The semifinals continued on Friday night with the more anticipated match up of the two, at least from the local perspective, when Finland faced Czechia. Czechia, coached by the former Finland head coach Petri Kettunen, had a group stage defeat against Switzerland but managed to advance to the semis with a convincing 0-11 victory over Germany in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Hosts Finland on the other hand advanced to the semi-finals with four victories, the last of which against Denmark (7-0) in the quarter-finals.
Czechia moved ahead in the first period
Finland started strong in the first period and pushed the ball to the Czech zone right away. Finland’s #73 Justus Kainulainen had an opportunity on the left hand side from his brother #76 Rasmus Kainulainen’s setup on the 4th minute and hit the crossbar.
At about the 5 minute mark, goaltender #74 Lukas Bauer took a knock after a Czech defender pushed #27 Jonne Junkkarinen on top of his goalie trying to defend a counter attack. The play stalled for a bit while Czech physios checked if Bauer is okay. The play calmed down a bit after the injury break with both teams controlling the ball and creating some scoring chances before the power break.
Czechias #9 Adam Hemerka scored from a pass from behind the goal through a lucky bounce when 13 minutes were played. The goal seemed to paralyze Finland a bit. A little after, #8 Juha Kivilehto took a penalty after a dangerous break from the middle for Czechia. Forward #11 Marek Benes punished Finland from a brilliant diagonal pass from #25 Tom Ondrusek on the power-play. Czechia was better in the 1st, making the most of the opportunities they had.
Finland bounces back and ties the score before the second break
Finland entered the game in the 2nd period somewhat rejuvenated but were unable to create dangerous scoring opportunities initially. Czechia defended well and stayed compact and disciplined.
Finland started to push the ball to the Czech end after the break at 30 minutes played. Finland’s #19 Joonas Pylsy plays the ball to #73 Justus Kainulainen who doesn’t play around but instead shoots the ball to the back of the net. The home crowd woke up after Kainulainen’s goal while Finland started to dominate the ball on the court. The younger of the Kainulainen brothers (Justus) was close to adding a second to the board but couldn’t find the right angle of his blade to steer a pass into the net.
At 37 minutes played, #36 Ville Lastikka carries the ball around the Czech defense and finds a wide open #61 Peter Kotilainen who scores a tying goal from a one-timer. A brilliant setup by #36 Lastikka who hid the pass to the last minute fooling the Czech defense as a result. Czechia woke up after the the Finland goals and started to push the ball forward. The 2nd period ended at a 2-2- tie though.
Johansson the hero in the end
Czechia got very near to scoring in the beginning of the 3rd, when #6 Mikulas Krbec almost gets his stick to the long diagonal pass behind Finland defense. At 43 minutes played #11 Marek Benes made a stupid mistake in the attacking corner, incorrectly pushing a Finland player and allowing Finland to go on the power-play.
The czech goalie #74 Lukas Bauer robs #21 Tatu Väänänen’s one-timer from the left along with some other good saves on the power-play The game started to get physical and emotional on both sides as the nail-biter continued and moved towards the latter half of the 3rd. Finland goaltender #41 Joonas Kaltiainen made an important save on #11 Benes before the 50 minute mark. An important save for #74 Bauer shortly after on #10 Oskari Heikkilä as well.
Both Finland and Czechia fans held their breaths as seconds ran down on the game clock. Czechia’s #9 Adam Hemerka almost hacked the ball in for the winner from #12 Filip Forman’s great find with two and a half minutes on the clock. In pretty much the next shift Finland pushed the ball to the Czech zone. Defender #21 Tatu Väänänen scanned the field for a second, before delivering the ball to #77 Sami Johansson, who drove inside after faking Czechias #9 Hemerka, and fired a laser of a shot past #74 Bauer to the back of the net. What a winning goal from the star forward!
And what a game in the end. A convincing challenge to the back-to-back World Champions from Czechia. In the end Finland perhaps showed why they indeed are the champions at the moment: not panicking when things didn’t go their way in the first period and the first half of the second period, but kept executing their game plan, improved and scored the necessary goals when it mattered.
Center #19 Joonas Pylsy was critical after the game:
– We didn’t play that good today, we need to play much better tomorrow if we want to win Sweden.
Finland moved on to the final against Sweden which is to be played at 5:30 PM on Saturday night. Czechia will play Switzerland for the bronze medal before that at 2:30 PM.