-- The first contestant in the quest for gold was decided in dramatic fashion on Tuesday, as Sweden mounted a 3-2 comeback to win in the shootout against Finland.
Trailing 2-0 entering into the final frame, the uphill climb was no stranger to Team Sweden in this year’s world juniors. Author: Avery Buye
Sweden shot straight to the semi-finals after wiping out a three-goal lead held by Russia in the third period on New Years Eve.
Sweden’s head coach, Roger Ronnberg said although it may be stressful, facing hardship isn’t necessary a bad thing.
“It’s good because we build our self confidence and our character on the team. We know this is the way you have to play to win a tournament like this,” said Ronnberg.
Things appeared ripe for the comeback as the Swedes netted one early in the third on a rare power play opportunity. Coming into today’s action, Finland was the least penalized team in the tournament. A big shot from the point from Johan Larsson, rebounded off the pads of Sami Aittokallio and deflected in off the shin of William Karlsson.
Sweden harnessed the majority of energy through the period with Finland doing their best to maintain their one-goal lead.
Finnish backstop, Sami Aittokallio appeared to have all the answers for the barrage of shots fired by Sweden, turning away a total of 55 shots throughout the game.
Unfortunately it would be his play around the net that cost Finland the equalizer.
"I played the puck and I tried to shoot it, I played it poorly and they scored so it's my mistake," said Aittokallio following the game.
After attempting to play the puck behind the net, the Finn goalie misplayed it right into the clutches of Swede, Johan Sundstrom. From there, he would gift-wrap a pass to Max Friberg waiting in front of the open net.
"He made like 50 or 60 saves so we go as a team and that's the way you lose and you win, as a team,” said Finnish captain, Mikael Granlund.
Overtime played host to plenty of end-to-end action, with neither team managing to pot a goal.
“I think we had more energy then they did both in the last period and the overtime. I think it matters going into the shoot-out as well,” said Friberg, with eight goals in the tournament.
Sebastian Collberg opened the scoring for Sweden in the shootout, with Joel Armia responding for Finland. Friberg capitalized on Sweden’s second attempt, as the next two shooters went scoreless. For Finland it all came down to Mikael Granlund, brother of Flames prospect Markus, as he skated hard to the net but lost the puck before getting off a shot.
"Yes I had something but the puck didn't go my way,” said Granlund about the failed attempt.
"Of course it hurts. I wanted to win a gold medal and now it's not possible anymore," said Aittokallio, choking back tears.
Finland opened semi-final scoring as Miro Aaltonen fed Alexander Rutuu with a seeing-eye pass through the crease.
Sweden dominated the second period on the shot clock, putting 20 pucks on the Finn netminder compared to Finland’s 7. Mika Zibanejad came up with Sweden’s best scoring chance of the second frame about halfway through, ringing a shot from the point off the right goal post.
“I think we started the game well, we played good the first 10 minutes but I think the guys got frustrated not scoring with all the scoring chances. It’s a hard game to coach and a hard game to play for the players,” said Ronnberg.
Finland’s next tally came as Joel Armia stripped Joakim Nordstrom in the Swedish zone, skated into an open pocket and ripped it over the shoulder of Johan Gustafsson.
“That’s tough when you are under one goal and under two goals it’s even tougher to stick to the game plan and play our game,” added Ronnberg. “I’m really impressed with the character of the guys to turn this game around.”
“Of course, to them, it’s a disappointment but like I said, I am really proud of them. They are good players,” said Finnish head coach, Raimo Helminen.
Sweden has not captured a gold medal since 1981, although they have since played in seven championship games.
The gold medal matchup commences on Thursday at 6:00pm (MST) at the Scotiabank Saddledome.