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World Junior Championships Recap: USA v. Finland, Round 1

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USA and Finland faced off as the last set of teams to play in Buffalo tonight. Both teams came out with nerves affecting their game, but settled down as the period wore on. Finland is a tough team that plays with physicality and a focus on clogging up the neutral zone to prevent offensive pressure. They sometimes seem to lack communication and, as a result, end up chasing opposing players in a man-on-man defensive style.

Team USA is a fast team that transitions well. They are skilled passers and work well as a unit with the defensemen jumping in the play often. Their ability to cycle the puck when gaining the zone gives them extended time to create scoring chances.

Finland got the first few shots on net, but USA goaltender Jack Campbell held up well. He’s calm and steady, which is bound to help the US as the tournament goes on. The pressure from Finland caused the US to earn their first penalty, but the strong kill by the US created momentum, especially after a two-on-one shorthanded breakaway chance.

Team USA was able to set up some quality scoring opportunities by holding the puck in the zone, but they couldn’t convert as Finland did an excellent job closing in on the middle and using their strength to prevent their opponents from setting up shop in front of the crease. However, sustained pressure from the US drew a penalty, and they got a power play out of it. Again, the US was able to set up and cycle the puck well, but Finland closed ranks and kept the play to the perimeter. Despite being able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for over a minute, the US remained scoreless. Two minutes later, however, Finland took yet another penalty, and this time the US capitalized. With one minute in the period to go, Dustin Faulk got a bomb of a shot off from the blueline, beating Finnish goalie Joni Ortio. He never had a chance on it.  At the end of the first, Finland had more shots on net, but the US dominated in scoring chances. USA ahead 1-0.

The Fins came out more aggressive in the second, but not more disciplined as they took a tripping penalty off a strong forecheck by the Americans. This time, however, the Americans were able to get more bodies in front of the net, as well as create a ton of room. Finland had to give respect to the playmaking of the US’ blueline and closed in tightly. Again the US got plenty of time in the offensive zone, but Finland was able to kill the penalty. This shifted momentum, which resulted in a lot of bad turnovers by the US and a nice shot by the Fins that rang off the post. The Americans started to develop some chances yet, after some scrambling, Finland regrouped and put on big pressure. Using good screening, Joonas Natinen for Finland got a strong shot on net that Campbell mishandled. Tie score 1-1. US responded and created a turnover which University of Denver player Jason Zucker picked up and sent home top left corner. Finland came back again, causing Campbell to make a sprawling save. End of second, US up 2-1.

The third period showed the US changing up their style a bit, doing more dump and chase than carrying the puck into the zone. Unfortunately, it didn’t work; Campbell had a lot of shots to face. He did a very poor job of handling the puck repeatedly. The Americans coughed up the puck which set up a gorgeous chance by Finland, but the US returned the favor with a great chance of their own. Finland took yet another penalty; US worked their power play magic for a sweet goal that was waved off due to a player sliding just into the blue paint. Instead of the US gaining confidence, Finland took the opportunity and was able to tie up the game on a goal by Iiro Pakarinen. Despite opportunities for both teams, the game went into OT tied at 2.

Overtime was a back and forth affair with the teams trading chances and the goaltenders coming up big. Then Finland left a puck sitting all alone inside the blueline, which American Nick Bjugstad picked up and got on net. The puck dribbled underneath Ortio for a Team USA 3-2 overtime win.

Players of the game:
US - Jack Campbell
Finland - Joni Ortio
It was a goaltending show, for sure.

Next game for USA: December 28th vs. Slovakia at 6pm MT/8 pm ET