Friday, 10 April 2009

Afternoon Draw - Finland vs. USA

It's 12:54pm, and we're approximately six minutes away from the drop of the puck on the USA-Finland game. I apologize up front about the pictures on this entry, but I'm trying to blog and take pictures at the same time. I need a crew for events like this. From the looks of the crowd, we have about twice as many people in the building compared to this morning's game between Russia and Slovakia. But that's to be expected with the USA sitting about an hour away from Winnipeg. Team USA will be in their Nike-ified white jerseys, while the Finns take to the ice in a darker blue than what I'm used to seeing on them. Also, they have tons of advertising on their jersey as Snickers chocolate bars are prominently featured. Either way, it's a pleasing visual matchup despite the billboard feature. Warmups are finished, and both teams look solid. The Americans are big and fast, and I expect them to try to create turnovers and capitalize on mistakes. The Finns have a mix of smaller and bigger players, and, like the other international Finnish teams, one would expect a grinding, physical game from them.

This game could prove vital in determining who plays for what medal. A win would square either team in the standings with the powerhouse Russian squad while a loss will make it much harder to make it to the gold medal game.

  • The referee in this afternoon's game is calling this much tighter than what was seen in the Russia-Slovakia game. A hooking call on the Americans three minutes in could have been let go under different circumstances, but it's nice to see the officials not letting things get out of hand.
  • The Finnish interference penalty at 15:22 to Marko Liimatainen was a pick-and-roll similar to what one would see in the NBA. Needless to say, the Finnish powerplay after the hooking call ended abruptly.
  • A stoppage in play at 13:06 shows that these two teams mean business. A scrum in front of the American net had one Finnish player shaking his head after everyone was separated. No penalties called, though, as cooler heads prevailed.
  • Finnish forward Kristian Lantto hans out a couple of thundering checks on the forecheck. The American defenders don't seem pleased.
  • We have our first goal at 11:41. Finnish forward #2 Jukka Keranen chips home a shot past US goalie David Rancourt for the lead. Finland leads 1-0.
  • It appears that Finland's tactics are working. American Brian Van Vlyman is whistled for roughing after face-washing a Finland player in the corner. The game is starting to get chippy in front of the nets.
  • With 8:26 to go in the first, much of the play has taken place in the US zone. Finland's aggressive forechecking is winning them a lot of puck battles.
  • Team Canada is in the building, scouting these two teams. There is little signed between the Canadian players as all eyes are fixated on the action on the ice.
  • Finland's powerplay is doing an effective job of controlling the puck. USA's passive box strategy has held them at bay, but Finland is getting opportunities.
  • With 5:21 remaining, the Americans get a great scoring chance as Mike Wonoski drove hard to the net off the right wing. Finnish goaltender Pauli Kitula held his ground and covered up the five-hole, causing another stoppage.
  • With 1:41 remaining, the Americans have turned on the pressure. They are getting pucks deep and winning the battles along the boards. As a result, they've had several great chances thus far.
  • With 1:00 remaining, the aggressive Finnish forecheck paid off again. #13 Fredrik Oller fired a shot past Rancourt to double the Finnish total. Finland leads 2-0.
  • Finland was back at it again with 28 seconds left. #19 Eetu Keski-Levijoki snapped home a low shot that Rancourt couldn't corral, and Finland took a commanding lead into the first intermission. Finland leads 3-0.
I talked about how hustle and determination were intangibles that can't be overlooked in the first game. Well, Finland showed that hustle and determination are exactly what gives some teams an edge. They took the body on the forecheck, they won key puck battles, and they didn't stop moving. As a result, they lead 3-0.
  • The second period began in much the same way that the first ended - very chippy and lots of contact. If Finland is going to play this grinding style of game all tournament, they might be a darkhorse for the gold medal.
  • Janne Yrjola was sent to the box at 16:06 of the second period for slashing. Again, the referee is holding the line on the stickwork - a nice thing to see in keeping the game about hockey and not about hacking and slashing.
