With the end of the dreadful 2020 calendar year in sight, Canada faced off against Finland in the final game of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship Preliminary Round from Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB. on Thursday. Although the ice was heavily tilted the Canadians’ way, the Finns did keep the score relatively close, with Canada earning a 4-1 victory while wearing their red alternate sweaters.
The New Year’s Eve spectacle featured two of the tournament’s very best teams with both the Finns and Canadians entering the matchup with perfect 3-0-0 records. In fact, over the past seven years, Canada and Finland have each won three gold medals, with the winner of the preliminary/medal round Canada/Finland showdown going on to win gold each of those occurrences. Clearly a lot was on the line on Thursday.
Entering the game, Canada had outscored its opponents 29-3, while Finland held a 15-4 differential through its four games. Entering the New Year’s Even matchup, the Finns had also outshot their opponents in each of their 12 periods of play.
That changed dramatically on Thursday.
Finnish goaltender Kari Piiroinen was put to the test rather early, as Canada pumped 17 pucks on goal in the opening 20 minutes, as compared to Finland’s lone shot. The Canadians struck first just 3:49 in on an unassisted marker by tournament points leader Dylan Cozens. Capitalizing on a Finnish turnover, the Buffalo Sabres’ first round draft pick (seventh overall in 2019) led Canada on a three-on-one up ice, before keeping the puck to himself and rifling a shot low, short-side past the outstretched blocker of Piiroinen.
“At the start of the game, we weren’t ready at all,” Finnish coach Antti Pennanen said post-game. “Team Canada was so good. They played with speed, and it was a demanding game for us. They won all the battles, all the loose pucks. We tried to improve, and we did, but not enough. They have so many good players, and they’re well coached.”
Opening the middle stanza with a 1-0 lead, Canada saw forward Alex Newhook leave the game with what appeared to be an upper-body injury following a significant open-ice hit. With Finland only collecting one shot in the first period, the team vowed to change its ways for the second period. However, it took until the 6:25 mark for it to register its first shot of the frame.
Then, seven minutes into the period, Wheat Kings’ defenceman Braden Schneider collected the puck following an offensive zone goalmouth scramble and dished it off to Jakob Pelletier, whose low shot deflected into the net off forward Dylan Holloway. With Schneider picking up an assist on the 2-0 tally, it meant that all members of the Canadian team had registered at least one point in the 2021 tournament.
Six minutes later, Winnipeg ICE captain Peyton Krebs gave Canada a three-goal lead off a nifty between-the-legs rebound following a Bowen Byram point shot. Through 40 minutes, the Canadians held a significant 35-7 lead in the shot department, with netminder Devon Levi nearly going untested.
Despite taking seven shots on net and hitting the post on three separate occasions, Canada’s Connor McMichael was held pointless on the night, while captain Cozens picked up the slack.
After Finland’s Brad Lambert struck on an early third period power play tally, Cozens sealed the deal with a strong individual effort leading to an empty-net marker. Beginning the game with an unassisted Cozens strike, Canada ended it on the same note, finishing the Finns 4-1. With his sixth goal and 11th point of the tournament, Cozens now leads all players in both categories.
“It was a battle for first place, so we were fired up to get out there,” Cozens reflected. “We’re re really happy with the start we had. It was the best period of hockey all tournament so far, but we just have to keep building on that. But they’re a strong opponent, we reloaded hard on pucks. They had a tough time getting out of their zone and that was all because of our track and reload. We showed our identity, which is speed and creating turnovers.”
Although seeing his shutout streak come to an end at 1:06:29, Canadian netminder Devon Levi picked up the win Thursday, turning aside 18 of 19 shots. Finnish backstop Piiroinen stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced, and earned Finland’s player of the game recognition in the process. Krebs took home Canada’s best player award.
Relevant news for Jets fans is the fact that Finnish defenceman Ville Heinola left the game in the third period after blocking a Connor McMichael wrist shot with this right hand and did not return. His coach Antti Pennanen spoke publicly after the game and told reporters that he hopes the injury is ‘little’.
With the victory, Canada (4-0-0) punched its ticket to a Quarterfinal matchup with Czech Republic on Saturday in one of the four set timeslots from Rogers Place. More information regarding game times will be released on Friday.