By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com
It was a happy ending for Finnish hockey fans from Helsinki to Hameenlinna. Finland beat a gutsy Swiss team 3-1 to win the bronze medal game at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
Tanja Niskanen stepped up with a goal and an assist, and Ella Viitasuo and Petra Nieminen also scored for Finland.
Asked for her reaction, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski said: “Really proud! Once again, [goalie Anni] Keisala played a really, really good game. Obviously we did a good job in our zone. It was really nice to see Tanja and Ella scoring today as well.”
Swiss captain Lara Stalder, who also on Tuesday was named the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation’s Woman of the Year, broke a drought with her first goal in Calgary.
“It’s obvious we wanted to win a medal today and I thought the effort was there,” Stalder said. “In the end it was a hard-fought game. We’ve got to score more to win. We obviously had some momentum in the game. Not much more to say when you lose.”
This is Finland’s all-time record 13th bronze medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. The Finns are also the defending Olympic bronze medalists from 2018.
Analyzing these Women’s Worlds as a whole, Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen said: “I’m extremely satisfied. With eight newcomers on the team, I was surprised with how well we actually played in the tournament. We had a rising trend all the way. We played four good games against the North Americans [including an exhibition game], and we lost basically all of them in the second period. That’s something we haven’t solved yet. We are not mature enough to do it yet. We will be later on.”
Switzerland owns just two medals in IIHF history: the 2012 Women’s Worlds bronze in Burlington, Vermont and the 2014 Olympic bronze in Sochi, Russia. This fourth-place finish is tied for Switzerland’s second-best result ever (2008).
“I thought we competed well,” Swiss coach Colin Muller said of the bronze medal game. “I thought we left it all out in the ice. Today we asked for them to to bring their spirit and the emotional level a bit higher. Compliments to the team, because they gave themselves a chance to win the game. That’s all we wanted.”
In the Finnish net, Keisala excelled in her third consecutive playoff start. For Switzerland, Saskia Maurer took over from Andrea Braendli, who logged a whopping 61 saves in the 4-0 semi-final loss to Canada. Shots on goal favoured Finland 32-19.
The Finns found a way to bounce back after losing 3-0 to the defending champion Americans in the semi-finals. Even though it was the second time they fell to the U.S. by that score in Calgary and they failed to take revenge for the heartbreaking 2-1 shootout loss in the 2019 final in Espoo, Mustonen’s players showed they weren’t willing to leave Calgary without medals hanging around their necks.
The Swiss had a disastrous run in Group A with just one goal – courtesy of sniper Alina Muller, who was injured against the ROC team and didn’t play again – in four losses. However, in the quarter-finals, they turned the tables on the Russians with an emotional 3-2 comeback win in overtime. The offence just wasn’t there for the rest of the playoffs.
“We missed out on goal-scoring in this tournament,” Swiss veteran Evelina Raselli said. “[Group A] is really tough, but then we also lost our best player. And then you just go out there and give everything you can, but of course we don’t have 10 Alina Mullers on the team.”
The Swiss had a gritty, determined effort against the Finns, even if it was undercut by untimely penalties.
The Finns came out hard. It took just 1:39 for Niskanen to notch her first goal of these Women’s Worlds. After Maurer stopped her in close, Niskanen got the puck back, circled off the wall to the high slot, and zinged one over Maurer’s glove.
The Swiss, although struggling to generate pressure of their own, did pick it up. Yet Karvinen had the best chance for another goal on a breakaway with under a minute left in the first. Maurer was alert with the blocker to foil the Finnish ace, who went goalless in Calgary, despite vying for the tournament lead with six assists.
Just 54 seconds into the middle frame, Viitasuo sent a floater from the left point that caught the inside of Maurer’s far post for a 2-0 lead. The 25-year-old Kiekko-Espoo blueliner, whose first Women’s Worlds was 2016 in Kamloops, celebrated her second career goal at this tournament.
“I just got the puck on the blue line, and I know we have to put the puck in front of the net,” Viitasuo said. “I saw there was a good screen, so I just took a shot and it paid off.”
A minute later, Sanni Hakala got loose to ring one off the other post. Maurer also had to concentrate to deny Ronja Savolainen and Nieminen, the Finnish scoring leader, from close range.
Stalder cut the deficit to 2-1 at 3:35, taking a cross-ice feed from Phoebe Staenz on a 2-on-2 rush and whipping a tremendous shot over Hiirikoski’s outstretched leg and Keisala’s glove.
“It was a nice pass from Phoebe and I saw an opening there, so I shot,” said Stalder. “I felt, when it was 2-1, as though we were back in the game.”
Colin Muller reflected on Stalder’s overall scoring struggles in Calgary after she recorded three or more goals in her last three IIHF tournaments: “Lara is really a goal-scorer, and I think she missed having Alina Muller beside her. She tried to adjust and she gave every game the best effort she had. I think we just didn’t create enough scoring chances for her to capitalize on.”
Past the midway point, the Finnish power play applied all kinds of pressure after Switzerland got caught with too many players on the ice. But the Swiss killed it off and continued to push back. Things got rougher as Stalder pivoted and caught Savolainen on the shoulder with her stick in front of the Finnish goal, but got off scot-free.
The Swiss tempted fate with a second too-many-players minor late in the period. It took just four seconds for Finland’s top line to make them pay. Susanna Tapani won the faceoff, Karvinen fired from the point, and Nieminen was in front to tip it home and make it 3-1 Finland at 18:13. Nieminen’s goal, her sixth of these Women’s Worlds, tied her with Canada’s Melodie Daoust for the tournament lead.
In the third period, Switzerland’s penalty woes continued as Stefanie Wetli was sent off early for high-sticking Tapani. But they killed it off and kept coming, forcing Keisala to make great saves off Staenz’s and Sinja Leemann’s high shots near the midway mark of the period.
Swiss hopes, though, faded when Laura Zimmermann, who scored the overtime winner against the Russians, was sent to the sin bin for an illegal hit with under four minutes to go. The Finns couldn’t capitalize, but it enabled them to eat up time and secure the victory.
Both these nations are excited about seeking a medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February next. The chance to make new history looms large.
“Our younger players will be better off, even our more experienced players will get better,” said Mustonen. “Possibly even the opponents will be better. We’ll see what happens. But we will be better in Beijing.”