With no Canada-USA matchup at the World Juniors this year, the Finland-Sweden matchup is probably as good as it gets for this tournament’s top-flight hockey rivalries. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to see an absence of run and gun hockey from Niemela or Hirvonen.
The approach worked and Finland hung on for the 1-0 win over Sweden and they were off to the gold medal game against Canada.
The first period
To say the first half between Finland and Sweden was cautious is an understatement. Neither team wants to give anything to the other and thanks to a few chances on the power play, Finland had the opportunity to play a little more aggressive game. Neither Niemela nor Hirvonen had the opportunity to establish much on the power play.
Hirvonen: Roni was playing more conservatively than we’ve seen him play so far. He was defensively responsible and pressured a Swedish shot-stopper in a strange man rush, but also occasionally was part of a Finnish group that struggled to get out of his zone.
Niemel: Topi put on a low-key positive performance in the first. It’s great to see him skate the puck out of trouble, and the Finns often relied on him to set up breakouts and breakouts. Niemela had a solid poke kick late in the first to break up a Swedish chance, but also had a tough pinch in the attacking zone that caused him to be late to get back into his zone on a Swedish chance at the aim.
The second period
The second period saw Finland take the lead on the power play. Niemela led the breakout that produced the goal, picking up a secondary assist in the process
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) August 20, 2022
Hirvonen: For the most part, Hirvonen is showing his defensive acumen this game, as he halted a run attempt for Sweden, aggressively chased the puck around the Finnish zone, and within his nine seconds of killing a 5-on-3 penalty , Hirvonen quickly cleared the puck out of the area before leaving the ice.
Hirvonen also had a good moment of forechecking around the 15th minute of the period, which saw him put the puck twice in front of the net, but without a Finnish player to take advantage of it.
Niemel: Apart from the assist, Niemela showcased his skating. He had a nice pivot earlier in the period to create space to move the puck safely out of the defensive zone and used his speed to earn an important run for a loose puck.
Niemela had a nice slap pass before his assist on the power play, and it would be fun to see him play from the point more often.
The third period
There really isn’t much to add to the third period. Finland were keen to protect their lead, and Hirvonen and Niemela were part of that. That’s why we’ll see them in the gold medal game against Canada.
Hirvonen named one of Finland’s top three players
While I’d say Niemela had the better game of the two Leafs prospects tonight, Hirvonen has always had a solid tournament and will go home with a fancy new watch following his solid showing so far. We’ll see how Finland fares in their second game against Canada, but the Leafs’ hopes are guaranteed to win medals tomorrow night.
Hirvonen picks up a fancy new watch for his tournament play pic.twitter.com/0Ch4pM6bBW
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) August 20, 2022
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