The first game of the 2022 World Juniors pitted perennial contender Finland against the up-and-coming Germans, who are missing some big names from their 2021 team. Some may have expected Finland to run away with this game, but that isn’t what would end up happening. In the end, it was Finland securing their first win of the tournament and bagging three points by a score of 3-1. It wasn’t straightforward for them, and there were moments where it looked like the result could realistically go the other way.
Finns Allow Germany to Hang Around
Finland came into this game as heavy favourites, and for good reason. Without stars like Tim Stützle and John-Jason Peterka, the Germans came into the tournament as a much different team and largely an unknown. In their victory over the United States in pre-tournament action, Finland proved that they have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with just about anyone. Even with all the odds calling for a big win Finland win, the Germans were a pain in the backside as they hung around until the final buzzer.
Anchored by a great performance from German defenceman Luca Münzenberger, the Germans out-shot the Finns 24-22. Munzenberger logged nearly 23 minutes of ice time scored a goal that, at the time, tied the game at one. The Germans played a great team game that held them in the game while they continue to establish themselves as one of the top nations when it comes to hockey.
From a Finnish perspective, there were chances to make this game a route that they couldn’t take advantage of. They were a touch passive in this game and kept the puck to the outside of the rink too often. Their offensive issues were only compounded with a great performance from German goaltender Nikita Quapp.
Ultimately, the Finns came out of this game with the win, so you can’t be too critical of how things went. But when you are the heavy favourites, you would like to give yourself a little more breathing room. Perhaps the Finns were too heavy of favourites, but maybe it’s time to start giving Germany some credit as a hockey nation.
Samuel Helenius Double Dips
Roni Hirvonen and Kasper Simontaival had stolen all of the headlines for Team Finland before the World Juniors, but another player who is going to start making some is Samuel Helenius should he continue to play the way he did in the opener. Helenius was all over the ice in this game and added his name to the score sheet twice in the form of two goals.
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His first goal originally went to Brad Lambert, but later in the game, the scoring of the goal was corrected, and Helenius received credit for the goal after it was decided he tipped the puck in front of the net. In the third period, he would make a play in his own zone to save a goal before going down the ice and scoring his second of the afternoon on a great feed from Lambert.
Helenius was all over the ice on Sunday, and his combination with Lambert was certainly impressive. It was no question that the player of the game award would be going to one or the other, but Lambert was the recipient. It’s another layer of depth that the Finns can get offence from, and when your competition for the group lead is Canada, every single goal you get could be important.
The Opportunistic Finns
We have become accustomed to the Finns being really good when their special teams are tested, but in their opening game, they couldn’t muster a goal on the power play and were scored on shortly after taking a penalty. Despite their shortcomings with the man advantage in this game, they were the more opportunistic team.
Helenius and Lambert were a big part of that, of course, but the entire Finnish team seemed to be able to survive the pressure the Germans were throwing at them and lived to fight another day. Germany had their chances (quite a few more than the Finns would have hoped), but they couldn’t get the puck past the goaltender and allowed Team Finland to control the game.
When you boil it down, hockey is a very simple game. If you can score when you have chances and can slow down the opposition’s attack, you are going to win a lot of games. For the Finns, playing close games is just a part of their DNA, but the key thing for them is they know how to win them. They did just that, and no matter the score, a win is a win.
Leevi Meriläinen’s Strong Afternoon
Over the past couple of months, Leevi Meriläinen has been heating up and finding his form. Both with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League and in the pre-tournament action before the tournament got started, Meriläinen has been impressive and has made numerous key saves that helped his team win games. That was no different in his first game at the World Juniors, where he turned aside 23 of the 24 shots the Germans fired in his direction.
From a technical standpoint, Meriläinen is a very sound goaltender. He’s very compact in his movement, meaning he is always ready to make a save while in motion. He is very positionally sound, and as of late, his rebound control has been excellent. In this tournament, good goaltending goes a long way, and even though this was only the first game, the Finns can be confident knowing that Meriläinen is in the net and can bail them out when they need him to.
Roni Hirvonen’s Health Question
Easily the most negative thing to happen in this game for Team Finland was losing Hirvonen late in the game to injury. He left the game in the third period and didn’t return. The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Hirvonen 59th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s expected to play a significant role for the Finns at the World Juniors, but that could be in jeopardy.
Finland is yet to provide an update on Hirvonen, but him leaving the game and not being able to return would make anyone nervous. If he is unavailable going forward, what could the Finns and head coach Antti Pennanen do to replace him? They could look to Ville Koivunen, who is currently playing on a line with Lambert and Helenius, but it’s unlikely that anyone could step in and replace what Hirvonen brings to the table.
Without question, losing Hirvonen for any period of time would be absolutely crushing to Team Finland.
Austria Up Next
The Finns will be right back in action on Monday afternoon, looking for their second-consecutive victory in the tournament. The opponent will be Team Austria, a team that no one really knows too much about yet, seeing as they haven’t yet played at the 2022 World Juniors. This is another game that Finland should be able to win, but as we saw with the Germans, they shouldn’t be taking anyone lightly. The Austrians have some talented players, including Vinzenz Rohrer, Senna Peeters, Marco Kasper, and their goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz. A full effort from Finland will earn them a win, something they should certainly be able to accomplish.
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|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
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