Historic upset as Austria edges Finns
by Lucas AYKROYD|16 MAY 2024
Austria rallied from a two-goal deficit to shock Finland 3-2 with a last-second winner at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Prague.
Benjamin Baumgartner scored the go-ahead goal with one second left as Austria stunned Finland 3-2 at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on Thursday. Austria, which had never beaten the Finns before in the 10 previous Worlds meetings dating back to 1957, rallied from a two-goal deficit to make history.

"I can't even describe it," said a jubilant Baumgartner. "I mean, Finland is such a good hockey nation. That we can beat them at the World Championship is, I think, the best thing that has happened in Austrian hockey in a long time. We're so proud of our group."

Baumgartner picked up a rebound in the Finnish zone, circled past the point, and pivoted to score on a long shot. His teammates mobbed him in joy and disbelief after getting their first 2024 win in extraordinary fashion.

"I thought the buzzer was before it went in, but it wasn't," Baumgartner said. "0.02 [seconds left], that's close. It can't get any closer!"

Finland, the reigning 2022 Olympic champions, struggled with inopportune penalties and paid the price for allowing the red-and-white underdogs to stay in the game.

"They got their first goal, and we didn't really get our game going anymore," said Finnish captain Mikael Granlund. "And obviously that's hockey. They did a really good job and they got rewarded at the end."

For Austria, which has now entered the quarter-finals conversation with four points, Mario Huber had a goal and an assist, and Thimo Nickl also scored. Benjamin Nissner added a pair of assists.

For the Finns, Oliver Kapanen scored his team-leading sixth goal and Saku Maenalanen added a single. Finland outshot Austria 32-20.

"We didn't underestimate anyone," said Granlund. "We knew it was going to be a really tough game. They've been playing really well this tournament. So it's good for them. They really did a good job tonight."

The Austrians were coming off a thrilling 7-6 overtime loss to defending champion Canada, in which the underdogs rallied with five third-period goals. Despite that offensive confidence boost, their odds against coach Jukka Jalonen’s squad seemed unfavourable.

Only once before in tournament history had Austria taken a point from Finland: a 3-3 tie in 2000. Esa Tikkanen made it 3-2 with under three minutes left, but Christoph Brandner promptly tied it up again.

Here, it didn’t take long for the Finns to reward their “Suomi!”-chanting fans. On the forecheck, Iiro Pakarinen dug the puck loose behind the net and centered it to Maenalanen, who tucked a backhander home at 2:51.

At 8:06, Finland doubled its lead. Kapanen stripped Manuel Ganahl of the puck in the slot after the Austrian assistant captain blocked a Juuso Riikola shot. The Montreal Canadiens prospect pivoted and flung a high wrister past goalie David Kickert.

Kapanen is battling Canada's Connor Bedard for the tournament goals lead. Bedard, 18, had five goals before Thursday's Canada-Norway game. The inaugural IIHF Male Player of the Year, a two-time World Junior gold medalist, is favoured to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for his 61-point rookie season with Chicago.

Kapanen is also chasing the Finnish World Championship record for most goals in a single tournament (nine). It’s shared by five players: Lauri Mononen (1972), Hannu Jarvenpaa (1985), Jarkko Varvio (1992), Jarkko Immonen (2011), and Sebastian Aho (2018).

Austria's offensive mojo manifested itself when Mario Huber cut the deficit to 2-1 at 3:36, beating Finland's Harri Sateri courtesy of a nice pass from captain Thomas Raffl on the rush. It was the first career Worlds goal for Huber, a 27-year-old EC Salzburg veteran, who also suited up in Tampere at last year's tournament.

Late in the middle frame, the Finns played with fire by taking back-to-back minors, but the Austrians struggled to get good power-play looks.

Early in the third, Dominic Zwerger appeared to have notched the equalizer on a power-play one-timer with Raffl screening Sateri, but the officials waved it off due to a crease violation. Austria's Roger Bader used his coach's challenge, but the ruling stood.

"I don't care if that goal is disallowed," Zwerger said with a smile. "I care about the three points."

Undeterred, the Austrians tied it up at 9:51 when Thimo Nickl floated a centre-point wrister over Sateri's blocker. There was a distinct whiff of an upset brewing now, and the Austrian fans were loving it.

The Finns picked up their intensity late in regulation time. With Austria's Bernd Wolf off for hooking Jere Innala, Granlund played the Gretzky-style set-up man behind the opposing net, but couldn't generate the go-ahead goal. That opened the door for Baumgartner's winner.

"It's something I've never felt before, apart from winning the Spengler Cup with Ambri," Zwerger said.

Austria will try to keep this momentum going against the Czechs on Friday.

"We can enjoy this now, but then when we wake up tomorrow it's a new day, a new game," said Austria's Marco Rossi, who just completed his NHL rookie season with the Minnesota Wild. "We know the Czechs are going to be ready, and with their fan base, it's going to be a fun night for us. We just have to keep going. keep playing, and not think too much about it."

Canada and Finland will face off on Saturday in a rematch of the 2019, 2021, and 2022 World Championship gold medal games. Finland prevailed in 2019 (Bratislava) and 2022 (Tampere) and Canada in 2021 (Riga).

Forward Konsta Helenius, who did not play in the third period of Finland's 4-1 win over Norway, was scratched as Patrick Puistola slotted back in. Helenius, a 17-year-old wunderkind, also played at the U18 Worlds in Espoo and Vantaa earlier this month, registering seven assists in five games. He is expected to go in the first round of the 2024 NHL Draft.