Swedes end Finland's home-ice dream
by Lucas AYKROYD|02 MAY 2024
Sweden celebrates after Alfons Freij opens the scoring in a 2-1 quarter-final win over host Finland at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.

It was heartbreak in Espoo as Sweden edged host Finland 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.

Traditionally, a playoff tilt between the Nordic archrivals is tight and tense. Thursday's late game at a packed Metro Areena was no exception. Stiff bodychecks and shouts of joy and rage kept the atmosphere jacked up all night long.

Jack Berglund scored the second-period go-ahead goal for Sweden, and Alfons Freij also had a goal. Sweden now gets a chance to go for its third gold medal all-time (2019, 2022). 

"It feels amazing," Berglund said. "It's probably the nicest win in my career that I can think of so. It was really nice to beat them in their home country."

Heikki Ruohonen replied for Finland.

"It feels pretty empty right now," said Finnish captain Aron Kiviharju. "We weren't as sharp in the beginning as we should be here in our the home arena. I think that that's one reason we didn't get a good start."

Finland's elimination extends its gold-medal drought. The Finns last won U18 gold in 2018. Their last medal was 2022's bronze. They also lost in last year's quarter-finals, 3-2 to Slovakia.

Swedish goalie Love Harenstam won his duel with Finland's Petteri Rimpinen as shots favoured Sweden 24-22.

Lucas Pettersson praised Harenstam's performance: "He's unbelievable. He stops everything."

Berglund commented on what it would be like to face Canada in the semi-finals: "Of course, we want to beat them because we lost to them in the group. We didn't really have a great start against them last time. I think we have to go in with the same energy we did today and play for each other and be ready from the start. And I think we have a great chance."

The Swedes besieged Finland early on. Rimpinen alertly denied Berglund from the high slot, but couldn’t track Freij’s long shot through traffic off a draw in the Finnish zone, which made it 1-0 Sweden at 2:40.

The Espoo fans resolutely chanted “Suomi!” as their team settled down. The Finns tried to reassert themselves physically, but Ruohonen wound up in the box after throwing his shoulder into Swedish defenceman Gabriel Eliasson away from the puck on the forecheck.

Rimpinen had to be sharp, including robbing Lucas Pettersson twice in rapid succession, or the Swedish lead could have been bigger. First-period shots were only 10-9 Sweden, but the blue-and-yellow team had more from prime scoring area.

Tension mounted as the second period turned into a defensive struggle. The Finns finally made it 1-1 at 9:09 on an exciting line rush. Blazing down the middle, Tuomas Suoniemi fed the puck left to Ruohonen, who squeezed the puck through Harenstam's five-hole.

Finland squandered a chance to take the lead when Markus Loponen had a wide-open net off a Ruohonen rebound but couldn't put the puck in.

Moments later, Berglund put Sweden up 2-1 when he cut to the middle and surprised Rimpinen with a long rising shot at 16:34.

"I got a good drop pass from Melvin Fernstrom there," Berglund said. "I was trying to get to the inside and get a shot on net, and I saw the puck go in. It was a very nice feeling."

There was no backing down in the third period, as Sweden's Mans Toresson and Finland's Onni Amhandi showed in a wrestling match by Rimpinen's net.

The Finns kept coming close. With under nine minutes left in regulation, Roope Vesterinen swiped a rebound from Kiviharju's point shot wide. Joona Saarelainen couldn't cash in a nice chance off the rush moments later.

Both teams having fallen short with the power play all night, Finland got a crucial man advantage with 5:22 left as Viggo Gustafsson went off for tripping. But poor breakouts and flubbed passes saw it fizzle out.

"Bad execution," Kiviharju said.

The Finns pulled Rimpinen for the extra attacker with just over a minute to play, but couldn't get anything going. At the final buzzer, the Swedes whooped it up to "En For Alla For En," the theme song of the 2013 IIHF World Championship where Sweden beat Switzerland 5-1 for home-ice gold in Stockholm.

"I'm not feeling the best right now," said Finland's Aatos Koivu. "But I think the whole team gave it our all. We didn't stop trying until the end. I'm proud of all of the guys on our team."

Sweden got the win without forward Alexander Zetterberg, who was injured against in the 3-2 overtime win over Switzerland.

The result improves Sweden’s all-time U18 Worlds record against Finland to nine wins, two ties, and five losses. The last Finnish win over Sweden was 2-0 in the 2018 semi-finals, featuring goals by Roni Hirvonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and a 29-save Justus Annunen shutout.