The medal round got under way at Rogers Arena in Vancouver at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with Russia and Switzerland facing off for bronze while the USA and Finland met for gold.
The Swiss were coming into this afternoon’s game with the Russians looking to win bronze (or medal at all) for the first time since 1998. It has been an unpredictable and wide open tournament so far no doubt, but if you had Switzerland in the medal round prior to the tourney instead of, say, Canada or Sweden, most would have called you crazy.
Still, the Cinderella story came to an end today as Russia won the game 5-2 to win the bronze medal. Kirill Slepets had a hat trick and Nikita Shashkov and Klim Kostin also scored to give them the victory.
Kostin, the Russian captain, did not endear himself to the Vancouver crowd as he pantomimed putting his fingers in his ears after he scored. This was in reference to him getting on the crowd’s bad side in yesterday’s game versus the US when he yelled expletives at the crowd after Russia’s loss. He did apologize for his behavior in that game, but the jury is still out on whether or not it was really sincere.
Switzerland did not get their first shot on goal until about midway through the first period, after Slepets had scored his first of the game at 4:25. In the second period, Valentin Nussbaumer scored for the Swiss to cut the Russian lead to 2-1. Kostin then scored to make it 3-1 before Yannick Bruschweiler scored for the Swiss to make it 3-2. This goal was reviewed for a high stick, but was ruled to be a good goal. That goal came after a remarkable save by Russian goalie Pyotr Kochetkov and a hit post.
Of note was that the Russians were actually offside on their first goal, but Switzerland chose not to challenge it.
The Swiss continued to hang in there, really coming on in the second, but just ran out of gas by the time Slepets scored 6:33 into the third off the rush to make it 4-2. Russia took a few penalties late in the game, putting them down a man when Switzerland pulled goaltender Luca Hollenstein (Devils prospect Akira Schmid did not play) to make it a 6-on-4 man advantage. But Slepets scored a shorthanded goal into the empty net to cap off the Russian victory.
Kochetkov made 34 saves on 36 Swiss shots as Switzerland really settled in offensively after a slow start. Hollenstein made 19 saves on 24 Russian shots.
So Russia finishes with the bronze and Switzerland finishes just out of a medal in fourth place. Russia remains undefeated in bronze medal games at the WJC, now improving to 8-0.
Next up, the main event: USA versus Finland for the gold. This game would feature the two kids who are projected to go one and two in the 2019 NHL Draft (coincidentally to also be held in Vancouver) in Jack Hughes (USA) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland). It also featured Devils prospect Aarne Talvitie of Finland. This game was the first time Finland and the US had ever met each other for gold at the WJC.
The US has won three gold medals in this tournament since 2013, but tonight was Finland’s night. The Finns won 3-2 on a late goal from Kakko, who scored off of a goal mouth scramble.
The US actually scored on the power play early in the game, but the goal was immediately waved off and reviewed. Upon the review, the call on the ice stood as even though Oliver Wahlstrom had scored, Alexander Chmelevski was in the crease and was deemed to have interfered with Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
With that, the game remained scoreless until the 11:31 mark of the second period when Jesse Ylonen put the Finns up on top off of a one-timer shot off a faceoff on the power play. In the third, Otto Latvala would extend the Finnish lead to 2-0 on a point shot through traffic. The US was in a tough way just six minutes into the third frame.
But the American comeback was on. Just 1:01 after the Latvala goal, Chmelevski scored to cut the Finnish lead in half at 2-1. He scored on a shot from an odd angle that beat Luukkonen. And then, 1:48 after that, Josh Norris scored to tie the game at two, just sniping one from the top of the far faceoff circle.
The game seemed headed for overtime until Kakko scored his goal to put the Finns up 3-2. American goalie Cayden Primeau was pulled with a little over a minute remaining in regulation, but it was not enough and Finland won the gold medal at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
Aarne Talvitie was driven into the boards hard in the first period and was shaken up. He returned but played the rest of the game injured. The Finnish captain and Devils prospect finished the game with 10:54 of ice time and an even plus/minus. He really impressed this tournament and opened some eyes. He will now return to Penn State to continue his NCAA career.
As for the goaltenders, Luukkonen stopped 26 of 28 shots faced while Primeau made 28 saves on 31 Finnish shots.
And that is it. Finland wins gold, USA silver and Russia the bronze. Overall, it was a great tournament and we cannot wait to see what goes down next year in the Czech Republic. We will be right back here tomorrow for coverage of the Devils-Golden Knights game from Las Vegas. If you have any comments, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.