In what turned out to be a must-win game against Team Slovakia for Team Finland, the Finns, aided by their star players, bounced back after a horrific overtime loss to Team Switzerland with a dominant 5-2 victory on Tuesday in Moncton to record their first win of the World Junior Championship.
Finland temporarily takes over first place in Group B after the win and have a chance to further their lead in the group in the next game against Team Latvia on Dec. 29. However, the victory against Slovakia will go a long way toward the team’s confidence moving forward.
Finland was out-shot by the Slovaks 24-23, but they made some notable adjustments from their tournament opener against Switzerland just 24 hours earlier. The Finns did a much better job moving the puck through the neutral zone, and instead of trying to stick-handle their way into the offensive zone, they played more of a dump-and-chase game.
Here are three takeaways from Finland’s impressive win.
Finland’s Best Players Stood Out
Finland’s roster has been flipped upside down since the 2022 WJC in August, which saw them lose in overtime to Team Canada. However, with players like Joakim Kemell, Brad Lambert, and Oliver Kapanen, Finland still has some firepower up front.
After Finland’s top line went pointless against Switzerland, they combined to score three goals and recorded five points against Slovakia. Kapanen and Kemell both recorded a goal and an assist, while Lambert recorded his first goal of the tournament.
Lambert’s goal, in particular, was a significant turning point in the game for Finland. After Slovakia narrowed Finland’s lead to two at the start of the third period, a minute and 39 seconds later, Lambert lit the lamp to extend the lead for Finland and put the game on ice.
The Winnipeg Jets’ first-round pick has struggled to find his offensive game in the American Hockey League, as he has recorded just two goals and three points through 14 games for the Manitoba Moose. Some confidence for Lambert would go a long way in Finland’s success in the tournament.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
Latest News & Highlights
Meanwhile, for stars like Kemell and Kapanen, their offensive output is to be expected for Finland. The offense against Switzerland looked bland and uncontrolled, and the Swiss did a great job neutralizing Kemell’s and Kapanen’s abilities. However, the offensive adjustments through the neutral zone allowed Finland to develop more offense opportunities, which elevated the games of the two forwards.
Finland’s Special Teams Were Noticeable
Special teams played a big part in the second game of the tournament for Finland; three of the seven goals scored in the game came on the power play, with one belonging to the Finns. Finland’s power play was a big topic of discussion in the August tournament, and they finally found their groove against Slovakia.
Their power-play goal in the second period was a heartbreaker for Slovakia. Jani Nyman, with a three-goal lead in hand, ripped a slap shot from the circle into a wide-open net to bring the Finland lead to 4-1 after Patrik Andrisik lost track of the puck.
A concern for Finland moving forward, however, is the number of penalties they took against Slovakia. They had six minutes of penalty time on Tuesday, and Slovakia capitalized on two of its three power-play opportunities.
While Finland was able to get away with the undisciplined play against Slovakia, they will have a harder time shutting down the more elite special teams units from some of the more formidable opponents like Team USA, Canada, and Sweden.
Jani Lampinen Is the Answer in Net
Finland brought three goalies with them to Moncton, and through two games of the tournament, two different goalies have seen time in net. On Tuesday, it was Jani Lampinen’s turn to tend the goal, and he provided some much-needed stability between the pipes.
Aku Koskenvuo seemed shaky at times during his overtime loss to Team Switzerland on Monday, and with a back-to-back to open the tournament, going with Lampinen was an obvious choice for Finland, especially against a team who had yet to play a game.
However, with Lampinen’s play on Tuesday, he may have stolen the starting job for the foreseeable future. Heading into the World Junior Championship, he had posted a 10-2-2 record with a 2.21 goals against average and a .909 save percentage with Kiekko-Espoo in Finland’s Mestis league.
Lampinen was the hot hand entering the tournament, though there is still a possibility that we will see Seattle’s second-round pick, Niklas Kokko, at some point before the medal round of the tournament. It’s hard to imagine he would jump into the game on New Year’s Eve against Team USA without playing a game, so the Dec. 29 match against Latvia might be the opportunity for him to get some game action.
The tournament, as a whole, is proving to have more parity than many expected, especially with opening losses from Canada and Finland on Monday. For Finland, the win against Slovakia is a good step in the right direction, and they will look to continue that momentum moving forward at the WJC.