This game would be Canada’s first real test of the tournament. Up to this point Canada had played two games, won both, scored 12 goals, and given up none. Finland is the defending champs, but so far the tournament has been disappointing for them. They played well in their opening game losing 2-1 in a shootout to the United States. Their second game was an unmitigated disaster. They lost 2-1 against the much weaker team, Slovakia. All this has resulted in Canada being in 1st place in Group A while Finland, with only a single point, fighting to advance to the elimination rounds. Still, Canada had to take the Finns seriously.
A point that was driven home with the beginning of the game as it was played at a furious pace. The game went back and forth, up and down the ice. Few whistles and high quality chances for both sides. Canada, courtesy of New York Rangers’ property Anthony Duclair, had a great chance to open the scoring a mere 21 seconds into the game. Finland’s goalie Juuse Saros was the goalie of the tournament last year, but so far this year his play has been shaky. The stop he made on Duclair in the 1st minute of play showed that he was up for this challenge. Zachary Fucale made the start in nets for Canada and he was tested early and often. He too was steady if not spectacular making a couple of key saves over the first 10 minutes of the game.
The first goal of the game came courtesy of the power play. It took Canada only 10 seconds after Atte Makinen was assessed a minor for high sticking for Sam Reinhart to get his first goal of the tournament. After Reinhart won the faceoff back to the point Shea Theodore hesitated long enough to allow the centreman to get to the front of the Finnish net. Theodore’s shot was deflected by Reinhart, but it hit the post. Luck was on Reinhart and Canada’s side as the rebound off the post fell right to Reinhart, who just had to deposit the puck in the empty net. Canada, so far, had 13 goals in tournament from 11 different players making them a hard team to play against as you could not focus on one player defensively.
After the goal the furious pace of the game continued and there was over 7 minutes between whistles once play was restarted. Fucale was tested a couple more times, but he was able to remain sharp and kept his team ahead by one right to the end of the 1st period. Finland was generating more offense than they had at any point in the tournament so far. They did have a power play towards the end of the 1st when Reinhart was sent to the box for tripping. They were not able to score and the power play for Finland has really let them down. They were 0 for 10 at this point.
Saros continued his strong play in the 2nd making a save on Nick Paul on a partial breakaway and then a great glove save on Canadian captain Curtis Lazar on a 2 on 1 with Connor McDavid. He was also a little lucky when he was beaten by a Max Domi wrist shot from the deep slot, but it hit the post to the right of him.
Reinhart got his 2nd goal of the tournament and doubled Canada’s lead at the 13:34 mark of the 2nd period. It was the result of a cross ice pass from Domi to Duclair. Duclair then hesitated enough to allow Reinhart to get away from the Finnish defender covering him. Showing nice hands Duclair feathered a pass towards Reinhart and Reinhart redirected the puck over Saros’ shoulder. Pretty goal.
You knew it had to happen in that Canada surrendered its first goal of the tournament late in the 2nd period. Their goalless streak was the second longest of their history in the World Junior Championship. Unfortunately for Philadelphia Flyers’ property the giant (6’7”) defenseman Samuel Morin the goal against was a result of a turnover in his own end. Morin fanned on a clearance attempt and the puck was collected by Finnish captain and Montreal Canadiens’ property, Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen’s first shot was stopped by Fucale, but the rebound just laid there in the crease and Lehkonen got his stick on it first backhanding it into the Canadian net at 18:26.
It was now a one goal game going into the 3rd period. Tight collar time for Canada fans. Finland was not going away. The issue was not settled until the 11:15 mark of the 3rd. This was when Canada’s top line of Reinhart-Domi-Duclair struck again. The line was responsible for the first 3 goals of the game for Canada. This time it was Laval native Duclair who was able to pounce on a loose puck in front of the Finnish net and quickly roofed it into the empty side. Less than 2 minutes later at 14:25 Lazar sealed the affair by notching his 2nd goal of the tournament. Josh Morrissey launched a slap shot from the point that Saros stopped with his right pad. He seemed to lose sight of the puck and it just remained there peeking out from underneath the pad. Lazar came hurtling in head first and stabbed at the puck getting it over the line before he himself went into the net headfirst.
The Olés began right after Canada’s 4th goal with fans certain that it meant victory for their team. Their 3rd victory meant that the now traditional Canada-United States New Year’s Eve tilt would decide who finishes 1st in Group A. Canada can finish no lower than 2nd. Each game in the tournament has gotten tighter and tougher for Canada and they are raising their game in response.
It was an excellent 60 minutes of hockey though the defeat put the defending champs in a difficult position. As for Finland they had knocked out Canada in the semi-finals last year, but were not able to defeat them two years in a row. Though the Finns showed they were able to match up with Canada physically they once again had trouble scoring. Finland has only managed 3 goals in 3 games in the tournament. They now would have to win their last game against Germany on New Year’s Eve against Germany to advance.
Canada is so deep their 3rd line center (Nic Petan – 1G, 5A) was their leading point getter coming into this game. The strength in their game besides the depth is their team speed. Every player is a good skater with several possessing blazing speed. This allows them to transition quickly out of their own end. They have also been perfect on the penalty kill so far not allowing their opponents to gain any momentum with the man advantage.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Lars Bruggemann (Germany) and Antonin Jerabek (Czech Republic)
Linesmen – Gleb Lazarev (Russia) and Simon Wust (Switzerland)
-Goals: 1st Period:
5:32: Canada – (pp) Sam Reinhart assisted by Shea Theodore
13:34: Canada – Sam Reinhart assisted by Anthony Duclair and Max Domi
18:26: Finland – Artturi Lehkonen unassisted
11:15: Canada – Anthony Duclair assisted by Max Domi and Madison Bowey
14:25: Canada – Curtis Lazar assisted by Josh Morrissey and Robby Fabbri
-Shots on Goal: Canada – 36
Finland – 28
-Players of the Game: Canada – Sam Reinhart
Finland – Artturi Lehkonen
-Final Score: Canada – 4
Finland – 1