Finland edges out Czechia, 3-2
by Risto Pakarinen|12 JAN 2023
photo: Andrea Cardin / IIHF
For a few minutes, Team Finland was out of the medal hunt, but a strong finish and the determination of the team’s star players carried them to the semifinal, thanks to their 3-2 win over Czechia. 
Pauliina Salonen scored twice for Finland, Sanni Vanhanen once. 

"We had made up our minds that we'd do whatever it takes to win," Salonen said. "I think this win shows what our team is really made of."

"I can't remember the last time I was this happy after a hockey game," added Vanhanen. 
Even though Team Finland had scored only two goals in the tournament, there seemed to be a lot of potential on the roster. Vanhanen, who scored a hat-trick in last year’s bronze medal game, has averaged two points a game in the Finnish league while Salonen, playing in her third U18 Women’s Worlds averages a point a game back home. The third member of the first line, team captain Tilli Keranen, isn’t a stranger to scoring goals, either. 
Before the game, Finland ranked eighth in the tournament in scoring efficiency, with 4.44 percent. Their powerplay had scored zero goes on nine attempts. 
According to coach Mira Kuisma, the problems were “between the ears.”
Czechia, on the other hand, went undefeated through the preliminary round, with ten different players finding the back of the net, and another five collecting points. 
In short, Finland had their backs against the wall in the quarterfinal game against Czechia. This time, fortunately for the Finns, their first line showed up from the get-go. 
Finland vs Czechia (QF) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship
FIN CZE 12 JAN 2023

While the Czechs created problems to the Finnish defence in the first period, Finnish goaltender Kerttu Kuja-Halkola turned into Kuja-Hasek, even diving in front of a Czech shot in a soccer goaltender style. 

And then, the Finns converted on powerplay. Barbora Jurickova took an illegal hit minor, and Finland sent out their first powerplay unit. The Czech forward had been in the penalty box for exactly a minute when Sinna Varjonen and Keranen played the puck quickly to Salonen who one-timed it from the slot and gave her team the ever-important first goal in the game.

Finland had several good chances early in the second period, but now it was Michaela Hesova’s turn to channel her famous countryman in the Czech goal. 

The second period was scoreless, even though the puck danced on the Finnish goal line on a couple of occasions. 

In the third period, the Finns got into some penalty trouble. They killed off one penalty early in the period, but the Czechs kept possession in the Finnish zone five-on-five. A Finnish defender couldn’t clear the puck and Andrea Sapovalivova went around the Finnish net and sent a backhand pass across the crease. Teresa Plosova one-timed it in to tie the game just 44 seconds into the period. 

Three and a half minutes later, Bianca Kanerva was sent to the sin bin for an illegal hit. Dominika Malicka dropped the puck to Linda Vocetkova who fired a laser from the slot and beat Kuja-Halkola on the glove side at 6.07. 

"One thing we've talked about in the dressing room is that no matter what happens on the ice, we won't let it get to us or change the way we play," Salonen said.

Finland found another gear and pushed Czechia on their heels. Twelve minutes into the period, Salonen fired a wrister from the slot, it hit the crossbar, but Vanhanen could tap it in to tie the game. 

"For a second I thought I had scored, but I guess the puck hit both posts and the crossbar," said a giddy Salonen.

The Czechs took another penalty 44 seconds after the goal, opening the door for Finland and Pauliina Salonen kicked it wide open with her second goal and third point in the game, to give Finns the lead – and a semifinal spot – with five and half minutes to go. 

The Czechs and Slovaks will play for the fifth place in the tournament. 

Finland takes on Canada in the semifinal.

Finland vs Czechia (QF) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship