By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com
Roni Hirvonen scored the third-period winner with 25 seconds left as Finland advanced to the 2021 World Junior semi-finals with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over archival Sweden.
Hirvonen jammed in a wraparound for his second goal of the tournament, and the Finns, who trailed 2-0 after the first period, celebrated their quarter-final victory wildly. It was a genuine heart-breaker for the Juniorkronorna.
Henri Nikkanen and Anton Lundell also scored for Finland.
Lucas Raymond had a goal and an assist for Sweden, and Elmer Soderblom added a single.
Goalie-wise, Swedish coach Joel Ronnmark went with starter Hugo Alnefelt and Finnish coach Antti Pennanen stuck with Kari Piiroinen. Finland outshot Sweden 31-24.
Finland, which has five gold medals (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, 2019), interestingly hasn’t won a medal of another shade since 2006’s bronze. The disappointed Swedes, who beat Finland 3-2 in last year’s bronze medal game, remain stuck at two golds all-time (1981, 2012).
Finland entered this classic Nordic clash with the tournament’s second-best power play (34.6 percent), while Sweden had the second-worst penalty kill (60 percent). Noel Gunler, Sweden’s leading goal-scorer (4), took a penalty at 1:26 when he batted a puck over the glass in his own end, but Finland couldn’t generate anything.
Early on, the Finns looked dialed in, compared to their 3-1 loss to defending champion Canada to close out Group A. They denied Sweden a shot on goal for more than eight minutes. But then the tide turned Sweden’s way.
Raymond, the 2020 #4 overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings, opened the scoring at 14:28 with a great shot from the left faceoff circle. He glanced right toward Albert Johansson as if he was going to pass and then pulled the trigger, surprising Piiroinen with a high short-side wrister.
Just 1:37 later, Raymond set up a snazzy power-play goal by Soderblom for a 2-0 lead. He stepped off the half-wall and fed the 202-cm winger – a fellow Frolunda product and Detroit pick – down low. Soderblom pulled the puck between his legs and fooled the Finnish goalie on the stick side.
In the second period, the Finns began their push. They outshot Sweden 12-6 and played more aggressively. At 2:26, a forechecking Samuel Helenius got a minor and a 10-minute misconduct for a hit to the head of Swedish defenceman Ludvig Hedstrom.
At 5:28, Henri Nikkinen cut the deficit to 2-1 on a brilliant rush, converting Eemil Viro’s backhanded pass.
Less than a minute later, the Finns thought they had the tying goal after Ville Heinola spectacularly danced in over the blue line and Aku Raty put the puck in the net, but the Swedes challenged the play and it was ruled offside.
Showing their trademark “sisu” (“guts”), the Finns kept coming, and Lundell finally notched the power-play equalizer at 11:05. Heinola pivoted at the blue line to send a backhanded pass to the Finnish captain, who sniped a high one from the right faceoff circle for his team-leading fourth goal in Edmonton.
The Swedes dealt with adversity throughout this tournament, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Russia that snapped their record 54-game preliminary-round winning streak.
A spate of positive COVID-19 tests hit the team in Sweden. That obliged head coach Tomas Monten and three members of his staff, plus players including William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder and Albin Grewe, to miss the World Juniors.
Finland last lost a quarter-final in 2018 (4-3 to the Czech Republic in a shootout). Sweden last lost a quarter-final in 2019 (2-0 to Switzerland).
Sweden had won its previous four World Junior games against Finland. Finland last defeated Sweden on 4 January 2016, prevailing 2-1 in the semi-finals in Helsinki.
The result leaves Sweden with an all-time record versus Finland of 20 wins, two ties, and 17 losses.