Finns humbled by Sweden at Ice Hockey World Championships
Team USA are tonight's opponents
For around ten minutes of Wednesday's final Preliminary Round match, the Finnish Lions skated stride for stride with Sweden, but after that there was no doubt which was the better team on the night. Sweden brushed Finland aside by 5 to 1 and topped Group C with a perfect record of three wins out of three.
By all accounts it was a pretty terrible performance by the Finns, and players and coaching staff alike found it hard to take anything positive from an experience that has become all too frequent of late. Finland last beat Sweden in the World Championships in Cologne four years ago, and they were trounced by the same 5-1 margin on their last meeeting in February of this year.
Antti-Jussi Niemi put Finland ahead after only 50 seconds of the first period, but a goal from Niklas Kronvall restored parity only a minute or so later. For around ten minutes the two sides were more or less evenly matched, but Ronnie Sundin made it 2-1 to Sweden on the powerplay after 16 minutes.
Sweden then left Finland for dead, with goals from Jonathan Hedström and Samuel Påhlsson in the second period, and the coup de grace was delivered two minutes from the final buzzer by Hedström again.
As if it was not enough that the Swedes outthought and outskated the Finns, they were also given ample time to play five-against-four on the ice, and two of the goals came while Finland was short-handed.
Many of the penalties were just the sort that the Finns need to remove from their game if they are to progress much further in the tournament.
The result means that Finland carry two points forward to the Qualifying Round, from their win over Ukraine. They will now play the three qualifiers from Preliminary Group B: Canada, the USA, and Latvia. First up are Team USA tonight. Canada won the group after defeating the United States 3-1 on Thursday night.
The Finland-USA match will be televised on YLE TV2 from 21:00.
In the Qualifying Round groups, four of the six teams in each group progress to the knock-out stages of the competition, with the group winners meeting the fourth teams from the other group and the second-placed teams facing off against the third-placed teams.
In the worst-case scenario, Finland's squad could be on the plane home by next Monday, if all the next three matches end badly.
Canada have their usual strong team for the World Championships, and Team USA are taking the tournament a good deal more seriously than is customary, because of the absence of NHL play-off games to distract their attention. Latvia, too, are no pushover - at least if Finland repeats its woeful showing of Wednesday night.
The other Qualifying Group matches up Slovakia, Russia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Kazakhstan.
Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, and hosts Austria compete in an all-European Relegation Round to determine who stays up and who goes down to the lower echelons next year.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finns dispose of Ukraine in scrappy match (3.5.2005)
IIHF World Championships, Austria