Just one Canuck remains at the 2022 IIHF World Championship.
Arturs Silovs and Latvia were eliminated in the preliminary round, finishing fifth in Group B. That left just Oliver Ekman-Larsson for Sweden and Juho Lammikko for Finland for members of the Vancouver Canucks at the tournament.
Finland and Sweden finished first and second in Group B, giving them a theoretically easier matchup in the quarterfinals.
The only issue is that Group A did not go as expected. Switzerland was the surprise winner of Group A, followed by Germany, with Canada and Slovakia finishing third and fourth. That means Finland got a surprisingly tough Slovakian squad and Finland faced Canada, who may have struggled in the preliminary round but still boasted top-tier talent like Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Thomas Chabot, and Zach Whitecloud.
Sweden succumbs to colossal Canadian comeback
Sweden took control of their quarterfinal game early, however, with the opening goal from Carl Klingberg a minute-and-a-half into the game, then another at the seven-minute mark from William Nylander.
Even as Canada pushed back hard in the second period, out-shooting Sweden 19-to-1, it was Sweden that extended their lead, scoring on their only shot of the period. It was a tip-in from Max Friberg, with Ekman-Larsson picking up an assist on the play, his second point of the tournament.
Linus Ullmark stopped all 19 shots he faced in the second period and, apart from a goal in the first minute, was holding the fort in the third period too. With two minutes remaining and goaltender Chris Driedger for the extra attacker, Canada was still down by two goals.
Then a one-timer from Dubois beat Ullmark to make it 3-2. Just 30 seconds later, a backhand from Barzal improbably found its way through a maze of legs in front of the Swedish net to tie the game.
Just 25 seconds into overtime, Nylander took a tripping penalty to give Canada a 4-on-3 power play. Drake Batherson cashed in — the fourth-straight Canadian goal. Down 3-0 heading into the third period and 3-1 with two minutes left, Canada completed the incredible comeback.
Ekman-Larsson was on the ice for three of the four Canadian goals and looked lost on the penalty kill on Batherson’s overtime winner. In fairness, he had missed the final two games of the preliminary round with an injury and likely wasn’t at 100 per cent.
Just before Canada’s first goal of the game, in fact, Ekman-Larsson made a very alert defensive play, smartly reading a turnover at the blue line and using his stick to eliminate what could have been a dangerous scoring chance for Nicolas Roy.
It’s a disappointing end to the tournament for Ekman-Larsson, who has previously won two gold medals, as well as a silver and a bronze, at the World Championships. There will be no medal for Sweden at this year’s tournament.
The legend of Marko Anttila continues
Finland’s quarterfinal game against Slovakia also featured a comeback, though a much less dramatic one than Canada’s against Sweden.
17-year-old Adam Sykora got things started for Slovakia, neatly tipping in a partially-deflected shot to stun the hometown Finnish crowd. He might hope a few NHL scouts were watching to bump him up their draft lists a little. Later in the first, Slovakia went up 2-0 when Pavol Reganda hammered home a rebound and the Finnish crowd fell completely silent.
They perked back up again before the first was done thanks to Marko Anttila, a 6’8” veteran forward who is a legend in Finland for his clutch play in international tournaments. Never much more than a secondary scorer in league play, Anttila has represented Finland at five World Championships and two Olympics, helping Finland win two gold medals.
Anttila is such a legend in Finnish hockey that he was named the Finnish Player of the Year — an award typically given to the top Finnish player in the NHL — in 2019, despite scoring just 15 points in 38 KHL games that year. His clutch four-goal performance in the knockout stages of the 2019 World Championship was just that good.
Those four goals were as clutch as they come: a late tying goal in the quarterfinal against Sweden to force overtime, the only goal in the semifinal against Russia to carry Finland to the gold medal game, then two goals against Canada in the final — the game-tying and game-winning goals.
Anttila was back at it again against Slovakia. He got Finland on the board with a deft deflection on a hard pass from the sideboards, making it 2-1 with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the first period. Then the 37-year-old winger tied the game early in the second period, picking off a breakout pass and firing the puck past Slovakian netminder Adam Huska.
They’ll definitely be singing “Löikö Mörkö sisään?” in Finland again.
After Sakari Manninen gave Finland the lead early in the third period, Finland went into shutdown mode, allowing Slovakia just two shots on goal for the entire period.
Then, with the Slovakian net empty, Anttila selflessly turned down the opportunity for the hattrick and instead set up his linemate, Saku Maenalanen, to seal the game away.
Yeah, that’s a legend.
Lammikko had a quiet game, which is just the way he likes it. Sure, he didn’t create much offensively when he was on the ice but neither did Slovakia. It was clear that head coach Jukka Jalonen had trust in all of his forward lines, including the third line centred by Lammikko, as Finland rolled all four lines in nearly equal measure for the entire game.
Lammikko finished with 13:09 in ice time and one shot on goal. He’s on to the semifinals against Team USA, who cruised to a 3-0 victory over Switzerland in their quarterfinal.
It’s familiar territory for Lammikko: when Anttila came through in the clutch to win gold for Finland in 2019, Lammikko was right there with him. It’s his only previous appearance in the World Championship. Now he’ll look to win gold alongside Anttila again.