U.S. to play Sweden for gold
by Andrew Podnieks|04 JAN 2024
The Americans are off to the gold-medal game after a hard-fought win over Finland.
photo: Chris Tanouye/IIHF
Cutter Gauthier's late power-play goal gave the United States a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Finland to earn the team a spot in the gold-medal game tomorrow night against hosts Sweden.

Gauthier wired a high shot over the glove of Niklas Kokko with only 3:13 remaining in regulation. The Finns led 2-0 after one period but let the lead slip away in the middle frame.

"It was a tough two goals there in the first, two odd goals, but not every game is going to be perfect," said Will Smith, who scored the tying goal late in the second period. "It's how you respond and how you stick with it, and that's what we were talking about. This is why we came here, for the big games and the big moments. We love these games."

"They came hard at us in the second and third periods," said Oiva Keskinen, who scored the opening goal for the Finns. "A couple of penalties hurt us. We wanted to get pucks deep and play solid defence. They don't like it when they are in their own zone."

Both teams have mere hours to prepare for tomorrow's medal games, but, of course, the Americans will have an easier time of it with gold on the line. "We have to get back to the hotel and get ready, but we've played Sweden a lot, so we know what they've got over there, and they know what we've got. It's a quick turnaround, but we'll be ready," Smith added.

Not so simple for Suomi, but it has to be done. "Of course, everyone now wants that bronze medal now," Keskinen added. "Tonight we'll get ready, and tomorrow is a new day."

The first period showed the contrasting style of the two teams. The Americans relied on speed, transition, puck movement. They frequently made their way into Finland’s end impressively, but once there the Finns kept them to the outside and Kokko had few tough saves to make. His biggest one came early, when Gavin Brindley, who co-leads the tournament with six goals, got in alone, but the goalie stood tall and made the save calmly.

The Finns kept it simple, chipping the puck out at the first sign of trouble or chipping in in deep and chasing it down. They created several turnovers in the U.S. end, the most egregious of which led to the opening goal. 

Tommi Mannisto stripped Sam Rinzel of the puck and beat Trey Augustine with a quick shot, but the puck hit one post, then the other, and stopped centimetres from the goal line. Keskinen came in and tapped it over the goal line at 1:51. The Finns pressed more and had good puck time in the American end, and Augustine had to be on his toes to keep the score close.

Another unexpected strike gave Finland a 2-0 lead at 12:45. Samu Bau’s harmless wrister from the point was expertly tipped by Rasmus Kumpulainen in front, and the puck slithered between the goalie’s pads and in.

The problem with Finland’s strategy was that although it looks simple, the players still have to skate hard. In the second, however, they all but stopped playing. The U.S., meanwhile, cleaned up play in their end—and they weren’t there very much—and poured it on when they saw Finland take their foot off the pedal. The result was a dominant period for the Stars ‘n’ Stripes—and a tie game. 

Quinn Finley, Smith, and Oliver Moore all had great chances to score in the first half of the period but couldn’t beat Kokko, who was sharp. But when the Americans got their first power play, they clicked in impressive fashion. Jimmy Snuggerud blasted a one-timer over the goalie's glove at 12:10 to halve the lead, and four minutes later one of many defensive lapses by the Finns gave the U.S. another opening.

Gabe Perreault spotted Smith to the back side and fed him a perfect pass, and the puck was in the net before Kokko knew what had happened. By this point, the Finns were lucky to be in a 2-2 game after 40 minutes. The only question left for the third was whether the U.S. could keep it going or whether the Finns could right the boat.

It turned out to be a bit of both. The Finns had a better period and the Americans weren't quite as sharp, but as overtime loomed Kasper Kulonummi took a hooking penalty and the Americans capitalized. Finland had a late power play of their own, and with Kokko on the bench had a six-on-four, but they didn't come particularly close to tying the game. 
United States vs Finland (SF) - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship