International Ice Hockey Federation

Finns down Slovenia

Finns down Slovenia

Aho gets third-period winner, Slovenes struggle

Published 11.05.2017 09:47 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Finns down Slovenia
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 10: Finland's Mikko Rantanen #96 scores against Slovenia's Gasper Kroselj #32 during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
It wasn't smooth sailing for the Finns, but they finally managed to beat Slovenia 5-2 on Wednesday. Sebastian Aho scored the winner with 10:30 remaining.

It was a much-needed victory for a Finnish team full of youngsters and journeymen, which has come under fire after falling 5-1 to host France and squandering a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 in overtime to the Czech Republic.

"I think we played pretty well," said assistant captain Valtteri Filppula. "We struggled to score goals. There were a lot of chances. We could have had a few more. But at the same time, they defended well and their goalie played really well. It’s never easy. It’s just a really important win."

Aho, Veli-Matti Savinainen, and Mikko Rantanen all chipped in a goal and an assist for Finland, and Markus Hannikainen and Tommi Sallinen added singles.

Harri Sateri made a winning World Championship debut in net, as the Finns outshot Slovenia 49-14. The 27-year-old Vityaz Podolsk goalie, a former San Jose Sharks prospect, previously represented Finland in IIHF competition at the 2008 and 2009 World Juniors.

"He looked really calm," said Filppula. "Sometimes it’s tough when you don’t play for a little while and then have to jump in. But he handled himself really well and made some key saves."

Anze Kuralt and Rok Ticar replied for the Slovenians.

"Today we had a good start, which we didn’t have in the last game," said Slovenian assistant captain Jan Urbas. "We just played as a team, as we do best. It was a tight game for a long time. Then unfortunately they scored two quick goals. We tried to come back, but they were really good on defence. They won, but we have to take the positive things from this game into the next game."

Winless Slovenia has just one point from an opening 5-4 shootout loss to Switzerland, and its quarter-final prospects are extremely dim. Its next opportunity is against the Czech Republic on Friday. Finland tackles Norway on Saturday.

The rink was tilted in Finland’s favour from the get-go, and it looked like just a matter of time until the blue-and-white team opened the scoring. But instead, Kuralt drew first blood for Slovenia, rushing the puck down the ice, cutting into the middle, and fooling Sateri with his quick release.

The Finns tried to strike back, but Mikko Lehtonen hit the cross bar. Kroselj grabbed the puck with his blocker hand when he sprawled to foil Sebastian Aho. Antti Pihlstrom shot wide on a partial breakaway. Finland went to the dressing room outshooting Slovenia 15-5 but trailing 1-0.

In the second period, life improved for coach Lauri Marjamaki's crew. At 4:06, Savinainen powered a high slap shot over Kroselj. Less than two minutes later, Rantanen was Johnny-on-the-spot when a puck deflected off defenceman Luka Vidmar’s skate to him at the side of the net, and he lifted it past the helpless netminder for a 2-1 lead on the power play.

Yet in the third, the Slovenians refused to crumble. Ticar tipped in a power play goal at 5:50, and the neon-green men had new life.

But two Finnish goals in just over a minute sealed Slovenia's fate. First, Aho put Finland up 3-2 on a nice solo jaunt at 9:30, firing one high over the goalie, and Hannikainen tallied at 10:34. It was the Columbus Blue Jackets forward's first World Championship goal and point.

Sallinen rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter with 45 seconds left.

Looking ahead to facing the Czechs, Urbas said: "I think it’s going to be pretty much the same game. They definitely have a good team. We have to play good defence, play as a team, work for one another. If we do that, we can hope for a good, tight game for a while, and then maybe we can surprise them."

Injuries continue to factor into Finland's story. While captain Lasse Kukkonen returned after missing two games with a hand injury, both Miro Aaltonen and Juhamatti Aaltonen were sidelined against Slovenia.

Finland has won all four of its meetings with Slovenia, dating back to 2003.


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