It’s going to be hard to get some sleep, but we’ll be ready to go.”
Versus Canada, which beat Czechia 5-2 in the other semi-final, coach Antti Pennanen’s Finns will seek their nation’s sixth gold medal. Finland previously won in 1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, and 2019.
Finnish captain Roni Hirvonen praised his team’s performance against Sweden: “I think it was a really solid performance from all of us. We did all the things you need to do to win. We didn’t give them any decent chances. We played defence really well. We played well together and backchecked hard, didn’t leave any gaps between the defence and forwards. That was the biggest thing.”
In net, Swedish starter Jesper Wallstedt was valiant with 27 saves in a losing cause. Pennanen boldly elected to give Jatkola just his second start of these World Juniors. The second-string goalie made 13 saves when Finland hammered Slovakia 9-3 in the group stage.
Remarkably, this is the first Canada-Finland World Junior final ever. The two have battled for gold six times at the men’s Worlds.
Canada defeated Finland for gold in 1994, 2007, 2016, and 2021, while the Finns returned the favour in 2019 and 2022. Finnish hockey’s confidence is high in general, and now we’ll see if that can translate again at the U20 level.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and now it’s real,” Hirvonen said. “We have to do it one more time.”
Under coach Tomas Monten in his final World Juniors, Sweden will try to win the bronze medal against a Cinderella Czech team that dethroned
the Americans with a 4-2 quarter-final upset. The Czechs are starving for a medal, having last taken bronze in 2005.
Both teams shuffled their skaters. Finland’s Brad Lambert, limited to one point versus Latvia so far in this tournament, came out in favour of Ville Koivunen. For Sweden, defenceman Anton Olson slotted back in, while Ludvig Jansson sat out.
The Finns carried the tournament’s deadliest power play (13-for-22, 59 percent) into this semi-final, but couldn’t convert at first in a tight-checking opening stanza.
Sweden had a tough start. Daniel Torgersson backhanded the puck over the glass in his own end for a first-minute delay of game penalty. But the Swedes killed it off. They then tested Jatkola off the rush, as he made a tough glove save on Oskar Magnusson and grabbed the loose puck before Victor Stjernborg could poke it in.
Finland’s power play got another chance after Andrae, Sweden’s scoring leader (4+4=8), took a boarding penalty for shoving Kasper Simontaival into the end boards. But Suomi floundered again, getting its best chance just after the minor expired with forward Eetu Liukas narrowly failing to convert on the doorstep.
The Swedes pressed late in the first, with Leo Loof ringing the puck off Jatkola’s right post and the Finnish netminder denying Liam Ohgren from the slot. But no dice. Jatkola barred the door early in the second period with two more slot saves on Ohgren.
When the Swedes got caught with too many men on the ice, it was Wallstedt’s chance to step up. He made a tremendous stop on Simontaival right in front, but couldn’t foil Puutio at 5:18.
The Finnish assistant captain cut in around Sweden’s Mans Fjorfall in the left faceoff circle and slipped the puck between the goalie’s pads. The goal tied Puutio, a 20-year-old from KalPa Kuopio, with Andrae for the tournament lead in defenceman goals (four). This was also just the second goal the top-ranked Swedish penalty kill has conceded at these World Juniors.
The Finns, who owned the worst PK at 45.4 percent (six goals against on 11 disadvantages) before the semi-finals, danced on the cliff’s edge when they gave Sweden a 5-on-3 for 1:34 late in the second period. But the closest the Juniorkronorna came was an Andrae shot from the right faceoff circle that Jatkola caught.
“We were smart with the puck,” Puutio said. “We never did anything fancy at the blue line, and when they put pressure on us, we were humble and blocked shots and gave it everything we had in front of our goalie. And he played a heck of a game.”
Early in the third period, both sides pressed for the next goal. Finland’s Juuso Maenpaa rang one off the cross bar, while Jatkola stymied Oskar Olausson on back-to-back opportunities.
Wallstedt came up big to stop Aatu Raty’s five-hole attempt on a breakaway at the eight-minute mark, and the Swedish goalie’s left post helped out when Liukas hit it on the rush two minutes later. Wallstedt was also there when Kalle Vaisanen dangled through the Swedish defence for a dangerous chance.
With Wallstedt pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, a Heige Grans blast from the blue line knocked Jatkola’s mask off. When the play was stopped, Monten used up his timeout. But the Swedes failed to mastermind the tying goal.
Looking ahead to the bronze battle with Czechia, Andrae said: “We just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing. The basic stuff, go to the net. Right now, it sucks because we lost, but I promise we’re going to be ready for tomorrow. We’ll do everything we can to get that bronze medal.”
Friday marked just the third all-time semi-final meeting between Sweden and Finland since the IIHF instituted the World Junior playoff system in 1996. In both previous cases, the winning team went on to capture the gold medal. That might be a good omen for Finland.
In 2012, Max Friberg got the penalty shot winner as Sweden prevailed 3-2. In 2016, Finland’s Antti Kalapudas tallied the eventual 2-1 winner, set up by captain Mikko Rantanen and Kasperi Kapanen, on a mid-second period power play.
Friday’s result drops Sweden’s all-time World Junior record versus Finland to 20 wins, two ties, and 18 losses.