LILLEHAMMER – Canada will play for its first Youth Olympic gold medal in ice hockey on Sunday after edging Finland 4-3 in shootout in the first men's semi-final game. The Canadians came back from a 2-0 deficit after starting the game with penalty trouble and needed a late third-period goal to force the shootout.
“It was a tough game at both ends of the ice,” said defenceman Benoit Olivier-Groulx, who scored the tying goal in the third period and the game winner in the shootout. “We played very well offensively and defensively and were very tight.”
Canada had beaten Finland 5-1 in the preliminary round but this was a new day and a new game. Things didn’t start well for the Canadians as they took the first six penalties of the game until midway through the game. Unsurprisingly Finland capitalized on both two-man advantages to earn a 2-0 lead.
“Finland came out with a lot of jump today, they had a day off yesterday and we knew they were going to be hungry,” said Canada head coach Martin Raymond. “The penalty trouble was a surprise for us, we need to be more disciplined because we took too many stick penalties and got into trouble.”
With 7.5 seconds left in the first period and three Canadians in the penalty box Toni Utunen opened the scoring for Finland.
Suomi continued to play on power play and after 30 seconds in the second frame Jesse Moilanen’s shot from close to the right face-off dot went in while Finland was still playing 5-on-3.
The second period has been Canada’s strongest period during the tournament and today was no exception. In the five games so far the Canadians have scored nine of their 21 regulation-time goals in the second period.
The Canadians eventually fought their way back into the game, sparked at 3:59 with a shorthanded goal. After a blocked shot from Groulx, Carson Focht netted the rebound for the 2-1 goal. And two-and-a-half minutes later another player from the third line, Anderson MacDonald, scored on another rebound to tie the game at two.
The game slowed down early in the third period but at 9:10 it was the Finns who scored next. Alexis Gravel made a save on Jasper Rannisto’s shot but no Canadian defenceman was able to clear the puck as it lay in front of the crease for over a second before Jesperi Kotkaniemi reacted to it for the 3-2 goal.
Uula Ruikka got the next chance 39 seconds later during a Canadian power play but Declan Chisholm stopped his breakaway from behind. Ruikka got a penalty shot but didn’t bring the puck past Gravel.
The Canadians reacted and Groulx tied the game at three on the power play. Also Canada’s third goal was scored by capitalizing on a rebound.
With 71 seconds left Finnish defenceman Jasper Rannisto landed in the sin bin for interference after a Canadian chance due to a giveaway in the neutral zone. That gave Team Canada an excellent opportunity to push for the game-winning goal before the end of regulation time. However, Aidan Dudas tripped Niklas Nordgren to prevent him from a breakaway, finishing the man advantage after a minute.
In the shootout Groulx opened the scoring when he surprised goalie Jimi Uusitalo with a quick stop before shovelling the puck into the net on the right side while Nordgren saw his shot saved.
“We knew the Finland goalie was very quick on his displacement, I just went for the forehand-backhand and it went in,” said Groulx.
Uusitalo made the save on Canada’s MacDonald but Arttu Nevasaari missed the net on the other side. Defenceman Ryan Merkley was next and had the chance to decide the game – and he did so with a nice shot from the left side.
“They put us in trouble and it was good to see us come back," said Raymond. "We knew it was going to be a tough game, our power play came through in the end to tie it up and our shooters did a good job in the shootout. We tried to spend more time on it in practice since we know there’s no overtime.”
Canada will play the winner of the USA-Russia semi-final on Sunday at 15:00 while Finland will play the bronze medal game tomorrow at 20:00.
“It was a really fast game,” said Finnish captain Toni Utunen. “We played our best game of this tournament, and I am really disappointed that that happened. We have to forget this and take the medal tomorrow.”