Russia Advances to Final with 4-1 Win Over Finland
One of the to teams that will meet on Sunday night for the gold medal at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax has been determined. With a solid performance that led to a 4-1 defeat of Finland in today’s semi-final matchup, Team Russia has punched their ticket to the finals.
“Tonight was a good game,” said Evgeni Artyukhin, who plays his club hockey with the nearby Moncton Wildcats. “We scored a lot but none of the goals were easy, as Lehtonen is a very skilled goaltender. We won though, and now we can focus on the finals, no matter who we face.”
The Russians opened the scoring halfway through the first period when Artyukhin weaved around four Finns while his linemates were changing. He completed the individual effort by ricocheting the puck off Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen’s arm on the short-side. The fans, who adopted the Finns as their favourite side early in the contest, were soon worked into a frenzy when Edmonton Oilers draft pick Jesse Niinimaki wired a quick shot into the net on the power play, completing a tick-tack-toe play from Sean Bergenheim and Tuomo Ruutu.
The second period was an uneventful affair, with the Russian firing ten mostly harmless shots towards Lehtonen. The Finns had many good chances, but they failed to convert these opportunities into shots, only registering a pair in the period. The score remained the same, 1-1, after forty minutes.
Russia came out flying to start the third period, capitalizing on a turnover at the Finnish blueline that sent Yuri Trubachev in on a partial break. He eventually flipped the puck over Lehtonen. Just thirty seconds later, Igor Grigorenko blocked a Finland shot that put him in a 1-on-1 footrace through the neutral zone, a race that he won.
Again, he waited until Lehtonen sprawled to flip the puck into the yawning cage. Finnish forward Jesse Niinimaki pointed to this stretch as the turning point of the hockey game. “We lost this game on mistakes that we made as a team. The Russians second goal was on a turnover, and their third one was off of a blocked shot. Both of those goals can’t happen if we want to win the game. After that we were down 3-1, and we knew it was over.”
Russia added a final marker late to run the score to 4-1. The victory sets up Russia versus either the United States or Canada in the gold medal game on Sunday night at 8:10pm. Russian Igor Grigorenko, a veteran of last year’s tournament as well, says that this Russian team is very similar to the one that defeated Canada in the finals last year. “I see an almost identical team, talent wise. We are very good, but we know that whichever team we play it is not going to be an easy fight in the finals. We will have to work for the gold.”
With the game tied 1-1 and facing a red hot Kari Lehtonen in the Finnish goal, Team Russia needed a break to tip the scales. That break came early in the third when Russian Alexander Ovechkin’s tough forechecking forced defender Jussi Timonen into coughing up the puck at his own blueline, sending Yuri Trubachev in alone. Trubachev gave Lehtonen a head fake and put the puck in the top of the net.
The goal changed the entire tone of the game, and was followed only seconds later by yet another Russian breakaway goal. The Finns didn’t recover and only late in the game did they muster any pressure at all.
Thursday evening’s decisive moment: Trubachev’s goal at 3:28 of the third.
Finns Meet Russia for Place in Final
It’s do or die time at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship, two games showcasing border rivalries will determine the participants in the gold medal game. Canada and the United States renew hostilities this evening, but not before Finland and Russia, who share a border in the bleak area above the 60th parallel, face off in what’s sure to be an exciting contest.
The Russians have looked dominant thus far in the tournament. They controlled Pool A from the drop of the first puck in Sydney on December 26th, with three four-goal wins over the USA, Slovakia and Belarus to begin their journey. A narrow 7-5 victory over an inspired Swiss team was their last action of the round robin before the two-day rest that has preceded this semi-final. Russia has a solid team from top to bottom, but a few of their key players in this tournament stand out.
Goaltender Andrei Medvedev has posted a 2.00 goals against average, through three games of work, looking solid in a shutout over Slovakia and a one-goal against victory over the USA, before wavering slightly, allowing five goals against Switzerland. Seventeen-year-old sensation Alexander Ovechkin has had an excellent showing, as he currently leads the tournament in goals with six. As with Medvedev, however, consistency is a concern with Ovechkin, as his six goals came off a pair of hat-tricks, while he was held off the score sheet in both of the team’s other games.
Consistency is also something that has plagued the Finns. After a troubling pre-competition, and bumpy round robin portion of the tournament, Finland finally looked as though they were firing on all cylinders against Slovakia in the quarterfinal game yesterday. The Finns whitewashed the Slovaks, beating them by a 6-0 margin. Last night’s game showed the kind of offense that when coupled with the solid goaltending of Kari Lehtonen, was what made onlookers predict Finland as one of the favourites to take the gold medal in Halifax. The Finns leading goal scorer Jussi Jokinen added a pair last night, while Tuomo Ruutu, Jesse Niinimaki, Matti Aho and Tomi Maki all had two-point nights.
The awaking of the slumbering Finnish offense is good news for the team, as it will be their only hope of victory against the Russians. Special teams could also play a major role in the game, as Russia enters the game the second most penalized team, while the Finns sport the second most effective powerplay of the tournament.
The Russia vs. Finland semi-final promises to be a great battle of two teams that don’t care that much for each other. Will Russia be too much for the Finns, or has the Finnish squad picked the right time to find their game?
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications