Canada rallies to top Finns
by Lucas AYKROYD|18 MAY 2024
Dylan Cozens (#22) gets a high-five from Canadian captain John Tavares after scoring a first-period goal in a 5-3 win over rival Finland at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Prague.
Brandon Hagel scored the third-period winner as Canada rallied to beat Finland 5-3 in one of the most-anticipated preliminary-round matchups of the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Coming with 8:28 left, the go-ahead goal marked Canada's first lead. Pierre-Luc Dubois dug the puck out on the forecheck and centered it to captain John Tavares, who found Hagel by the far post for a deft tap-in

Canada fought back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to secure the three points. Buffalo Sabres teammates Dylan Cozens and Owen Power chipped in a goal and an assist apiece.

"Everyone did a really good job of staying with it," Tavares said. "Then we earn the winning goal in the third period, defend really well, and get the empty-netter."

Jesse Puljujarvi stepped up with two goals for Finland.

With the win, the Canadians shored up their quarter-final seeding. Now at 14 points, they have two big games left against Switzerland and host Czechia, both also vying for first place in Group A.

"Switzerland's been playing very well, obviously a very strong hockey country," said Tavares. "They've gotten some of their players over from the NHL that have been playing very well. So it's going to be a very tough test. For us, it's important to regroup here, get ready for their strengths, see where we can get better, and rise to that challenge."

Finland remains fourth in the group with seven points and two games left against Denmark and Switzerland.

"[Canada's] obviously a talented team," said Finnish defenceman Olli Maatta. "I think we gave up a couple too many easy chances off our breakouts. Their forecheck is obviously good and they have the skill to make plays. But we had chances too and we didn't bury enough. They buried their chances, and that's the game."

There was no need to oversell Saturday’s second game in Prague. When it’s the reigning world champions in Canada taking on the defending Olympic champions in Finland, it's a potential gold medal game preview. Both sides showcased their trademark speed, physicality, and playmaking.

It was a goaltending duel between Canada's Jordan Binnington, who backstopped St. Louis to the 2019 Stanley Cup, and Finland's Harri Sateri, who started during the Beijing run to gold. Finland outshot Canada 32-22.

Much fan interest centred on Canada's Connor Bedard, the 18-year-old super-sniper touted to win this year's Calder Trophy with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Finland's Oliver Kapanen, a 20-year-old Montreal Canadiens prospect who has tournament-leading six goals to Bedard's five. Neither youngster factored in Saturday's scoring.

The Finns ran roughshod over Canada early on, with two Pittsburgh Penguins doing the damage.

Just 1:35 in, a Canadian defensive breakdown enabled Puljujarvi’s opening goal. The 26-year-old veteran of 356 NHL games, who looked fired up, was left unimpeded by the net to tip Rasmus Rissanen’s left point shot on Binnington and then banged in his own rebound.

Maatta commended Puljujarvi: "I think it was awesome, seeing him winning puck battles and going to the net front. It's a tough team we're playing against, and him doing that, it's pretty impressive. "

With Bedard off for slashing, the Finnish power play made it 2-0 at 3:51. Villi Saarijarvi zipped the puck cross-ice to Arttu Hyry, who bunted it back to Valtteri Puustinen in the slot for a quick release.

Shots were 12-0 Finland before Canada finally tested Sateri around the six-minute mark. When Tavares dangled around Olli Maatta, Sateri foiled his high shot in tight. Canada then began carrying the play more, establishing a better forecheck, and generating chances off the rush.

"After the first 10 minutes, I think we responded well," said Canadian blueliner Jamie Oleksiak. "It was a good challenge for us. I think it was good for us to go through that, experience that, and learn as a team."

Cozens cut the deficit to 2-1 at 14:53, converting Andrew Mangiapane’s centering feed from behind the net for his fourth goal of these Worlds.

Canada tied it up at 16:30 on a video-reviewed play. An odd-man rush saw Tavares finding Brandon Tanev in front, and while Sateri blocked Tanev initially, the goalie then tried to cover the puck and inadvertently put it over the goal line with his own stick.

The Canadians nearly went ahead on a late-period power play, but Sateri stymied a Cozens one-timer. Fireworks ensued at the buzzer when Rissanen took a roughing minor on Bedard, but the Canadian man advantage to start the second period expired uneventfully.

The Finns built some momentum with back-to-back power plays. Yet when Canada's Colton Parayko was sent off for hooking Pekka Jormakka on a near-breakaway, Dawson Mercer had the best chance, using his speed to almost fool Sateri on a wraparound.

Finland kept cuing physically on Bedard, as Iiro Pakarinen sent him spinning with an open-ice hit and was then clobbered in turn by Jared McCann.

Puljujarvi restored Finland's lead with 3:53 left in the second period. Blueliner Veli-Matti Vittasmaki, a 33-year-old Worlds rookie and four-time Finnish champion with Tappara, hammered a rising drive past off the end glass. It bounced to "Pulju" at the open side of the net, and he made no mistake.

A chippy exchange near the Canadian net saw Bowen Byram handed a five-minute major for a slash between the legs of Puljujarvi, who garnered a roughing minor. With the teams at 4-on-4, Power, the #1 overall pick in 2021, exploited the open ice to take a Cozens feed on the rush and beat Sateri with a wrister at 17:12.

"'Cozy' made a really nice play, kind of threw it across," Power said. "And I knew I had to get it off quick. So I just kind of shot and luckily it went in."

Canada weathered the Finnish power play to start the third, highlighted by a gritty shot-block from Tanev.

With Canada leading late, Binnington came up big to stop Hyry right in front. The Finns pulled Sateri for an extra attacker with less than two minutes remaining, but Mercer added an empty-netter to seal the deal.

"The compete we had today, that's gotta be there every night," Maatta said. "We'll watch video tonight and tomorrow, fix a couple of things. I think everything's still in our hands. We've got two games and we want to win both."

Canada and Finland have played for four of the last seven World Championship gold medals. Canada won 2-0 in 2016 and 3-2 in overtime in 2021, while the Finns won 3-1 in 2019 and 4-3 in overtime in 2022. It'll be exciting to see if their paths cross again in 2024.
Canada vs Finland - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship