Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen proved why he might be considered one of the top prospects at his position in the 2014 NHL Draft when he made 25 saves to help lead Finland to a 3-2 overtime victory over the United States in the opener of preliminary-round competition at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka on Monday in Piestany, Slovakia.
Kahkonen, who made 11 saves in the second period, was named Finland's most valuable player. United States goalie Alex Nedelijkovic, of the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers, made 17 saves in the loss.
Waltteri Hopponen scored 59 seconds into the overtime with his team working a two-man advantage on the power play to give Finland the victory in Group B preliminary-round competition.
"It’s disappointing," U.S. coach Bob Corkum told the tournament website. "I thought we had enough scoring chances and shots on net to win the game."
The United States outshot Finland 27-20 and pulled even 17:21 into the third when forward Kyle Connor connected for a power-play goal for a 2-2 tie. Connor was whistled for a hooking penalty with 56 seconds left in the third before defenseman Jack Dougherty was sent to the box for slashing just 32 seconds later to give the Finns their opportunity heading into the extra session.
"We battled all game," Connor told the tournament's website. "In the third we were all over them. A couple of bounces here and there and we could have had the game. It’s disappointing, but we are happy with the way we played."
Kahkonen was a key player and starter for the Espo Blues in the Junior A SM-liiga in 2012-13, finishing with a 2.43 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He'll likely open the 2013-14 season with the Blues, but could earn considerable time in Finland's top league at some point.
"He has good size with good balance," NHL Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb, told NHL.com. "He has excellent athleticism and flexibility and does a good job reading and following the play."
Finland took its first led 7:43 into the third when forward Miro Makinen was credited with a goal off an assist by Atte Makinen. The Finns pulled into a 1-1 tie 35 seconds into the second when Mikko Rantanen converted a feed from Juho Lammikko.
The United States, which has finished in the top three at the Ivan Hlinka 10 times since the tournament's inception in 1991 but placed seventh last year, opened a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the game when Portland Winterhawks forward Paul Bittner scored shortly after a penalty had expired for Finland.
United States forward Joseph Snively of the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League was named the top player for the United States. Snively is eligible for the 2014 draft.
The U.S. Under-18 Select Team will next fact Russia on Tuesday at 8 a.m. ET in Slovakia. Finland, meanwhile, will meet Slovakia at 11:30 a.m. ET.