Finland forces convincing win
Puljujärvi scores two as hosts beat Belarus 6-0
The game was tied at 0-0 for 37 minutes and 14 seconds but once Finland got the ketchup flowing, they scored five goals in the remaining 23 minutes, and beat Belarus 6-0 in a convincing manner. Jesse Puljujarvi scored two goals and assisted one, and Sebastian Aho collected three assists for Finland. Veivi Vehvilainen made 10 saves en route to a shutout.
"We had a lot of chances that we should have capitalized on, but it was nice to get the ketchup bottle open, and get a few goals," said Patrik Laine.
"It was a memorable experience to play in front of a capacity crowd at the Hartwall Areena. I just tried to take it all in and enjoy myself," he added.
There are two ways to solve a problem. Either you do it the smart way, and find the weaknesses in the opposition, or you use brute force and keep attacking the opposition from different directions until it gives up. Finland tried the hard way, with brute force, and it worked, but it took them almost 40 minutes to crack the Belarus defence.
At the outset, it was expected that Finland would take charge of the game, playing in front of the home crowd, with the President of the Republic of Finland in the attendance as well as Ville Peltonen, Saku Koivu, and Jere Lehtinen, who had their national team numbers retired in a moving ceremony before the game.
"I hadn't met the President before. He paid a visit to us before the game," Aho said.
The Finnish team stormed out of the gate like “gorillas out of a cage” as Ilya Bryzgalov may have put it. They outshot Belarus 14-2 in the first period, and especially Finland’s second line with Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi, and their smart centre Sebastian Aho, had Belarus in the ropes several times but couldn’t bury their chances. Also, Ivan Kulbakov was solid in the Belarus net.
"Laine and Puljujärvi are exceptional goal scorers who can also create chances themselves. I just tried to get the puck to them as much as possible so they could use their excellent shots," said Aho, who has switched from wing to center in the tournament.
"Both of them are also players who work hard which is the most important thing," he added.
In the second period, Finland had their chance early on when Alexander Tabolin received 2+10 minutes for checking to the head when he stopped Finnish defenceman Joni Tuulola in the neutral zone with a blind-side hit. Tuulola got up and finished the game after a short breather on the bench.
At 17:14 of the second period, Sebastian Aho carried the puck over the neutral zone, then flipped it between the legs of a Belarus defenceman. Jesse Puljujarvi came storming from behind, deked the goalie, and gave Finland the lead it had chased for so long.
“We’ve been the better team and of course we know that we’ve got chances, but that doesn’t help if we don’t score goals,” Puljujarvi said after the second period.
In their first shift of the third period, the same line struck again. First Aho drove to the net but Kulbakov made a fine pad save, but Finland cycled the puck back up to the half wall and Puljujarvi sent a long pass across Belarus’s zone to Laine and he fired an unstoppable one-timer from three metres, giving Finland a two-goal buffer at 1:33.
And once they had solved Kulbakov, there was no stopping Finland. Four minutes later, they stormed the Belarus zone again, and kept on peppering Kulbakov with shots. The Belarus goalie made two stops, but couldn’t stop Sami Niku’s shot, as the defenceman fired a wrist shot into top shelf at 5:46.
Finland made it 4-0 and scored its first World Juniors power-play goal in over a year when Jesse Puljujarvi scored his second of the night off a rebound from Olli Juolevi’s shot from the point a minute and a half later. Belarus also made a goalie change after the goal, and gave Vladislav Verbitski a taste of the tournament.
Sebastian Repo made it 5-0 with seven minutes remaining in the third period, when he scored Finland's fifth goal also off a rebound and team captain Mikko Rantanen sealed the final score, 6-0, with a shorthanded empty netter with 21 seconds remaining.
Belarus plays tomorrow against Slovakia, while Finland rests until Monday when they'll take on Russia.
"We played with a lot of energy, and that's the most important thing. And it's nice to start the tournament with a win," Aho said.
Finland vs. Belarus (6-0)
Sebastian Aho's line with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi was too much for Belarus. The line combined for six points as Finland beat Belarus 6-0.