Sodertalje SK forward.
Coach Ivan Fenes’s Slovaks didn’t register a shot on goal until nearly halfway through the first period, although they then picked up the pace.
"The first period was was tough for us," Repcik said. "We were kinda afraid of Finland or of the start of the tournament."
Slovakia got a power-play equalizer with just 11 seconds left in the opening stanza. Lampinen couldn’t control the rebound from Dalibor Dvorsky’s quick release from the right faceoff circle, and Repcik, stationed by the net, banged the puck past the goalie’s left pad. The Charlottetown Islanders forward also scored the 1-1 tying goal in a 9-3 loss to Finland at the World Juniors in August.
Kemell put Finland up 2-1 at 3:21 of the second period when Koivunen set him up at the top of the right faceoff circle. The winger uncorked his deadly one-timer and the puck flew by Andrisik on the stick side.
"I think he fits well," Oliver Kapanen said of having Kemell on the top line. "He played hard and that's good for our line and the whole team."
Oliver Kapanen's 3-1 goal at 7:45 combined physical prowess with skill. Busting down right wing, the Finnish captain shrugged off Simon Becar's bodycheck, looped behind the Slovak net, and tucked in a wraparound.
Nyman made it 4-1 with a power play goal at 13:56, coming just five seconds after Samuel Honzek was sent off for delay of game. Andrisik was caught out of position on Nyman's one-timer. Fenes had seen enough and Marinov took over between the pipes.
Lampinen wasn't seeing much action, but the Kiekko-Espoo netminder was alert to make the save when Slovak assistant captain Filip Mesar cut in off left wing with a quick backhander with under three minutes left in the second period.
With Aleksi Heimosalmi off for cross-checking early in the third, the Finnish goalie made several nice stops during the Slovak man advantage, but he couldn't stop Repcik from converting a rebound to make it 4-2 at 3:22. Seconds later, Marinov denied Kemell on a solo break.
At 5:01, Lambert restored Finland's three-goal lead, racing into the right faceoff circle and surprising Marinov with a high short-side zinger. Marinov later made a stellar right-pad save on Oliver Kapanen, but his mates were unable to muster further offence.
Lambert was happy with the improvement after losing to Switzerland: "Way, way better. We played faster, we won more battles, we were more engaged. So it was a lot better game from from everyone. We still obviously have have things to improve on, but it was a good bounceback."
2022 has been one of the most successful calendar years in Slovak hockey history, from capturing an historic Olympic bronze medal in Beijing to having forward Juraj Slafkovsky (Montreal) and defenceman Simon Nemec (New Jersey) taken first and second overall in the NHL Entry Draft.
Yet in Moncton, Slovakia will need to wait until at least Wednesday to get into the win column, and that won't be easy against the high-powered Americans. Finland's next game is Thursday versus Latvia.
"I think we are really good players, and I think we can make a surprise," Repcik said of facing the U.S., who downed Latvia 5-2 in their first game.
This was the seventh consecutive Finnish World Junior victory over Slovakia. The Slovaks last defeated Finland on 27 December, 2014 in Montreal (2-1). Finland’s all-time record against Slovakia stands at 14 wins, one tie, and four losses.