Nieminen scores winner in bronze shootout thriller
by Andrew Podnieks|14 APR 2024
photo: Andre Ringuette/IIHF
Finland won a thrilling game, 3-2, in a shootout to win the bronze medal this afternoon in Utica. It was Suomi's first medal since 2021 and their 14th Women's Worlds medal overall, third bebind Canada and the United States. The Czechs fell short in trying to win their third straight bronze.

Petra Nieminen scored the shootout winner in a game that was one of the most exciting you'll ever see. Twice Finland held the lead in regulation; twice the Czechs rallied.

In the overtime, wow! It was a series of medal-winning chances, but the goalies, Klara Peslarova for Czechia and Sanni Ahola for the Finns, were unbeatably spectacular. Peslarova stoned Susanna Tapani on a clear breakaway, and Ahola, who faced ten shots, was all-world. She stopped Natalie Mlynkova on a partial breakaway, then again from in close, and robbed Vendula Pribylova of what looked to be the winner.

Shots overall favoured the Finns, 49-31.

"It was such a tough game," said Finland's Michelle Karvinen. "The Czechs played really well and it was an amazing game to play. It was back and forth, but I'm proud of what we did. We're back where we belong. It was a huge win for us."

"We battled through and played really hard. I'm really proud how well we played," said Czechia's Natalie Mlynkova. "This was a team effort, and we accomplished everything together. I think when we look back at the quarter-finals, and how we put our hearts out there, was amazing. And Klara is the best goalie in the world, in my opinion. We're lucky to have her. She always keeps us in the game, especially when we need it the most. She's one of our leaders we look up to."

Indeed, Peslarova became the first goalie in Women's Worlds to play every minute of all seven games, going into overtime in the last as well. In all, she played 430:00 in Utica, a new single-tournament record by a long shot (389:21, Nana Fujimoto, JPN, 2021).

The first period was a cautious one. Neither side jumped out and took the momentum, and both goalies had a quiet time of it. The best chances came from Finland late in the period when Viivi Vainikka tried a wraparound. Peslarova stopped the first try and even a nice second shot from the Finn, keeping it a scoreless game through 20 minutes.

A lack of action in the first was more than offset by a thrilling and entertaining second. Finland opened the scoring after just 20 seconds off the rush on a three-way passing play between Susanna Tapani, Petra Nieminen, and Michelle Karvinen. Tapani’s pass to Nieminen was tipped, and by the time Nieminen got to it Karvinen was wide open in front. Nieminen’s pass was spot on, and it was 1-0 just like that. 

The Czechs had their best shifts after the goal and nearly tied it off close-in chances from Klara Hymlarova and Denisa Krisova, but Ahola held the fort in the Finnish net. Nevertheless, the Czechs tied the game five minutes later on the game’s first power play. Tereza Vanisova put a shot at goal from a bad angle, and the puck came to Michaela Pejzlova, who evened the score 1-1 at 5:50.

The Finns had a great chance to go ahead when then had a five-on-three for 49 seconds, but the Czech penalty killers were sensational. Peslarova made another great save off Noora Tulus in close after a giveaway by Vendula Pribylova, and Vanisova almost scored the goal of the tournament a bit later. She danced and dazzled her way around defender Sanni Rantala, and deked Ahola into the corner, but just as she was about to slide the puck into the open net she was hooked, drawing a penalty.  

It was Vainikka who may have scored the best goal in Utica late in the period. Elisa Holopainen tried to get her a pass on a two-on-one, but Daniela Pejsova was there to tip the puck away. It bounced high in the air towards the goal, and Vainikka batted it in before it hit the ice, fooling everyone but giving Suomi a 2-1 lead at 16:30. 

The resilient Czechs, however, wasted no time in tying the game when given the opportunity. Early in the third they got another power play, and made good of it. A quick point shot by Tereza Radova was tipped in front by Krizova at 4:11, making it a 2-2 game and putting the bronze medal up for grabs again.

As the period progressed, it was clear teams were playing with that "next goal wins" caution. In the end, a wild overtime settled nothing and penalty shots were required. Kudos to the Czechs for a great tournament, and the hockey world now must know Finland is back.