January 04, 2014
Canada, unlike in years past, should have little trouble getting up for a bronze-medal game, since it's becoming a habit.
A fleet, positionally firm Team Finland executed better and outskated Team Canada, winning the world junior championship semifinal 5-1 on the wings a dominant second period in Malmo, Sweden. The victory, Finland's first over Canada since the round-robin of the 2002 tournament, creates an all-Nordic Finland-Sweden final on Sunday (TSN/RDS, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT).
"I don't really have the true words for it," Team Canada coach Brent Sutter, whose teams came in with a 16-0-1-0 record over three tournaments, told TSN. "It was like we froze in the moment ... we just got off our game. We didn't handle it the way we would have liked to.
"We think the game is only played in our country," Sutter added. "If you're not at the top of your game, you're not going to win and it showed tonight."
Canada, which never found a rhythm while its top two centres Jonathan Drouin and Nic Petan incurred 10-minute misconducts in the second period, will face Russia for the bronze on Sunday (TSN/RDS, 9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT).
Finland outchanced Canada 10-3 during that period, when it built a two-goal margin that stood up until Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Teuvo Teravainen converted a penalty shot for the dagger with 3:12 left.
A gut feeling is that any attempt at being sanguine — anything can happen in a best-of-one! — isn't going to cut it. Discuss amongst yourselves:
— Finland, which clinched its first world junior gold medal since Tuukka Rask led it to bronze in Vancouver in 2006, was simply better. Defenceman such as the Buffalo Sabres farmhand Rasmus Ristolainen, who scored the critical 3-1 goal, as well as Mikko Lehtonen, Esa Lindell, Ville Pokka and the 18-year-old Julius Honka, made it next to impossible for Canada to get to the net.
Nashville Predators-drafted goalie Juuse Saros made 23 saves. Canada was 0-for-5 on the power play, but remember that Finland had allowed only one extra-man goal through its first five games of the tourney, which included games vs. Sweden and Russia.
— Team Canada Excuse No. 1 That Should Go In One Ear And Out The Other: Canada didn't have Sean Monahan or Morgan Rielly, whom the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs demurred from loaning to Team Canada. They would have helped, but between the Florida Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Olli Määttä and injured 17-year-old standout Kaspari Kapanen, Finland ran without upper-echelon talent. It didn't set Finland coach Karri Kivi's charges back any.
Who's the country with the most players again?
— It cannot be stressed enough that this is the nature of international hockey, especially for a team that has styled itself as an underdog, as Finland did going into the tournament. Get a lead to put an opponent off-balance and pounce before it groups. The Finns got two goals in 1:19 in the second period with Joni Nikko taking a ricochet off the lively Malmo Arena end boards for the icebreaker.
Fourth-line centre Frédérik Gauthier was penalized for interference 22 seconds after the goal. Finland cashed in the ensuing power play. The lack of response from Canada was a killer.
— Whether Canada could ever be that structured in a big game is a great argument starter. Canada only had three third-period shots as individual desperation overlook any notion of team play.
— The postmortem should focus on the inability to break through Finland's defence .
— Fun fact: The Finns matched Team USA's distinction of reaching the gold-medal game one year after finishing seventh and enduring the comeuppance of playing in the relegation round.
— Team Canada Excuse No. 2 That Should Go In One Ear And Out The Other: Canada's goaltending was not good enough. The scoreline was 2-1 in the second period when Zach Fucale (18 saves on 22 shots) made a headlong diving save on Otto Rauhala. Canada didn't clear, though, and Ristolainen tucked the puck upstairs moments later.
— Considering the score, his status and his prior check-to-head minor and misconduct against Switzerland, Drouin should have exercised more discretion when he had a chance to finish a check on Topi Nattinen in the second period. The minor and misconduct that took Drouin out of the game for 12 minutes, was a 40/60 call, not even 50/50, but this was a leave-no-doubt situation.
"I didn't do anything," Drouin told TSN. "I pushed the guy, it was shoulder-to-shoulder. If they [the IIHF] want to look at the tape [for supplemental discipline], that's their job."
Drouin, tellingly, was not named one of Canada's three best players of the tournament.
Petan's misconduct was for abuse of official.
— Those who said Canada was smallish and not overly speedy can take a victory lap, if that makes it feel better.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.