International Ice Hockey Federation

Finns open with win

Finns open with win

Savinainen's goal saves the day versus Belarus

Published 05.05.2017 19:00 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Finns open with win
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 5: Finland's Sebastian Aho #20 (right) celebrates with teammates Mikko Lehtonen #4 (left) and Jaakko Honka #60 (centre) after scoring against Belarus to make it 1-0 during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Veli-Matti Savinainen got the third-period winner as Finland edged Belarus 3-2 to kick off the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Paris on Friday.

It was a lovely power play goal at 9:15. Sebastian Aho fed Mikko Rantanen below the goal line, and he centered it to Savinainen, who made no mistake. The 31-year-old forward led Finland's Liiga with 30 goals for champion Tappara this season.

Aho and Oskar Osala tallied for Finland in the first period. In his Worlds debut, goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned the win despite some nervous moments. Shots were even at 24 apiece.

"We had a good first period, but then let the Belarus team back in the game after that," said Finnish captain Lasse Kukkonen. "In the end, we found a way to get the win, and that's the main thing."

Yegor Sharangovich and Yevgeni Kovyrshin replied for Belarus.

The Finns, who settled for silver last year, are hoping to win gold for the first time since 2011. The Belarusians, meanwhile, would love to return to the quarter-finals. They came seventh in 2014 and 2015, but fell to 12th last year.

"They're a good team," Kukkonen said of Belarus. "You have to respect them. They have a lot of players in the KHL, and many of the forwards play on the top lines, so they're skilled."

The AccorHotels Arena hosted the first top-level World Championship game in Paris since Norway blanked the U.S. 3-0 on 9 March, 1951.

It took just 2:43 for Finland to open the scoring. Valtteri Filppula found Aho in the right face-off circle for a one-timer that squeezed through Belarus netminder Kevin Lalande. The 19-year-old forward, appearing in his second Worlds, was fifth among NHL rookies this season with 49 points for the Carolina Hurricanes.

At 5:09, Osala made it 2-0 after a Belarus turnover along the side boards, whipping the puck over the goalie’s right shoulder. Osala, a veteran KHL winger who plays for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, had waited a long time for his first World Championship goal. He went scoreless in four games in his only other Worlds in 2009.

Sensing the game was getting away from his players, Belarus coach Dave Lewis called a timeout to regroup.

It was when Belarus killed off Finland’s late first-period two-man advantage that the difference between this year’s Suomi and the 2016 silver medalists became most apparent. Last year, Finland led the tournament with 12 power play goals, clicking at 29.2 percent with Patrik Laine’s howitzers and Mikael Granlund’s silky passes. Here in Paris, Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki doesn’t have quite as much creativity to deploy.

Play turned sloppy in the second period as both teams struggled to find their rhythm. The gaffes climaxed when Korpisalo coughed up the puck behind his own net. Mikhail Stefanovich centered it to Sharangovich, who fired it into the gaping cage with 1:52 left before the buzzer. It was the 18-year-old Minsk native's first Worlds goal.

Belarus tied it up at 4:32 of the third period. Kovyrshin won a draw in the Finnish zone and then went to the net to tip Roman Graborenko's point shot home. The play was video-reviewed to check for a high stick and ruled good.

"We got those two goals in the first, which was good, but then we stopped working and let them come back," said Finland's Ville Lajunen. "The power-play goal at the end was important."

Trailing late in the game, Belarus pressed for the equalizer, but couldn't capitalize despite getting two man advantages and pulling Lalande for the extra attacker with 1:48 left.

"The first game is always a little bit tough," said Finland's Joonas Kemppainen. "Anything can happen. But we know we will play better."

This was the tenth all-time meeting between Finland and Belarus at the Worlds, and the ninth Finnish victory. Oleg Antonenko scored the shootout winner on 2 May, 2009 when Belarus edged Finland 2-1.

Right now, Finland and Belarus are also rivals off the ice. The Finns are bidding to host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, and Belarus has made a joint bid with Latvia. The decision will come at the IIHF Congress in Cologne later this month.

Three Finnish fans showed up in Tupu, Hupu, and Lupu jerseys. Those are the names of Donald Duck’s nephews in Finnish, and the legendary line of Saku Koivu, Ville Peltonen, and Jere Lehtinen was thus christened when leading Finland to its first World Championship title ever in 1995. This year’s team still has a long way to go before matching that kind of glory.

Next up, Belarus faces the Czechs on Saturday, while Finland battles host France on Sunday.


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