Sweden & Finland World Junior Championship History Revisited

Sweden and Finland are two Nordic countries with a northern border stretching 614 kilometers. Together they make up half of Scandinavia, along with Denmark and Iceland. Since the latter two countries don’t have competitive hockey programs, the Scandinavia rivalry lies between Sweden and Finland. 

When the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) launched the first unofficial World Junior Championship in 1974, these two teams met in the round robin. Sweden destroyed Finland 9-4 in that initial meeting; however, the Finns got the last laugh by qualifying for the playoffs and finishing with a silver medal. 

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship

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These two teams have met hundreds of times in competitions across the globe. Whether competing for World Championships or Olympic medals, no love is lost between the athletes who proudly wear their respective flags. On Monday morning (Jan. 2), these teams will meet for the 44th time in the 49-year World Junior Championship tournament history. Here is a look back at their historic rivalry. 

Sweden and Finland Search for Their First Gold Medals (1974 – 1992)

Sweden dominated their neighbors by winning the first four meetings between the two countries at the beginning of the rivalry. Although both teams earned a medal in 1974 and 1975, they were eager to claim gold, which the Soviet Union had a stranglehold on by winning the first seven tournaments. Consequently, Sweden became the first junior team outside the Soviet Union squad to capture a gold medal, winning it all in 1981. This moment in history gave Sweden an advantage in their rivalry with Finland, who had only one medal to this point, while the Swedes boasted three bronzes and one silver. 

Team Sweden WJHC gold 2012
Swedish junior team celebrates with the 2012 World Junior Championship Trophy.
(Resolute, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

For the first time in history, Sweden and Finland met twice in the same tournament in 1979. During the round-robin stage, the Swedes escaped with a 2-1 win before dispatching the Finns 5-2 in their first playoff matchup, a semi-final contest. Furthermore, Sweden finished with a bronze medal as first-time hosts, while Finland finished in fourth. 

At the next tournament, hosted by Finland, the home team would be in the gold pool, with Sweden in the blue pool. Eventually, their paths crossed in the semi-final for the second consecutive season; however, this time, Finland walked away with a 3-2 win en route to a silver medal. Moreover, this tournament would mark the last time these two teams would meet in a playoff situation until 1992. 

Related: Team Sweden Players to Watch at 2023 WJC

From 1974 to 1992, there couldn’t have been a closer rivalry with these two teams splitting their 19 games by producing a 9-9-1 record against one another. Furthermore, Finland outscored Sweden by a 71-70 margin, which included a 2-2 tie in their only meeting back in 1978. Interestingly, on top of a near identical record against each other, these nordic teams also shared the exact medal count, with six. Each country won one gold, two silvers, and three bronze medals during this period. Finally, over the first 18 years of the tournament, these two teams earned medals in the same tournaments just three times in 1980, 1981, and 1987.

The Nordic Rivalry Goes Quiet (1992 – 2012)

Sweden won the silver medal in 1992, beginning a stretch of finishing in second place in four of the next five tournaments, a streak that ended in 1996. During the 1992 tournament, Sweden met Finland in a “finals” matchup since that year’s format awarded medals to teams who secured the best records. Despite boasting one of the best lineups, Sweden earned a silver medal thanks to a 6-4 victory over Finland on the tournament’s final day. 

The nordic rivalry continued into 1993 and 1994, with Sweden earning 9-2 and 6-2 wins. They battled to a 3-3 tie at the 1995 tournament, just the second time they did not determine a winner during one of their contests. In the following year, 1996, for the first time in tournament history, these two teams did not meet in the round-robin or playoffs. Eventually, Sweden would earn their last medal of the decade (silver) on American soil. 

Finland took over the rivalry after the off-year, winning both round-robin games in 1997 (4-2) and 1998 (4-3). Their feud went dark for the next few years until a matchup at the 2003 event, which Finland won 3-2 en route to their second consecutive bronze medal. By this time, Finland had already claimed their second gold medal (1998), while Sweden continued to look for ways to break their losing streak in the big game.

The rivalry’s first overtime thriller occurred in 2006 at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia. The game remained in a deadlock 0-0 tie after regulation when Tobias Viklund took a tripping penalty. Playing with the man advantage, Teemu Laakso netted the game’s only goal at 9:26, sending Sweden home in the first elimination game between the two countries since 1992. 

Peter Forsberg
Hockey legend Peter Forsberg played a huge role for Team Sweden at several international events(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

After losing five straight contests to Finland, Sweden turned the tide back in their favor in 2009 with a 3-1 win in the round-robin stage. Furthermore, they won their second consecutive silver medal that year before adding another bronze in 2010, which included a 7-1 win over the Finns. The two teams did not meet in the 2011 tournament; however, they gave fans one of the best games in tournament history the following year.

