Canada defeated the team that beat them last year at the U20, and now it will face the team that handed it its worst loss in U20 history, a 6-0 pasting just last week. Will vengeance be theirs, or will Russia continue its roll this year?
The two great international rivals will play in their tenth gold-medal game at the U20 since 1995. Canada holds a slim 5-4 advantage, including the most recent meeting, a 5-4 win in 2015.
Tonight, Canada swarmed the Finns in the first period, scoring four goals and never looking back in advancing to the gold-medal game for the sixth time in the last decade with a 5-0 win. The last time Canada shut out the Finns at the U20 was eight years ago.
The Finns, so clinically perfect in beating the United States two nights ago, looked completely unprepared to start the game tonight, and although they came to life a little, there was no way they could overcome a four-goal deficit.
Joel Hofer stopped 25 shots for the shutout and Alexis Lafreniere led the offense with two goals.
Canada got things going just 1:47 into the game after controlling a faceoff in the Finland end. Connor McMichael finished the possession with a great shot to the top corner, over the glove of Justus Annonen. It wasn’t necessarily a weak goal, but it was a shot that would not have been called a sensational save had he made the catch.
Just 77 seconds later Canada went up by two. This came off a turnover at the Finland blue line when defenceman Kim Nousiainen flubbed the puck. Nolan Foote got control and passed to Alexis Lafreniere, who hade a sensational backhand to the short side.
This forced coach Raimo Helminen to call a timeout, but it had little effect. Fifty seconds later, it was a 3-0 game. Jamie Drysdale came in off the point, faked quickly and then snapped a low shot to the stick side that fooled Annunen.
Later in the period, Canada made it four. Annunen appeared to have a shot covered, but Aidan Dudas poked it free before the whistle and Ty Dellandrea poked it into the open net to finish a dominating 20 minutes.
Canada played defensively in the second, perhaps too much so, but the Finns also were not about to give up and were much more aggressive in Canada’s end. But try as they might, Suomi could not beat Joel Hofer, who made several fine stops. Perhaps the best came late in the period when he robbed Sampo Ranta from point-blank range.
Lafreniere made it 5-0 at 17:53 on a power play he created. While Antoni Honka was in the box for hauling him down, Lafreniere wired a short-side wrister that Annunen couldn’t see, dispiriting the Finns even more as they headed to the dressing room after 40 minutes.
After that the Canadians rolled out all lines and continued to stymie the Finns. One thing we learned is no matter what, you can never count out a Canadian team in this tournament as many did after their second game.