defending champion U.S. came back from a 2-0 first-period deficit, but
the Finns pulled it out in the third -- in unforgettable style. It was
sweet revenge after losing last year's final 4-2 to the Americans.
blocked defenceman Cameron York's shot at the blue line and exploded
down on a 2-on-1 with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Kotkaniemi slipped it over
and Nordgren hammered it into the open short side for his
tournament-leading eighth goal.
"It was the most amazing thing
that ever happened to me," said Nordgren. "I got a good pass from
Kotkaniemi. I had lots of good chances to score but, you know, one is
But not when it comes to championships. The Finnish
program is on fire. This nation of 5.5 million people has now appeared
in four consecutive U18 finals, winning twice. Suomi triumphed on
American ice in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2016, trouncing Nordic
rival Sweden 6-1 with Jesse Puljujarvi's hat trick.
In this game, Rasmus Kupari and Kaapo Kakko also scored power play goals for Finland, and Anttoni Honka had two assists.
something you can't describe," said ecstatic Finnish coach Tommi
Niemela. "The players are having an amazing time. They believed in
themselves. They understood that if we are 'we,' we are going to win
against a group of 'me's.' Youngsters are amazing! When you look at
them, the joy is real. The sorrow is real, too. There is no pretending."
the loss, the Americans played a tremendous tournament en route to
their fourth silver medal ever. In the big picture, the U.S. has won
seven of the last 10 U18 World Championships. This was a testament to
the potency of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, which
furnished the talent for coach Seth Appert's roster. Even though their
reign is over, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
"I told them
to wear the silver medal with pride," said Appert. "As much as it hurts
right now, wear it with pride. It was earned. It’s hard to get. It
wasn’t what we came for, but still, you have to respect the game, the
tournament and your opponents, and put that medal around your neck with
Patrick Giles and Trevor Janicke scored for the Americans, while Tyler Weiss added two helpers.
group is special for sure," said Joel Farabee, who in last year's final
scored twice, including the winner. "From where we came from...we had
five guys quit our team and two coaches leave. The world didn’t want us
to win, but we persevered. We came two years all the way to a gold
medal game and we were just one goal short. It’s just really tough
was a great goaltending showdown between the U.S.'s Spencer Knight and
Finland's Justus Annunen. Shots were even at 28 apiece.
The Finns won seven straight games in regulation and are deserving champions.
final had everything you could ask for: a high tempo, intensity,
adrenaline, and an off-the-charts Chelyabinsk crowd of 7,499 banging
thundersticks and brandishing U.S. and Finnish flags. The quality of
play was right up there with recent classic World Junior finals.
charges came out of the gate looking fast and hungry. Even if they
weren’t quite “gorillas coming out of a cage,” to borrow Ilya
Bryzgalov’s famous quote about Canada’s 7-3 win over Russia in the 2010
Olympic quarter-final, they got in on the forecheck and fired shots
Hughes, the tournament scoring leader and MVP, took the first penalty
for interference at 8:45, it proved costly. Just 28 seconds later,
Kotkaniemi fed the puck from the corner to Honka at the left point, and
the younger brother of Dallas Stars defenceman Julius Honka unleashed a
rising drive that Kupari tipped past Knight.
12:33, Finland struck again with the man advantage. Honka sent it
cross-ice to Kakko and he stepped into the right faceoff circle before
lining up a perfect wrister high to the stick side.
tested in the early going, Annunen was ready when Oliver Wahlstrom, who
entered this game tied with Nordgren for the tournament goals lead, was
left unguarded to the goalie’s right. Moments later on a U.S. man
advantage, Hughes zipped one off the crossbar.
16:53, the U.S. broke through with a delayed penalty coming up to the
Finns, and their two assistant captains got it done. Inside the
offensive blue line, Ty Emberson swept the puck left past a cluster of
Finnish defenders to Giles, and he hammered it past Annunen.
Knight came up huge to stop the blindingly fast Kupari on a breakaway with under two minutes left in the first period.
"Knight was amazing," said Niemela.
being denied on a power play to kick off the second period, the
Americans really picked it up. Hughes found Farabee coming with speed,
and he rang it off Annunen's right point.
At 8:24, the
relentless Americans tied it up. Weiss sent a Wayne Gretzky-style
centering pass from behind the net to Pivonka in the slot, and Annunen
blocked his release, but couldn't stop Janicke on the rebound for his
second of the tournament.
Even play prevailed and both teams had
their chances as the middle frame wore on. If it wasn't Kim Nousiainen
coming late on the rush and ringing one off the crossbar, it was
Janicke catching the Finns on a bad line change but whiffing on his
shot as Annunen stared him down.
Nordgren also waltzed into the
slot off a Finnish faceoff win in the American end but couldn't find a
chink in Knight's armor. And Annunen barely stopped Hughes on the
doorstep with just over a minute till the second buzzer. It was one
wild rush after another.
"After the second period, when we were
in the locker room, you could hear from the guys that we are not done
here," said Niemela. "They believed."
During an early
third-period power play with Wahlstrom off for tripping in the
offensive zone, Knight made a mind-blowing stick save on Nordgren, who
couldn't convert Anton Lundell's crafty backhand pass. Still, the Finns
were driving the play.
Of Knight, Farabee said: "He was the
backbone of our team. When we were struggling, he came out to save us.
That really helped us, and that got us to the gold medal game. He’s a
very special player."
The U.S. got a chance to turn the tide
when Ville Petman was sent off for interference with just over 10
minutes left in regulation and Wahlstrom sent a laser off the goal post.
Nordgren's shortie, the Americans failed to capitalize with Kotkaniemi
off for tripping four minutes later. Desperate for the equalizer, they
pulled Knight for the extra attacker with 1:07 left. But the U.S.
struggled to coordinate its attack, although the Finns missed the empty
net multiple times, and this game would not go to overtime.
played well, but they didn't get that many chances to score on us,"
said Kotkaniemi. "We got a few chances and we scored. We skate well, we
At the final horn, the Finns celebrated with
explosive teenage enthusiasm, while the Americans were left crumpled
and kneeling in dismay.
"The level of hockey, the level of
competitiveness on both sides, is very unique and special to be part
of," said Appert. "We had our looks, even at the end. It just wasn’t
meant to be tonight."
This was the fourth time the U.S. and
Finland have squared off for U18 gold, with the Americans winning all
three previous confrontations (2006, 2015, 2017).
Finland, the 2015 and 2017 heartbreaks were particularly fresh. In
2015, Veini Vehvilainen’s incredible 60-save performance in Switzerland
wasn’t enough to stop the Auston Matthews-led Americans from winning
2-1 in overtime on Colin White’s goal. Last year, Joel Farrabee tallied
twice, including the eventual winner, in a 4-2 decision in Slovakia.
now, that storyline has finally changed. The result improved
Finland's all-time U18 record versus the Americans to six wins
and 11 losses.
Asked about being the world's top U18 hockey
nation, Niemela responded in typically Finnish fashion: "At the moment!
But we have to improve, still lots to improve."