The newly promoted Kazakhs competed hard in their opener but couldn’t keep up with Finland, falling 5-0 in Victoria on Thursday night.
Otto Latvala, Aarne Talvitie, Samuli Vainionpaa, Kaapo Kakko and Aleksi Heponiemi scored for Finland, which bounced back after a 2-1 loss to Sweden to kick off the tournament. Jesse Ylonen chipped in two assists. The Finns outshot Kazakhstan 56-18.
“They’re probably not a skilled team, Kazakhstan, but they have a lot of heart in what they do,” said Talvitie. “They gave us some pressure at the beginning of the game, but when the game went on, I think we picked up a lot and then got a couple of scoring chances and a couple of goals. After that we just rolled with our own playing.”
This was beneficial for Finland’s offensive confidence in its quest for its fifth World Junior title ever. Previous gold medals came in 1987, 1998, 2014, and 2016.
Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas gave backup goalie Filip Lindberg his first World Junior action ever, and it paid off with the shutout. Demid Yeremeyev, another debutant, was a show-stealer all night in net for Kazakhstan, despite the lopsided score.
The Finns started a little slowly, while Kazakhstan looked excited to be playing its first World Junior game since a 7-1 relegation round loss to Latvia in Ottawa on 4 January, 2009. The Victoria crowd chanted, “Kazakhstan! Kazakhstan!”, in support of coach Sergei Starygin’s underdogs.
“It feels like home because all the people were supporting and yelling,” said Yeremeyev. “I didn’t expect that would happen in our first game. Thanks to the Canadian people who supported us in our first game! It helped a lot.”
However, the early good times wouldn’t last for the former Soviet republic that bid unsuccessfully against China for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Yeremeyev made a flurry of heroic saves just before Latvala beat him high with a glove-side wrister on Finland’s 11th shot at 12:52.
“There was a lot of traffic in front of the net and the rebound headed straight to my stick,” said Latvala. “There was an empty net at the time, and it was easy work to put the puck in.”
Talvitie, the Finnish captain, got his second goal of the tournament when Valeri Orekhov’s botched outlet pass wound up on his stick in the high slot, and he roofed it home at 15:08.
The fans roared when Oleg Boiko knocked down Finnish assistant captain Henri Jokiharju, and Yeremeyev robbed Talvitie just before the first period ended. But the Finns had clearly seized the momentum with a 17-6 edge in shots.