FIGHT TO THE FINNISH
Ristolainen scores game winner as Finland wins gold; Russia tops Canada for bronze
Rasmus Ristolainen became a national hero Sunday, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime as Finland captured the gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Sweden. In addition to his overtime heroics, Ristolainen also received the Directorate Award as the tournament’s top defenseman.
After twice taking the puck deep in Sweden’s zone in the four-on-four overtime session, Ristolainen got it right on his third attempt when he made a power move from the corner and tucked a backhand between the pads of a sprawling Oscar Dansk (CBJ) in the game’s 69th minute to give Finland their first World Junior Championship medal since 2006.
Ristolainen’s breathtaking golden goal capped an exciting game from start to finish between two neighboring rivals.
Needing a quick start to counter the home crowd, the Finns got on the board quickly as Esa Lindell (DAL) slung a shot through a screen to beat Dansk just 28 seconds in.
Despite the early deficit and an ensuing Finnish power play, the raucous Swedish faithful would not be deterred as the teams played with a frenetic pace to complete the opening period. The high-energy action continued into the middle frame with the teams trading goals.
With 2014 draft prospect Julius Honka in the penalty box, Sweden would get the power play equalizer at 7:53 when Lucas Wallmark pounded a point shot through an Alexander Wennberg (CBJ) screen to knot the score 1-1.
Finland immediately regrouped, striking back just 45 seconds later as Saku Maenalanen (NSH) emerged from behind the net and buried a Teuvo Teravainen (CHI) feed for his tournament-leading seventh goal to put the restore the one-goal lead. Teravainen, who later earned another helper on the Ristolainen winner, finished as the tourney’s leading scorer with 15 points (2+13).
The third period began, and the trailing Swedish attack had the Finns backpedalling from the onset. Ristolainen would take his second penalty of the game midway the frame, and it would prove costly with Christian Djoos (WSH) smacking a high-rising slap shot through heavy traffic to tie the game 2-2 with 9:07 left in regulation.
Juuse Saros (NSH) was excellent for Finland, stopping 35 of 37 shots to backstop the gold medal victory. Dansk finished with 28 saves for the silver medalists.
Ristolainen, whose marker gives him three goals in five games, completes his third World Junior Championship earning high praise as member of the media’s Tournament All-Star Team despite missing two of seven games due to illness.
For Finland, the appearance in the finals was all the more impressive given the absence of Olli Määttä (PIT) and Aleksander Barkov (FLA), who as teenagers would’ve been eligible for duty if they weren’t cemented as NHL regulars.
Prior to Finland’s stunning victory, a pair of Buffalo Sabres prospects earned some precious medal of their own.
Mikhail Grigorenko scored a power play goal as Russia defeated Canada 2-1 to win the bronze medal. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov logged an even rating and one shot on goal for the Russians, who defeated Canada in the third place game for the second-straight year.
Grigorenko opened scoring 3:35 into the first period while on the power play. Holding the puck in his usual spot along the boards, Grigorenko sent a hard pass to the crease intended for Pavel Buchnevich (NYR), but it hit the skate of Canadian defender Matthew Dumba (MIN) and made its way into the net behind Zachary Fucale (MTL) to give Russia the early 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, Eduard Gimatov extended the Russian lead to 2-0 when he entered the Canadian zone and pumped a short-side wrist shot high over Fucale’s shoulder at 14:38.
After the second period came and went with no goals despite the teams trading power play chances, Canada made it interesting in the final frame when a Charles Hudon (MTL) pass banked off the skate blade of Josh Morrissey (WPG) to make it a 2-1 game with 12:50 left to play.
Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski (TBL) stopped 30 shots to earn the victory. Fucale made 30 saves of his own in defeat.
Grigorenko finishes the tournament as Russia’s leading scorer with five goals and eight points. The effort was rounded off with a 55.6 percent success rate at the face-off circle, a plus-six rating, and a team-high 27 shots on goal.
Nikita Zadorov finished second to Grigorenko on the Russian roster with four goals in the tournament, including two on the power play, one short-handed, and a game winner, for a final tally of five points and a plus-four rating. The superior two-way effort was reward with a spot on the Media All-Star Team along with Ristolainen.
The loss sends Canada’s national junior team home without a medal for the second-straight year, marking the first time since 1981 that the noted hockey factory has been blanked in back-to-back under-20 events.
Anthony Mantha (DET), who began his year with a sparkling performance at the Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament, paced Canada with five goals and 11 points in the seven World Junior games. Highly-rated 2014 draft prospects Sam Reinhart (2+3) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (1+1) were also key contributors for Team Canada. The duo, along with Fucale, could be major factors when the 2015 tournament returns to North American soil in Toronto and Montreal.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.