World Junior hockey 2013: Finland avoids embarrassment with comeback win over Swiss

Richard Wolowicz

Finland had a near-death experience, but came back from down 4-2 late in the 3rd period to win 5-4 in a shootout. By doing so, Finland avoided the fate the USA had to go through a year ago.

It wasn't looking very good for one of the medal favourites. After losing a tough game to the Czechs in which they vastly outplayed their rivals, but not outscored them, Finland fell behind by two goals twice to Switzerland. A regulation loss would've all but eliminated Finland, as a likely win by the Czechs later today against Latvia would've put Finland behind both teams for good.

It's the scenario that faced the Americans last year in Alberta, where they lost to both Finland and the Czech Republic, and after losing to the Czechs, had to see their final hope disappear as Finland dominated a hapless Danish squad. Like the Americans, the Finns were heavily out-shooting their opponents but just not scoring as much as them.

This game started poorly for Finland, however. Finland never threatened, failing to record a shot in the first six minutes of the game. Eventually, the Swiss took advantage of the slow start by their opponents and scored two goals in just over a minute, as pint-sized Lino Martschini banged in a dirty rebound while Sven Andrighetto scored on a great setup by Tanner Richard. Suddenly, what looked like a nervous start for Finland and their fans became an outright panic. A quick timeout was called at this point, but Finland gave up a prime scoring chance again right off the faceoff, only to be bailed out by goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.

A Joel Armia giveaway led directly to the Martschini goal, as the Sabres star prospect had a very rough game. Switzerland was rather tenacious on the forecheck early, playing a style that we usually see from Finland. The Swiss, however, tried to 'play the score' a bit too much after taking advantage of a weakened Finnish defensive corps. Olli Maatta, the top Finnish defenseman, sat this game out with an illness. That made Finland go with an uncomfortable third pairing of Juuso Vainio and Juuso Rikola, and Vainio in particular struggled.

Finland started to blitz Switzerland after the jitters settled and got several chances on a late powerplay in the first, but it wasn't until 5:21 of the 2nd period that they broke through. Markus Granlund deflected a point shot by Vainio past Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler, the start of Granlund's star performance in this game. Penalty trouble followed for Switzerland, who couldn't handle the Finnish pushback, and Teuvo Teravainen scored just as a 5 on 3 powerplay expired to tie the game.

Things looked comfortable for Finland heading into the third, but it quickly went all wrong again to start the third. Vainio embarassingly fell down on a breakout and in doing so cleared the puck right to the stick of Alessio Bertaggia of Switzerland, who promptly walked into the slot unchallenged and scored with a high wrist shot. Later, a Joel Armia offensive zone penalty led to a Dario Simion goal to give Switzerland a 4-2 lead with 8:30 to play in the game. It looked like Switzerland was going to be able to knock Finland out.

But then one of those stupid high hits occured that we've seen happen a few times already this tournament. In a reminder that we are dealing with dumb teenage males, Lukas Sieber delivered an elbow to the chin of Finnish defenseman Ville Pokka. Amazingly, Sieber wasn't assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct, but he was given two minutes plus a ten minute misconduct for the headshot. Expect Sieber to be suspended despite this, as his really was the most egregious and predatory hit we've seen this tournament.

On the powerplay, Finland got within one goal as Teravainen got his second of the night. Finland did have a player in the goal crease (which is a violation in IIHF play), but the Swiss protest fell on deaf ears. Then, with Korpisalo on the bench, Markus Granlund (the extra skater) found the puck on a scrambled draw and scored high on Nyffeler to tie it all up.

Overtime solved nothing, and a tense shootout followed. After Korpisalo barely stopped Tanner Richard with the game on the line, Markus Granlund walked in on his off-wing and fired a wrister to the far side. Alessio Bertaggia was then stopped by Korpisalo, who made five stops to get the win.

The result means that Finland is tied with Switzerland with five points right now, but holds the tiebreak due to winning this game. The Czech Republic will likely move to six points by day's end, and Sweden has 8 points to lead the group. Right now, any of Sweden, the Czechs, or Finland could win the group, though Sweden is guaranteed a spot in the playoff round. The Czechs play Switzerland to start action tomorrow, while Finland and Sweden follow up.

We're in for a wild finish to Group A.

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