  • Just noticed this little item: Finland defenceman Sami Vuoriheimo plays with his sleeves rolled up. Working on a picture, but he's flying around the rink out there. I can literally see his wrists and forearms right now.
  • Americans just hit the post. Perhaps their luck is turning?
  • Americans are bringing good pressure over the last minute of action. Finland is forced to ice the puck at 12:37.
  • Andy Howard makes a gorgeous move to get around the sprawling Finnish defender to go one-on-one with Kitula. However, Pauli Kitula cuts down the angle and makes the save.
  • 8:48 sees Finland add another goal. #7 Marko Liimatainen cuts in hard off the left wing after intercepting a pass at the American blueline, makes a phenomenal move to protect the puck against the bigger American defenceman, and rifles a shot home low blocker-side. Definitely a highlight reel goal today. Finland leads 4-0.
  • 8:29 sees the Americans break the shutout. #18 David Reid chips in a goal from the top of the crease after the Americans moved the puck nicely out of the corner. Finland leads 4-1.
  • Finland is running into penalty problems. Three consecutive penalties have given the Americans an extended 5-on-3 powerplay after #22 Jan-Erik Granvik cleared the puck over the boards in the defensive zone. The Americans will have two-and-a-half minutes of powerplay time to work with.
  • And as quickly as I wrote that, #16 Tony McGaughey reduces the powerplay to 4-on-3. His roughing penalty in front of the Finnish net is, in a word, selfish. Especially when trailing by three goals.
  • With 3:15 to go in he second, the Americans are playing far too fancy. They need to start shooting the puck on net and getting rebounds. Deking in from the faceoff circle around three guys is not helping your cause. Especially when you only make it past one of them.
  • With the second period coming to a close, I have one word for the American team: SHOOT!
I finally finished up the Russian-Slovakian scoring summary. It's tough when rosters change. However, the organizers said that some players that are shown in the program didn't make the trip due to injuries, while others had passport problems and were not allowed to leave the country. I didn't push on that fact, but that's a terrible thing to happen to these athletes. Missing an event like this because of passport problems would be a huge disappointment.
  • Two minutes into the third period, American Andy Howard was sent in alone from the blueline. After making a couple of great moves, Pauli Kitula was equal with the glove hand. Kitula has been impressive, and is my Player Of The Game right now.
  • With just over ten minutes remaining, the Americans can't seem to get anything going. The Finns are bottling up the neutral zone, and sending the puck right back out of the zone as soon as it gets in their zone. Unless the American team can get something going, time is now an enemy of Team USA.
  • 7:08 was a moment of celebration for Finland. A glorious three-on-two was finished off by Fredrik Oller with an easy tap-in. In terms of teamwork goals, this was the goal of the day without doubt. A virutal TSN Highlight of the Night, if you will. Oh, and Finland leads 5-1.
  • After the goal, the Americans made a goaltending change. Rancourt went to the bench, and was replaced by #30 Joe Lingle.
  • The Americans notched another goal with 4:47 to go. #19 Andy Howard fired a puck low past Pauli Kitula. Finland leads 5-2.
  • 2:04 left, and the Americans make the gap a little smaller. #16 Tony McGaughey notched his goal on a scramble in front of the net. Finland leads 5-3.
  • Empty-net goal by the Finns seals the deal. From his own blueline, #24 Janne Yrjola fired the puck into the yawning cage. Finland leads 6-3.
A huge win by Finland over the United States. As stated above, hustle and determination makes a huge difference. Player Of The Game ceremonies will take place in a few seconds as the post-game ceremony is being held. Finland played extremely well, and deserved the win after working their butts off in this game

Player Of The Game - Finland: #1 Pauli Kitula.
Player Of The Game - USA: #8 Mike Wonoski.

Day One of the World Deaf Hockey Championships are in the book, and Russia and Finland sit atop the standings at 1-0. Canada is 0-0 after having the bye today, and will square off with the Americans tomorrow at 1:30pm Central Time. USA and Slovakia are 0-1, and both will look to rebound tomorrow.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

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