Day 6 of the World Junior Hockey Championship saw Finland play another dominant game, this time coming against Slovakia. Coming off wins against Germany and Switzerland, Finland once again played a fast-paced game that showed that they are a threat to medal as they gear up towards the quarterfinals.
With contributions coming from up and down the lineup, Finland was able to play to their strengths. With superb offense, and their defenseman effectively shutting down the Slovaks, this opened the floodgates that saw the Finns score six goals while keeping their opponents off the scoresheet.
With Finland remaining undefeated in the group stage, here are three takeaways from their impressive game against Slovakia.
1. Anton Lundell Continues to Shine
The captain for Finland at this year’s tournament, Anton Lundell continued his great tournament versus Slovakia. While people had been questioning Lundell’s offensive upside before he got drafted by the Florida Panthers, he has continued to prove his doubters wrong as he has been off to a great start with both HIFK of the Liiga and with Finland.
Taking advantage of a turnover by Slovakia, Lundell was able to get the Finns on the board early in the first period, finishing a setup by Los Angeles Kings prospect Kasper Simontaival right in front of the net. Although the play started off with a nice play by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen to keep the puck in the zone, Lundell was able to find the open ice and displayed a nice touch to elevate the puck over Slovakian goalie Samuel Hlavaj. He also assisted on Topi Niemala’s goal on the power play, raising his point total to five.
Lundell was impressive with his play away from the puck as well. He was very good at getting in on the forecheck and was able to put some pressure on the Slovakian defenders, which caused some turnovers. He also provided some much needed energy to the game as he was involved in numerous post whistle scrums, including one at the end of the first period that seemed to elevate his team’s play as the game went on.
With Finland gearing up for their game against Canada and the quarterfinals, they are going to have to rely on Lundell to continue his strong play. His stock as a prospect continues to rise and he will be one of the most important pieces for Finland moving forward.
2. Goaltending Looks Strong
While their competition has not been the strongest, Finland’s goaltending has looked strong and that is a must have if Finland hopes to make a deep run in this tournament. Currently rolling with a tandem of Kari Piiroinen and Roope Taponen, Finland has only allowed three goals at the tournament.
With Piiroinen getting the start against Slovakia, he did not see a lot of action throughout the course of the game but he did look sharp when he was called upon. One example that comes to mind was in the first period when the puck was thrown on the net and it took a funny bounce. Piiroinen was able to track it and prevent it from going in.
Piiroinen will certainly face his toughest task in the tournament when he and his teammates go up against Canada on New Year’s Eve. He moves well in his net and tracks the puck well, but will certainly be tested as Canada has such a dangerous and potent offense. Finland is going to have to play a very solid defensive game from here on out.
3. Played Their System Effectively
With Finland being the much stronger team overall, this allowed them to dictate the play the way they saw fit. They put a lot of emphasis on getting the puck to the net and this worked out really well for them throughout the game.
This was seen on more than one occasion throughout the game. As seen in the Lundell section above, Finland effectively caused a turnover and were able to get the puck towards the net and Lundell was able to score the first goal. Another instance where getting the puck on net worked perfectly was on Simontaival’s goal. Simontaival received a beautiful pass from Lundell and in driving the net, was able to get a lucky bounce off of a Slovakian player and into the net.
This strategy has worked really well for Finland so far but they will be tested when they go up against Canada. While they have faced some decent teams and this is not to take away from the quality of talent of the other teams in Group A, but no one in that group can rival the quality of talent that Canada is able to ice — their defense is incredibly stingy and their ability to shut down scoring chances is impeccable. It will be interesting to see how well Finland can lay their blueprint on the game as this will dictate how the rest of the tournament will unfold.
Looking to the Future
Finland has had a great tournament so far. They’ve gotten support from up and down the lineup, from stars such as Lundell and Brad Lambert to lesser known players such as Aku Raty. They will certainly have their work cut out for them in the future but the most exciting hockey is yet to come.
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My name is Mathieu Sheridan. I am a writer here at THW who covers the OHL and prospects in general.