By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com
In a hard-fought semi-final, Arthur Kaliyev scored the winner with 1:16 left as the U.S. defeated Finland 4-3 on Monday to advance to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game against host Canada.
“It’s something that you dream about, USA and Canada in a gold medal game,” said John Farinacci, who also scored for the Americans. “It’s gonna be a fun game, and we’ve got to play a full 60 minutes if we want to get that gold medal.”
Versus Finland, Kaliyev, set up by Alex Turcotte, fired a laser over goalie Kari Piiroinen’s glove to give coach Nate Leaman’s team the victory.
“My eyes lit up and I just ripped it to him and he had an unbelievable shot,” said Turcotte.
The Finns rallied from a two-goal second period deficit to make it 3-3 in the third, but couldn’t pull off another sensational comeback like their 3-2 quarter-final win over Sweden. Finland will face Russia for the bronze medal.
“It’s gonna be tough for sure,” said Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen. “But of course, it’s our last game. So I hope we bring the team effort tomorrow.”
Tuesday will mark the fifth Canada-USA final in World Junior history (1997, 2004, 2010, 2017). Surprisingly, given Canada’s overall dominance at this tournament, the U.S. has won the last three gold-medal clashes.
This semi-final provided revenge for the Americans after two consecutive medal-round losses to Finland. The Finns edged the U.S. 3-2 in the 2019 gold medal game in Vancouver. Finland also won the 2020 quarter-final 1-0 in Trinec.
“It was a hump we had to get over, and I’m really proud of the guys,” said Leaman.
U.S. goalie Spencer Knight, who has recorded two shutouts in Edmonton, and Finland’s Piiroinen, who has one, both got their fifth starts of the tournament. Finland outshot the U.S. 36-26.
Like Kaliyev, Turcotte had a goal and an assist for the U.S., and Matthew Boldy had the other goal. Kasper Simontaival scored twice and Roni Hirvonen added a single for the Finns, while Ville Heinola chipped in two assists.
The Americans are looking for their fifth all-time gold medal (2004, 2010, 2013, 2017). Meanwhile, the Finns will try to win bronze for the first time since 2006 in Vancouver.
“It’s been a really awesome trip with these guys to be here in the bubble,” said Finland’s Kasper Puutio. “We still want to get a medal and be proud of this team. So we’re still definitely going to be giving the best that we have tomorrow and trying to get the bronze medal.”
The Finns carried the early play territorially, hounding the Americans around the rink. U.S. scoring leader Trevor Zegras (16 points, tied with Canada’s Dylan Cozens) unsuccessfully attempted the lacrosse move that Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov used to score twice last season.
Turcotte opened the scoring at 12:39 with his second goal of the tournament. Kaliyev fired a shot that bounced off Turcotte’s leg at the side of the net, and he banged the puck past Piiroinen’s right skate.
This semi-final pitted the tournament’s two top power-play teams against each other. The U.S. came in clicking at 42.1 per cent, while the Finns were at 40 per cent (6-for-15).
At 14:06, Simontaival tied it up on Finland’s first man advantage. Heinola took a centre-point shot that Kasper Puutio directed to a wide-open Simontaival in front for his third of these World Juniors.
“There were points in the game where we really played good hockey and were on our toes, but there were points where we were just falling back too much and letting the Finns dictate,” said Leaman.
In the second period, Finland’s hustle continued to frustrate the more talented Americans. A stretch pass from Turcotte to Zegras looked promising, but Eemil Viro was there to intercept it.
On a mid-game Finnish man advantage, the offensive pressure was relentless. Knight came up big to deny Puutio on a dangerous one-timer. And then the Americans’ quick-strike attack shifted the momentum.
An opportunistic Farinacci took a beautiful stretch pass from Jackson LaCombe when the Finns were completing a line change, and he beat Piiroinen on a breakaway to make it 2-1 at 15:53.
“I love the fact that Jackson LaCombe made that great play today to send Farinacci in,” said Leaman.
Less than a minute later, life got tougher for Finland as Aku Raty took a double-minor for high-sticking Boldy, giving the Americans their first power play. And Boldy, although slightly bloodied, went straight to the net to tip in Zegras’s heads-up pass from the high slot at 17:00 for a 3-1 lead.
Early in the third, Finland got a tremendous opportunity when Cole Caufield got dinged for delay of game after flipping the puck over the glass while exiting the U.S. zone. But it came to naught, and the blue-and-white team simply had to take more chances offensively.
At 11:38, Simontaival cut the U.S. lead to 3-2 on a play similar to his first goal, rushing to the net and converting Puutio’s smooth cross-ice pass as Knight lunged with his glove fruitlessly.
“We showed that character that we had in the previous games against Sweden,” said Puutio. “So we knew what we can do. And we were just believing and trusting the process and trying to find a way to come back in the game.”
Incredibly, the Americans took a second delay-of-game minor with 4:42 left, with Henry Thrun the culprit this time. With 3:43 remaining, Hirvonen was right at the crease to bang in the rebound from Finnish captain Anton Lundell’s bad-angle shot.
The Finnish bench went wild. Hirvonen also potted the game-winner with 25 seconds left against Sweden in the 3-2 quarter-final comeback win. But against the U.S., this was as close as Pennanen’s boys would get, despite some late pressure.
“Obviously, that was probably the craziest period of hockey I’ve ever played in,” Farinacci said.
The result gives Finland an all-time World Junior record against the U.S. of 18 wins, one tie, and 17 losses.