Fast Finns outpace Slovakia, 6-0
Team Finland could have fallen into the "looking ahead to Russia" trap. Perhaps they might have taken Slovakia too lightly and allowed the underdogs to steal a win. Didn’t happen. Team Finland scored on five of their first eight shots on their way to a 6-0 romp of Slovakia, eliminating them from play in the World U20 Junior Championship on Thursday night in Halifax. The top Finnish line of Tuomo Ruutu, Tomi Maki, and Matti Aho was firing on all cylinders as they dominated play. Slovakia was outclassed in every aspect of play, and while the shot count remained reasonably close, the quality of shots and chances were vastly different.
Finland’s star goalie, Kari Lehtonen barely broke a sweat as Slovakia’s best chance in the first two periods came on a shot by Lehtonen’s own defenseman. The Finns got on the board early when Ruutu carried the puck through the slot, held on to it past a sliding Michal Vazan, and put it past Peter Sevela just 2:31 into the first.
Finnish speed paid off minutes later when Ruutu fed a streaking Bergenheim who then backhanded a beautiful pass in front to Jussi Jokinen. Team Finland’s third goal was a soft one that trickled through Sevela, who, after giving up three goals on three shots in nine minutes, was relieved by Jan Chovan. He would be back.
As the game progressed, the Slovaks didn’t help their cause by putting themselves two men down in the second. Less a minute later, Jokkinen took a hard pass from the point and made no mistake with his shot, making it 4-0. A long, floating shot by Topi Jaakola, and another power-play goal, this time by Immonen, rounded off the scoring, and brought about Sevela’s return.
The third period turned out to be dull as the Finns seemed content to work on practice drills against the mismatched Slovakian side. In fact, the loudest ovation from the crowd came as the scoreboard showed recently-retired coach of the Detroit Red Wings, Scotty Bowman, taking in the game.
Although this game was hardly a test for Finland, it did show that they are much more comfortable with the small ice surface than they were when they suffered an exhibition game loss at the hands of the Swiss.
Finns Eliminate Slovaks with 6-0 Win
Slovakia to battle Finland for semi-final berth
For the players and coaching staffs of the ten teams in attendance at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship, the round robin portion of this tournament is a distant memory. For four teams, their sights are now set on not being relegated to Division I next year, while for six others golden dreams are still alive. Finland and Slovakia face off in one of two quarter-finals today, and both teams are just three victories away from winning the gold.
For Finland, this tournament has been a series of wavering performances, especially considering how highly-touted the team was heading into this year’s event. After a lacklustre 0-2 performance in pre-competition games, the Finns looked solid beating Germany 4-0, and then stumbled with questionable performances in a 3-2 victory over Sweden and a 2-2 tie with the Czech Republic. The Finns’ last game of the round robin was against Canada, and they played well despite losing 5-3.
Slovakia’s tournament has been an equally unpredictable roller coaster, beginning with a 1-1 pre-competition record, including a victory over their territorial rivals, the Czechs. The tournament began with an 11-1 drubbing of Belarus before Russia had their way with the Slovaks, downing them 4-0. The final two Slovakian games were spit in much the same manner, with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Switzerland and a narrow 3-1 defeat at the hands of the USA.
This game will undoubtedly come down to matchups, both individual and team. Slovakia is led into the game offensively by linemates Igor Pohanka and Rastislav Spirko, who both enter the game with four points apiece. Also a presence offensively is Karol Sloboda, a big defenseman who leads the team in scoring with two goals and three assists. Rushing Finnish players also need to be wary of towering defenseman Richard Stehlik, who stands 6’6” and weighs 240lbs. Who will play between the pipes for the Slovaks still unknown, as both Peter Sevela (1.98 GAA) and Jan Chovan (2.02 GAA) have started in two games, and both have almost identical records. Chovan most likely has the inside track given his experience, and his large workload in the OHL.
For Finland, Kari Lehtonen has posted a 2.25GAA in four starts in goal, the only goaltender in the tournament to play a full 240 minutes of round-robin play. Up front, the Finns have struggled, with only the Czech Republic having scored fewer goals among the teams in the medal round than Finland’s 12. Jussi Jokinen’s three goals leads the team, while captain Tuomo Ruutu’s four points are a team high in that category.
Don’t be surprised if this game comes down to special teams. The Finns are among the leaders in the tournament for penalty minutes, with a four-game average of almost 12 minutes a game. Their penalty killing has been weak, third worst in the tournament at a mere 77%. If there is a bright spot for the Finns in this department it is that thus far the Slovakian powerplay has been equally weak, cashing in only 9.5% of the time, good for ninth-best in the tourney.
In the end, this game will likely come down to the goaltenders, as both Lehtonen of Team Finland and the goaltending tandem of Sevela and Chovan for Slovakia performing well to this point. Whichever team produces more quality chances against these hot netminders will most likely find themselves in the semi-final, squaring off against Russia on Friday afternoon.
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications