Finnish Lions to meet Belarus in World Championship quarter-finals
Defeat to Canada also saw injury to top goaltender
This year's IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, which have been somewhat overshadowed by the drama at the Torino Olympics of a few months ago, have reached the knock-out stages with just eight of the original sixteen teams left in the tournament.
Finland, silver medallists in Torino, are among the last eight, and will play Belarus tomorrow evening (20:15) for a berth in the semi-finals. The winner of Thursday's match will play either Russia or the Czech Republic for a shot at the brightest medals.
The Finns might consider themselves a little fortunate to be playing Belarus rather than old rivals Sweden at this stage.
In their last round-robin match, the Finns were beaten 4-2 by Canada, and if the Czechs had - as was anticipated - beaten the United States in their last game, then Finland would have finished 3rd in the group, obliging them to play the runners-up in the other group, in this case Sweden.
However, the Americans pulled off a handy 3-1 win, leaving the Finns still perched in 2nd spot and primed to meet the Belarus team. Belarus have never progressed further than 8th in the World Championships, but they did spring the biggest surprise of the 2002 Olympics by dumping out Sweden in the quarter-finals.
The Finnish team, which has a 4-1-1 record in the tournament so far, is missing many of the star NHL players who took them to the brink of Olympic glory in February.
The squad suffered a further setback against Canada when #1 goaltender Antero Niittymäki was forced out with a thigh injury. Niittymäki was the Tournament MVP in Torino.
The other quarter-final pairings at the tournament in Riga, Latvia are:
Canada vs. Slovakia (Wednesday 15:15)
Sweden vs. USA (Wednesday 19:15)
Russia vs. Czech Republic (Thursday 16:15)
All times local Finnish time.
IIHF World Championship 2006