Sweden won their second-ever gold medal at the 2012 tournament, thanks to a golden goal from Mika Zibanejad. However, the Swedes might have never made it to the finale against Russia if Johan Gustavffson didn’t stand on his head in the semi-final shootout against Finland. After regulation and a ten-minute overtime session, the game remained tied 2-2. Sebastian Collberg scored the first shootout goal, giving Sweden a 1-0 lead before Joel Armia of Finland scored to keep it tied 1-1. Max Friberg put the Swedes up again, 2-1 before Joonas Donskoi failed on his attempt for the Finns. Finally, the next Tre Kronor shooter, Filip Forsberg, didn’t score, leaving the game on the stick of Mikael Granlund, who lost possession of the puck in his final attempt. Sweden won the game 3-2 and advanced to another gold medal game, this time winning their second championship.

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In 21 years, Finland and Sweden faced off 12 times, with the teams splitting the wins and losses 6-6. Thanks to an abundance of eventual NHL talent in the lineup during the early 1990s, Sweden dominated the rivalry on the scoreboard 49-33 and in the medal count 9-6.

An Intense Sweden & Finland Rivalry Renewed (2013 – 2023)

If these two fierce rivals thought it was emotional to play in a semi-final matchup that went to extra time and a shootout, they had no clue what was in store for the 2014 tournament. Sweden would take both round-robin games at the 2013 and 2014 events before fate would bring the two nordic countries together for a gold medal clash, the first meeting of its kind in history on Swedish soil. 

Tre Kronor finished atop the Group B standings, and Finland finished second. They beat Russia and Canada in the semi-finals to set up the first-ever Nordic showdown for a World Junior Championship at Malmö Arena. Finland opened the scoring just 28 seconds into the game before Sweden tied and took the lead in the second. Then, halfway through the middle frame, the Finns tied the contest at 2-2 forcing additional time at the end of regulation. Neither team managed to score until 9:42 of the overtime when Rasmus Ristolainen ended the Swedes’ dream of winning gold on their home ice. 

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The teams traded eliminations in the 2015 and 2016 tournaments, with Sweden earning a measure of revenge the year after losing the gold medal in overtime. The Swedes bounced Finland in the quarterfinals (6-3) in Toronto (2015) before suffering a loss in the semi-final (2-1) in Helsinki (2016), a loss that stung more after Finland went on to capture their fourth gold medal. Eventually, Sweden wrapped up this mini set of games with a 3-1 round-robin win during the 2017 tournament. 

The two teams did not play against one another in 2018, the year Sweden earned another silver medal, their 11th at the event. However, old rivalries renewed at the 2019 tournament, with Sweden gaining another round-robin win, this time 2-1 on Canadian soil. The two teams did not meet in the playoffs, which ended with Finland collecting their fifth gold medal win.

The 2020 event, hosted in the Czech Republic, now Czechia, marked only the third time the two nordic teams met twice in a single tournament. Sweden earned two consecutive 3-2 victories over Finland in 11 days, one in overtime during the round-robin play and another during the bronze medal game. Moreover, that last Swedish win on Jan. 5, 2020, at Ostravar Aréna, marked the last time they secured a victory over their nordic rivals.

Jesper Wallstedt Sweden
Jesper Wallstedt didn’t play in 2021 but was between the pipes in 2022. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

After losing the bronze medal in 2020, Finland eliminated Sweden in the 2021 (quarterfinals) and 2022 (semi-final) tournaments. Each win consisted of a one goal game, 3-2 and 1-0, a streak Sweden hopes to put to bed at the 2023 event. 

Related: Revisiting Sweden’s World Junior Championship History

Over the last ten events, Sweden has a 7-4 record against their neighbors, outscoring them 33-24 in the process. They also took an edge in the medal count, 3-1, giving them a slight edge in overall medals, 20-17. Historically, the Swedes own a 22-19-2 record in the matchup and an advantage on the scoresheet 152-128. 

There are intense hockey rivalries in various professional leagues across the globe. However, on the international stage, only a few countries can claim to be one of the top teams in the sport. Whether teams share borders or are located on separate continents, there’s no denying a tremendous rivalry when it is born. The Sweden and Finland rivalry will always be around since they are Scandinavian hockey powerhouses. Furthermore, their games give fans some of the most memorable moments in international hockey history, including elimination games at the World Junior Championship, like their 2023 quarterfinal showdown. 

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