Coach Jukka Jalonen would have wanted more leadership from Finnish Lions
Captain Sami Kapanen believed the team could go all the way
Thursday was a glorious day in Bern, with bright sunshine and a balmy temperature of 25°C.
Ideal weather to be starting one's summer vacation, but for the members of the Finnish national ice hockey team the mood was rather bleak and thundery.
Finland lost their quarter-final encounter with the United States on Wednesday night by 3 goals to 2, bringing an abrupt end to the World Championships campaign and a forced return home. The team flew back to Finland yesterday evening.
They placed 5th in the tournament, by virtue of the matches played in the Preliminary and Qualification Rounds.
Speaking to journalists at the team's hotel as they prepared to leave, head coach Jukka Jalonen said that perhaps there had been a shortage of leadership.
"The effort, the will, and the attitude were all there, but in tough situations you need the right kind of leadership."
Jalonen may have been referring to the moment after Finland took the lead in the second period on Wednesday through a goal by Niko Kapanen, who scored seven times in the course of the tournament. After Kapanen's strike, which should by rights have opened the way to further Finnish successes, the match turned on its end, with three quick goals by the Americans sinking the Finnish ship.
Jalonen noted the fact that the side had not fallen to three-on-one or even four-on-one counter attacks in previous matches, but that suddenly they had walked into these sucker punches, and in both cases they had been punished for it by sharp American finishing.
Jalonen lamented some simple errors in the second period. In actual fact he was referring to the 2-minute penalties needlessly picked up, but he dressed them up as "errors".
"When they scored their equaliser, it was as if we lost all our heart for the game and our identity at the same time. We then started to try to take short-cuts, and got hit for it", said Jalonen.
"It was a surprise to us on the bench, that things should have gone like this", Jalonen went on, referring to the sudden turnaround in a match that looked to be going Finland's way.
Captain Sami Kapanen's pride in the team remained strong from the first match to the bitter end.
"It's no use going over ifs and buts. We had a package that could have gone all the way in this tournament", he declared.
"Against Canada in the last of the Qualification Round games, and up to halfway in the match against the USA we demonstrated the sort of hockey that could have reaped big rewards. We simply didn't carry through on our game-plan and it cost us that game."
In actual fact the Lions had not gone to Switzerland with any great advance hopes of victory.
The squad had looked somewhat tame; there were a large number of first-timers present, and many lacked experience at the highest level. Nevertheless, the win over Canada, even if it did come only after a penalty shootout, had raised hopes that even a team short of NHL stars could bring back some hardware.
As so often, Finland picked the wrong match to lose - the seventh game.
Sweden, who have not looked like world-beaters so far in the tournament, took a different route: they overcame the Czech Republic 3-1 to set up a semi-final tonight with Canada.
The Canadians themselves did not have it all their own way against Latvia, eventually winning 4-2 in spite of spending the last five minutes of the match short-handed as the Latvians tried desperately to get back on terms.
The other semi-final pairing is Russia against the Finn's nemesis, Team USA.
The final and the third-place final will be played on Sunday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finns undone by Team USA and sent packing from World Championships (7.5.2009)
2009 IIHF World Championships, Switzerland
Ice Hockey World Championships (Wikipedia)