The defending champion U.S. came back from a 2-0 first-period deficit, but the Finns pulled it out in the third — in unforgettable style. It was sweet revenge after losing last year’s final 4-2 to the Americans.
Nordgren blocked defenceman Cameron York’s shot at the blue line and exploded down on a 2-on-1 with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Kotkaniemi slipped it over and Nordgren hammered it into the open short side for his tournament-leading eighth goal.
“It was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me,” said Nordgren. “I got a good pass from Kotkaniemi. I had lots of good chances to score but, you know, one is enough.”
But not when it comes to championships. The Finnish program is on fire. This nation of 5.5 million people has now appeared in four consecutive U18 finals, winning twice. Suomi triumphed on American ice in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2016, trouncing Nordic rival Sweden 6-1 with Jesse Puljujarvi’s hat trick.
In this game, Rasmus Kupari and Kaapo Kakko also scored power play goals for Finland, and Anttoni Honka had two assists.
“It’s something you can’t describe,” said ecstatic Finnish coach Tommi Niemela. “The players are having an amazing time. They believed in themselves. They understood that if we are ‘we,’ we are going to win against a group of ‘me’s.’ Youngsters are amazing! When you look at them, the joy is real. The sorrow is real, too. There is no pretending.”
Despite the loss, the Americans played a tremendous tournament en route to their fourth silver medal ever. In the big picture, the U.S. has won seven of the last 10 U18 World Championships. This was a testament to the potency of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which furnished the talent for coach Seth Appert’s roster. Even though their reign is over, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
“I told them to wear the silver medal with pride,” said Appert. “As much as it hurts right now, wear it with pride. It was earned. It’s hard to get. It wasn’t what we came for, but still, you have to respect the game, the tournament and your opponents, and put that medal around your neck with pride.”
Patrick Giles and Trevor Janicke scored for the Americans, while Tyler Weiss added two helpers.
“This group is special for sure,” said Joel Farabee, who in last year’s final scored twice, including the winner. “From where we came from…we had five guys quit our team and two coaches leave. The world didn’t want us to win, but we persevered. We came two years all the way to a gold medal game and we were just one goal short. It’s just really tough right now.”
It was a great goaltending showdown between the U.S.’s Spencer Knight and Finland’s Justus Annunen. Shots were even at 28 apiece.
The Finns won seven straight games in regulation and are deserving champions.
This final had everything you could ask for: a high tempo, intensity, adrenaline, and an off-the-charts Chelyabinsk crowd of 7,499 banging thundersticks and brandishing U.S. and Finnish flags. The quality of play was right up there with recent classic World Junior finals.
Niemela’s charges came out of the gate looking fast and hungry. Even if they weren’t quite “gorillas coming out of a cage,” to borrow Ilya Bryzgalov’s famous quote about Canada’s 7-3 win over Russia in the 2010 Olympic quarter-final, they got in on the forecheck and fired shots from everywhere.
When Hughes, the tournament scoring leader and MVP, took the first penalty for interference at 8:45, it proved costly. Just 28 seconds later, Kotkaniemi fed the puck from the corner to Honka at the left point, and the younger brother of Dallas Stars defenceman Julius Honka unleashed a rising drive that Kupari tipped past Knight.
At 12:33, Finland struck again with the man advantage. Honka sent it cross-ice to Kakko and he stepped into the right faceoff circle before lining up a perfect wrister high to the stick side.
Rarely tested in the early going, Annunen was ready when Oliver Wahlstrom, who entered this game tied with Nordgren for the tournament goals lead, was left unguarded to the goalie’s right. Moments later on a U.S. man advantage, Hughes zipped one off the crossbar.
At 16:53, the U.S. broke through with a delayed penalty coming up to the Finns, and their two assistant captains got it done. Inside the offensive blue line, Ty Emberson swept the puck left past a cluster of Finnish defenders to Giles, and he hammered it past Annunen.
Knight came up huge to stop the blindingly fast Kupari on a breakaway with under two minutes left in the first period.
“Knight was amazing,” said Niemela.
Despite being denied on a power play to kick off the second period, the Americans really picked it up. Hughes found Farabee coming with speed, and he rang it off Annunen’s right point.
At 8:24, the relentless Americans tied it up. Weiss sent a Wayne Gretzky-style centering pass from behind the net to Pivonka in the slot, and Annunen blocked his release, but couldn’t stop Janicke on the rebound for his second of the tournament.
Even play prevailed and both teams had their chances as the middle frame wore on. If it wasn’t Kim Nousiainen coming late on the rush and ringing one off the crossbar, it was Janicke catching the Finns on a bad line change but whiffing on his shot as Annunen stared him down.
Nordgren also waltzed into the slot off a Finnish faceoff win in the American end but couldn’t find a chink in Knight’s armor. And Annunen barely stopped Hughes on the doorstep with just over a minute till the second buzzer. It was one wild rush after another.
“After the second period, when we were in the locker room, you could hear from the guys that we are not done here,” said Niemela. “They believed.”
During an early third-period power play with Wahlstrom off for tripping in the offensive zone, Knight made a mind-blowing stick save on Nordgren, who couldn’t convert Anton Lundell’s crafty backhand pass. Still, the Finns were driving the play.
Of Knight, Farabee said: “He was the backbone of our team. When we were struggling, he came out to save us. That really helped us, and that got us to the gold medal game. He’s a very special player.”
The U.S. got a chance to turn the tide when Ville Petman was sent off for interference with just over 10 minutes left in regulation and Wahlstrom sent a laser off the goal post.
After Nordgren’s shortie, the Americans failed to capitalize with Kotkaniemi off for tripping four minutes later. Desperate for the equalizer, they pulled Knight for the extra attacker with 1:07 left. But the U.S. struggled to coordinate its attack, although the Finns missed the empty net multiple times, and this game would not go to overtime.
“Knight played well, but they didn’t get that many chances to score on us,” said Kotkaniemi. “We got a few chances and we scored. We skate well, we battle well.”
At the final horn, the Finns celebrated with explosive teenage enthusiasm, while the Americans were left crumpled and kneeling in dismay.
“The level of hockey, the level of competitiveness on both sides, is very unique and special to be part of,” said Appert. “We had our looks, even at the end. It just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
This was the fourth time the U.S. and Finland have squared off for U18 gold, with the Americans winning all three previous confrontations (2006, 2015, 2017).
For Finland, the 2015 and 2017 heartbreaks were particularly fresh. In 2015, Veini Vehvilainen’s incredible 60-save performance in Switzerland wasn’t enough to stop the Auston Matthews-led Americans from winning 2-1 in overtime on Colin White’s goal. Last year, Joel Farrabee tallied twice, including the eventual winner, in a 4-2 decision in Slovakia.
But now, that storyline has finally changed. The result improved Finland’s all-time U18 record versus the Americans to six wins and 11 losses.
Asked about being the world’s top U18 hockey nation, Niemela responded in typically Finnish fashion: “At the moment! But we have to improve, still lots to improve.”
Article source: http://u18worlds2018.iihf.hockey/en/news/fin-usa-gmg/