International Ice Hockey Federation

Finns power along

Finns power along

Ikonen's hat trick guides 7-2 win

Published 25.04.2017 14:55 GMT+2 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Finns power along
POPRAD, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 16: Finland's Kristian Vesalainen #10 (centre) is congratulated by teammates Miro Heiskanen #33 and Urho Vaakanainen #7 after scoring against Latvia during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Latvia put up a good fight, tied the game 2-2 in the second, but in the end penalties were their undoing.

In the end, the Finns improved to 3-0 with the win and Latvia dropped its third straight and now have a record of 0-3.

"We had pretty high expectations for the tournament," Joni Ikonen said. "It's a good start for us, but we're not surprised."

Latvia has a critical game against Slovakia tomorrow. If the Latvians win, they'll avoid the relegation round, but a Slovak win puts the hosts in the quarter-finals and sends Latvia to the best-of-three survival series.

"Our goal coming into the tournament was to make the quarter-finals," said Latvia's captain, Deniss Smirnovs. "We still can make it if we win tomorrow. It's a big game."

Finland concludes its round robin on Tuesday in a marquee matchup with Canada that might well decide first place in Group A. 

Ikonen led the Finns tonight with three goals while Kristian Vesalainen had a goal and three assists. Four Finns now lead the scoring parade, Vesalainen in front with eight points in just three games and Ikonen on top of the goalscoring charts with four.

Finland outshot Latvia, 44-16, but by the midway point of the game it was a 2-2 game. Power plays were the difference as the Finns scored four goals with the extra man.

"We've played together for a lot of years, so we know each other," Ikonen said, explaining how the power play could be so effective with so little practise before the tournament. "It feels easy to play together."

"We took too many penalties. That's it," admitted Smirnovs. "We had no discipline. I don't know why. Maybe we were a little tired. This was our third game in four days, all against very good teams."

Latvia scored first at 11:59 on its first decent shot on goal. Eero Teravainen made an unwise pinch inside the Latvia blue line to give up an odd-man rush, and Ralfs Vjaters made a great pass to Edgars Petrovs in front. His shot squirted through the pads of Lassi Lehtinen.

The Finns responded right away, though, scoring twice in less than a minute to take the lead. Miro Heiskanen had his shot blocked in front, but Urho Vaakanainen was there to snap home the rebound.

Ikonen then got his first of the night off the rush, flying through the middle and whipping a long shot between the defencemen that beat Niklavs Rauza cleanly.

Latvia made the game interesting when it got the tying goal midway through the second period. Finland turned the puck over at the Latvia blue line, and coming the other way Deniss Smirnovs made a nice feed to Rihards Paskausks, who backhanded a beauty past Lehtinen.

No sooner had the Latvians tied the game, though, than they took two quick penalties, and Suomi struck. Enjoying a 5-on-3 for 1:34, they scored twice. Ikonen got the third Finland goal on a great one-timer, and 43 seconds later Jesse Ylonen knocked in a loose puck from the crease. 

"Those were big goals," Ikonen said. "We got some energy from those and played better after that."

Ikonen added another power-play marker to complete the hat trick in the final minute to make it 5-2.

Vesalainen added a sixth goal early in the third and Jesse Ylonen added another late in the period.

"They scored on our mistakes in the first half of the game, but when we played better, we took control," Ikonen noted. 


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