Finns advance over Slovaks in OT
by Lucas AYKROYD|02 JAN 2024
Finland's Tommi Mannisto (#34, left) celebrates after scoring a second-period goal in a 4-3 quarter-final win over Slovakia at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
Jere Lassila scored the overtime winner on a thrilling solo dash as Finland edged Slovakia 4-3 to win the first 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship quarter-final at Frolundaborg.

The goal came just 24 seconds in. The Finnish captain blazed out of his own zone, cut through the Slovak defence, and beat Slovak goalie Adam Gajan with a forehand move. It was Lassila's second point of the game.

Slovakia has never beaten Finland in a quarter-final. The Finns won 3-1 in 2001, 6-0 in 2003, and 8-5 in 2012.

The end of regulation time was wild as Finland went up 3-2 with 1:34 left, only to have Slovakia equalize in the final minute.

In this gritty, tense affair, Tommi Mannisto, Lenni Hameenaho and Alexander Kaskimaki also scored for Finland. For Slovakia, Filip Mesar and Dalibor Dvorsky had a goal and an assist apiece, and Adam Sykora added the other goal.

Finland's Niklas Kokko won his netminding duel with Gajan, who was named Best Goalie at last year's World Juniors. Final shots favoured Slovakia 30-28.

The Finns are seeking their sixth gold medal – the last one coming in 2019 – and their first medal since 2022’s silver. After tough losses to Canada (5-2) and Germany (4-3), coach Lauri Mikkola’s boys picked up their game in Gothenburg with victories over Latvia (4-0) and host Sweden (5-4 in OT).

The Slovaks, who started promisingly with three straight Group B wins, were looking to rebound here after getting destroyed 10-2 by the Americans. But it wasn't to be, despite a never-say-die effort.

In a hard-fought first period, Gajan said no when Jani Nyman stole the puck at the Finnish blue line and raced in on a breakaway, going to the backhand. Nyman, a 2022 second-round pick of the Seattle Kraken, scored the shootout winner in the 5-4 victory over archrival Sweden on New Year’s Eve.

The Slovaks went up 1-0 right at the buzzer when Sykora converted the rebound from Mesar’s shot off a faceoff in the Finnish end. Video review indicated the puck crossed the line with 0.2 seconds left on the clock and coach Ivan Fenes’ boys rejoiced. It was the Slovak captain's first goal of these World Juniors.

Uncowed, the Finns tied it up at 2:36 of the second period. Mannisto grabbed a turnover on the wall, cruised unimpeded into the slot, and winged one past Gajan for his third goal in Gothenburg. The 19-year-old University of Michigan forward, who has just one goal in NCAA action this year, also ended Sweden's shutout streak at 192:25 in Finland's 5-4 shootout win on New Year's Eve.

The rest of the middle frame was mostly a defensive slog. Maxim Strbak came close with a long wrister off the cross bar. Fellow Slovak blueliner David Natny was bloodied when teammate Martin Misiak's stick clipped him in the face. And Samuel Honzek forced Kokko to make a fine glove save off the rush in the final minute.

In the third period, an aggressive Finnish forecheck paid off at 0:36. Lassila dug the puck out behind the net and centred it to Hameenaho, who made no mistake on the backhand for a 2-1 lead.

Slovakia generated the 2-2 equalizer off a play behind the net as well. Repcik found Dvorsky in front and he got two cracks at it, getting the puck up over Kokko's glove at 7:09.

It looked like the Finns might have the winner at 18:26. Konsta Helenius won a battle down low and found Kaskimaki in the faceoff circle. He hammered the puck past Gajan's glove.

The Slovaks, refusing to quit, pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. With 0:44 left in regulation, Mesar sent his bench into a frenzy when he tied it up with a top-corner shot from the left faceoff circle.

This was the Finns’ eighth straight World Junior win over the Slovaks dating back to the 2016 tournament in Helsinki. Suomi’s overall record improves to/falls to 15 wins, one tie, and four losses.

The last Slovak win over Finland was 2-1 on 27 December 2014 in Montreal, which kickstarted their run to their second bronze medal (the first one coming in 1998). That next medal will have to wait.
Slovakia vs Finland (QF) - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship