For the first time in 13 years, the United States won't be playing for gold at the World U18 Championships. Finland stunned the United States with a 4-2 win thanks to two late goals from Aapeli Rasanen.
The US struck first on a tip-in goal by Kieffer Bellows midway through the first period, but despite the US dominating play, Finland was able to tie the game later in the first period on a slap shot goal by Urko Vaakanainen.
The game would stay tied until the closing moments of the game. The United States had a golden opportunity to take a late lead with a man advantage with 5:01 remaining. But it was Finland that stuck when Rasanen came in two-on-two on a short-handed rush and found the rebound to his own shot to put the Finns up. But still on the man advantage, the US found a way to tie the game when Luke Martin's shot from the point through traffic deflected off Kailer Yamamoto and in to tie the game.
But with 1:02 remaining in regulation, Clayton Keller of the US was called for tripping, putting Finland on a man advantage. With just 37.6 second remaining in regulation, a rebound off a Kristian Vesalainen shot found Rasanen in front of the net and he scored his second of the game, which would stand as the game-winner.
Jesse Puljujarvi scored an empty-net goal as time expired to cap off the massive upset. Finland plays in tomorrow's gold medal game, while the US will have to settle for a try at the bronze medal.
Notes and Thoughts:
-I can't think of any word to describe this game other than stunning. I don't think anybody thought the US was going to lose this game, including the guys on the ice. There was a weird feeling in the building all game. The US had cruised through this tournament outscoring opponents 38-4 and had never really been in a close game. The attitude seemed to be that if they just played their game, they'd have no trouble eventually blowing this game open.
Same sentiment goes for the crowd which never really seemed into this game. It was a very small crowd, and not one that I would say was very engaged, even when the US tied it up late, which was a big surprise.
But credit Finland, they played a great game, especially defensively, and that moment never came. They kept the game tied until late, and it felt like a real moment of panic when the US went down. They got a brief reprieve with the power play goal to tie the game up, but in a tie game late, anything happen and the US got a bad break when Keller's stick got caught in Puljujarvi's skates for the final penalty. There's nothing you can do in a situation like that, other than put the game away much earlier.
-If I had to do an early autopsy on this US team, I'd say my concerns about depth finally came to roost tonight. The top line of Bellows-Keller-Anderson had the goal, but otherwise wasn't as offensively dominant as one would hope in terms of possession and position. The second line was Brown-Yamamoto-Mittelstadt was fantastic, maybe playing their best game of the tournament. They controlled play nearly every time they were on the ice. The third and fourth lines were liabilities though, and the US really had to shelter their minutes tonight. Finland's third line was a lot better than the US third line tonight.
Same was true on defense with the bottom three defensemen seeing very little ice, and only when they could get them out against one of Finland's bottom two lines.
That shouldn't happen, and when it does, it's worth asking the question about some guys that were available for this tournament and didn't get the call(or even put on the entry list in some instances) that could have helped this team.
-Finland did a really great job of clogging up the neutral zone mixing it up between a very soft 1-2-2 forecheck and a 0-3-2 forecheck to slow the US up through the neutral zone. The US broke through once when it led to Bellows' goal, but otherwise, the US really had to play zone to zone and couldn't generate much of anything in transition.
Finand's defense was also extremely disciplined all game, especially impressive since they were without injured captain Juuso Valimaki.
-A strange moment in the first period as the buzzer sounded for the end of the period and Finland left the ice. But the US argued that some time mysteriously had disappeared from the clock. After consulting the video review, the refs put 1:53 back on the clock. Finland nearly scored with the "extra" time added.
-In the closing seconds of the game, Jesse Puljujarvi took a big slash on his right hand as he scored into an open net. Puljujarvi spent most of the post-game doubled over and gripping the hand, though did go through the handshake line seemingly without issue. It should be something to watch for tomorrow's gold medal game.
11:42 Kieffer Bellows from Adam Fox and Clayton Keller 1-0 USA
Keller skated into the offensive zone on the left wing and stopped just inside the blue line. He made a cross ice pass to an open Fox, and with time and space to work, Fox waited to find Kieffer Bellows streaking to the backdoor for a tap-in goal.
15:50 Urho Vaakanainen from Henri Jokiharju and Markus Nurmi 1-1 tie
Nurmi won a puck along the boards back to Jokiharju, who made a pass to Vaakanainen. Vaakanainen ripped a slap shot from the top of the slot that beat Woll to the glove side.
15:11 Aepeli Rasanen from Henri Jokiharju (short-handed) 2-1 Finland
Rasanen brought the puck into the zone on a 2-on-2 rush down right wing. He took a wrist shot that was blocked, but picked up his own rebound in traffic and put it back in for the goal.
16:33 Kailer Yamamoto from Luke Martin and Ryan Lindgren (power play) 2-2 tie
Martin took a wrist shot from the right point through traffic that Yamamoto barely got a piece of for the goal.
19:23 Aepeli Rasanen from Kristian Vesalainen and Jesse Puljujarvi (power play) 3-2 Finland
Puljujarvi made a cross ice pass from left to right to Vesalainen. Vesalainen's wrist shot was stopped, but the rebound kicked out to Rasanen for the goal.
19:59 Jesse Puljujarvi from Aepeli Rasanen (empty net) 4-2 Finland
Puljujarvi iced the game by skating the puck through the neutral zone and scored on the empty net as time expired.