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Finns weren’t giving the Americans any space. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships came to a close Saturday at Roger’s Arena with a thrilling game between two teams favoured to finish well, but not necessarily vie for gold. Team Finland eked out the 3-2 win over Team USA for the championship.

A visibly upset Jack Quinn had trouble mustering much in the way of answers that the media were throwing at him, but did say, “It’s hockey, it happens. It was two really good teams playing really hard.”

“Would have loved to win that. It sucks that we lost,” he added through tears.

Such is the balance in the game of hockey that these two teams would find themselves battling for gold and Canada, Sweden and the Czech Republic would be out of the medals. Russia would earn just bronze earlier in the day, besting Switzerland, 5-2.

For Switzerland to finish fourth and not the traditional powerhouses illustrates how the game is growing. The 2019 win is the third in six years for Finland.

Asked if there seems to be a shift in traditional powers Finnish defender Oskari Laaksonen said, “Well when we beat Canada, we thought that we can beat anybody. So we knew we had a chance going in. The Americans played well, but maybe there is a bit of a change.”

Team Finland celebrates winning gold. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

Finland knocked Canada out on Wednesday, 2-1. Anything can happen in this tournament as Finland had lost to the US 4-1 on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps the Americans expected to win again.

“We won as a team,” said goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. “I can’t pick out any one player, we showed how hard we work out there and we won the gold medal together.”

At 9:11 of the first period, Rasmus Kupari threw a hit in the American end dropping a forward to the ice – the forward snapped his head back in the process. The referee made a late call based on the theatrics and the fans didn’t agree with the elbowing penalty and booed during the video replay.

On the ensuing powerplay, the Americans thought that they had spilled first blood at 4:45 of the first period, however, after a review; the goal was disallowed due to a crease violation.

The game-winning goal, captured on the line. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

Anttoni Honka took a tripping penalty at 12:47 and sat for two minutes. The Americans had several good scoring opportunities but failed to find paydirt. The Finns went right back on the attack.

Luukkonen was good when he had to be during the first period, stoning the Americans a couple of times on point-blank opportunities. The first period would end 0-0.

At 11:31 of the second period, Jesse Ylonen caught Cayden Primeau too far to his right and buried a powerplay marker to open the scoring. On the play, Valtteri Puustinen won the faceoff and drew back to Okari Laaksonen on the point, who fed Ylonen on the far side – he made no mistake firing the puck short-side.

USA celebrates game-tying, 2-2 goal. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

Nineteen-year-old Ylonen, the only Finn born in the US, is a 2018 draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens chosen in the second round and 35th overall. He is currently playing for the Pelicans in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He spent the past two seasons playing for Espoo of the Mestis League. So far this season, the six-foot, right-shooting winger has scored eight times and picked up five assists in 31 games.

During the final three minutes of the second period, the Americans were killing off a minor for tripping to Oliver Wahlstrom, there were at least three blocked shots on one foray.
The free-flowing, but strong defensive play of the first two periods moved into a staccato, whistle-heavy third as goaltenders held onto the puck and forwards weren’t letting any established breakouts happen until 6:00 of the third when defender Otto Latvala unleashed a powerful wrist shot from the right point. It directly hit the back of the net.

The Americans came back when Alexander Chmelevski scored from a difficult angle, near the goal line. Jack Hughes fired an impossible angle shot, it rebounded back to Chmelevski, who turned and fired the puck short side on the Finnish goaltender.

The Americans tied it up with a blast from the right faceoff circle from Josh Norris. Chmelevski teed the puck up nicely for Norris who cranked it to top-right corner. Although the 17,206 fans in attendance were split between favouring the Finns and the Americans, the cheering for good hockey was loud.

Asked about the difference in not winning Norris said, “Well part of it was the powerplay. We didn’t capitalize on them, they did and that was the difference.”

The desperation ramped up during the final minutes and the play became intense at both ends, both teams wanted the win equally.

With 1:26 remaining in regulation time and the score tied 2-2, Henri Jokiharju and Anton Lundell each took a swipe at the puck in close, and Kaapo Kakko, heading behind the net turned to his backhand and fired the loose puck behind Primeau for the game-winner.

The Americans would pull Primeau, but to no avail.

The Finns would outshoot the Americans 31-28.

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